Sharp Edge (Cumbria) is supporting Cumbrian farmers by using Herdwick wool. For many years the market price has been so low that many farmers have been burning the wool because the payment received does not cover the cost of transporting the wool from the farm.

The Herdwick sheep are the most common sheep of the Lakeland fells. They are sturdy, coarse-wooled sheep that can live on the fells throught the Lakeland winters. Herdwicks have been on the fells for centuries - no-one is really sure when they were introduced into Cumbria or where they came from. The thick wool helps keep out the worst of the weather and they survive on the poor grass found on the high fells. Because they live on the fells throughout the year the Herdwicks have become territorial - they have their own part of the fells that they graze. This helps the farmers because they dont have to fence the high fells. Every farmer has his own marks for his sheep -the ears are marked and the backs of the sheep are marked with a splash of "smit". Farmers can easily identify their own sheep when the fells are gathered for clipping, etc.

 

Sheep are clipped at the end of July and into August. In the past sheep were clipped with hand shears - and a slow and back-breaking job it was! Today most are clipped with electric shears and it takes much less time - though it is still back-breaking! The fleeces are roll and placed into large wool sacks ready for collection.

 

At the mill, the fleeces are graded and scoured before spinning into different yarns ready for sale.

 

Herdwick wool is very hardwearing but because it is a coarse wool it is not really suitable for clothing. Goodacres of Kendal make pile carpets with it (made in Poland) but apart from this, the only other users are crafts people like the Woolclip at Calbeck and to made into home insulation.

 

Bangladesh has a long tradition of weaving - muslin originated in Bengal but today there is little work for village weavers. In 2005 Peter Fox took some yarn out to Bangladesh to see if they could weave small carpets with it. This was very succesful and the first batch was woven in 2006. The following photographs show weavers at work on the carpets in the three villages taking part in this project.

 

 

 

 

 

The finished product with the two ladies who wove it!

 

The size is 44" x 26" in natural Herdwick colours (pale grey and dark grey). The warp thread is cotton sourced locally in Bangladesh. These carpets are perfect for a wood or laminate floor. Other sizes and patterns can be made to order - the maximum width is 54".

The work is being done under fair trade conditions - the weavers tell me the rate for the job and I pay that rate, there are no children involved with the work and for every carpet sold a donation of £20 will be made to the primary school in the village for books and other equipment.

 

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