I'm Sue, a farmer and shepherdess, the sheep and I live on a hill farm called Fingland in the Scottish Borders along with my Partner Joe and Grandson Callum, it is located in the stunningly beautiful upper Tweed valley.
I was born in Cumbria, and lived there until I moved to Scotland in 2008, I have been involved with animals all my life, apart from a couple of years after I left school and worked in a supermarket (which I hated), I didn't like being inside all day. I then married a dairy farmer, and helped with all the farm work including milking the cows, for almost 30 years, before moving to the Scottish Borders.
Now I live in the Southern Upland hills on a 1500 acre hill sheep farm, with the use of another 1300 acres on Hawkshaw farm, next door. The sheep kept, are mainly Shetland sheep as they are ideally suited to the environment in this area.
In 2013, I was searching for a new hobby, to cut a long story short, I ended up choosing spinning! I started with a drop spindle before moving to a spinning wheel, which I soon discovered came with a very steep learning curve, trying not to put too much twist into the fleece resulted in not putting enough twist into it and vice versa. It took me a long time before I was able to spin an smooth even yarn.
It was at this time that I began thinking more about fleece. When the next clipping season came around, I kept about 12 fleeces for myself. However, I only chose them for their colour and soon discovered that their quality was lacking! It wasn’t until I set out to wash, card, and spin them that I realised 12 fleeces was far too much for a novice like me. Most of them are still tucked away in the shed, destined to be used as hanging basket lining!
Since starting to spin, I have also learned to knit, crochet, and weave. Recently, I took up felt-making – using wet felting and needle felting methods. I had no idea how many different ways there are to use fleece until I began experimenting.
After a while my ability to spin fleece into yarn improved greatly, and I began to realise that my sheep fleeces were producing some very nice yarn.
Starting a new business
In the past, North Country Cheviot sheep were kept. However, it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to handle such large and wild sheep especially in lambing season.
I discovered that my Hebridean sheep – initially bought for the purposes of training my sheepdogs – were much easier to manage. As a result, the next 4 years were spent gradually replacing the Cheviots with Hebridean and Shetland sheep.
2015 was the first year in which the majority of the fleeces I sold were from Hebridean and Shetland sheep. When all was said and done, I received a cheque for less than it had cost to shear the sheep!
2016 was the year I sent all my fleeces to the Natural Fibre Company to be processed into yarn, for knitting and also weaving, as I had a bolt of special one of a kind tweed woven with the last of the cheviot fleeces.
2017 the Hawkshaw Sheep business officially launched the new yarns and Tweed cloth at Woolfest in Cockermouth. My very first show was scary and exciting in equal measure, almost two years since the idea popped into my head.
2018 the decision was made to sell the majority of the Hebridean sheep to another breeder. unfortunately, the wet summers made the fleeces felt on the sheep, rendering them unusable for producing yarn.
The Yarn business name of Hawkshaw Sheep came about because I was going to use the farm name of Fingland, but although it's obvious when Fingland is written down, when it is spoken it sounds like Finland the country, which is not so good when I want to promote the yarn as a 100% British product, hence the name Hawkshaw Sheep, taken from the other farm we have use of.
Yarn with provenance
The Collins English dictionary tells us that the provenance of something is the place that it originally comes from.
Hawkshaw Sheep yarns are created from the fleeces of my own flock of sheep, which graze the hills on the farm where I live.
I know how the sheep are looked after, if that particular years weather was kind to them or not, I know some of them personally, usually because they are escape artists and need to be retrieved on a regular basis, or are very good at trying to go in a different direction to the one I want when I'm gathering them in, basically it's the naughty sheep that I know best!
I am there when the sheep are sheared, sorting the fleeces into the different colours, then sorting through each individual fleece to remove as much of the vegetable matter that sheep seem to accumulate in their fleeces and make sure it is of good enough quality to be made into yarn.
Once it has been made into yarn, I can tell you what fleeces went into each batch, whether it was all grey fleece or a mix of black and white fleece, to make the grey.
So for me Provenance is much more than just a place of origin, it is the whole story behind the skein of yarn.
What story does the yarn you are using tell?