Sheep breeder finds her pot of gold after turning fleeces into 'rainbow' rugs when wool prices hit rock bottom

Bathtime has taken on a new dimension for successful Herdwick sheep breeder Laura Clifford of Sledmere in the past eight months.

After wool prices fell Laura turned her fleeces into rugs
After wool prices fell Laura turned her fleeces into rugs

The family bathroom is now the first port of call for her new enterprise, making rugs from sheep fleeces. Since the first lockdown, Laura has produced 20 rugs with another eight on order.

Laura decided to try rugmaking earlier this year after she was quoted just 5 pence per kilo for the wool from her Herdwick sheep.

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“Some sheep farmers are only being offered 3 pence per kilo, it’s bonkers,” Laura said.

The rainbow rugs are made using Suffolk fleeces so they can be dyed.

“I can earn more taking my fleeces to shows and taking three of four first places. Thank goodness I have my husband, Richard, who does all our shearing. At least he can’t charge me, but for those who do have to pay they can be way out of pocket.”

Putting this into context each sheared sheep will normally provide anywhere between three to five kilos of wool. That means there are farmers who are getting as little as 15 pence for a fleece.

Now, she is helping her fellow producers receive a fairer price for their fleeces by buying fleece at a higher price from a variety of breeds to make her rugs.

“Turning fleeces into rugs adds value,” Laura explained. “The size of my rugs suits a full fleece, and it’s nice to help others get involved and achieve a better price for their fleeces.

“I started with the fleeces from our own Brompton Herdwick flock but now I use Suffolk, Leicester Longwool and Jacob.”

But Laura’s method of manufacture has had an impact on that one particular room of the house.

“I decided that I wouldn’t send any of my wool to be washed, which is another cost saving, and instead began using our bath upstairs,” Laura said. Much to husband Richard’s “disgust”, she added. “However the way things are going we will need to buy a bigger bath next year.”

While the new venture has started well, Laura said she is still “testing the water”.

“I didn’t think it would work as well as it has, but I’m receiving great reviews.

Laura said the spinning and manufacturing side is also working as a therapy as she struggled to come to terms with the loss of her mum six years ago, a loss which saw her diagnosed with depression.

“I really struggled when I lost my mum. She was only 52 when she died from cancer. My dad also died of the disease when he was 42.

“It was my counsellor who, knowing I kept sheep, suggested trying woolcraft to give my mind another focus.

“I went to Woolfest in Cumbria and bought a drop-spindle which is essentially a piece of dowelling.

“I watched a few YouTube videos and started using a spinning wheel I’d been given years ago, then in October last year I joined the York Spinners Guild.

“I’ve found spinning helps my anxiety. I was never a craft person before, although my paternal grandma was a typical old lady who knitted.”

It was seeing a social media post put up by one of the Guild members on rug-making that gave Laura the inspiration to give it a go.

“I started playing around with little rugs at first and then found myself trying to jazz up the traditional rug.

“When I made my first rainbow rug my daughter kept running off with it to her room.”

Laura explained that the different breeds offer a variety of colours and textures for her rugs and one she makes with rainbow coloured stripes needs to be made from Suffolk fleeces.

“I couldn’t have made the rainbow rugs using a Herdwick fleece because of its dark colouring.

“I’m finding out what works and doesn’t as I go along, but for the rainbow rugs and other stripy rugs I am using food colouring.”

While Laura’s rugs may feature different fleeces, it is a Herdwick which graces the label.

Dylan, Laura’s “best ever” Herdwick tup, is the face of Laura’s Woolly Creations.

The tup who took reserve male champion at the Great Yorkshire Show in 2012, was also champion of the Any Other Breed classes at Driffield and Ryedale shows.

“That was our best year,” Laura said proudly.

“Dylan was a brilliant tup, he was our original purchase from Mary Bell when we started out along with five ewes. We chose Herdwicks because I wanted something eye-catching and different.”

Laura currently has a flock of 12 Herdwick breeding ewes that lamb at the end of April.

She and Richard have also taken on Greyfaced Dartmoors, which she said being smaller, they are easier for son and daughter Tom aged nine and Emily aged five to handle.

Taking after their parents, when the agricultural shows are on, Tom and Emily are regulars in the young handlers’ classes.

Laura said she has always loved sheep and was bought her first sheep by her maternal grandfather.

“My grandad bought myself and my brother a sheep apiece. He knew I was sheep mad,” she said.

‘You couldn’t get me off my grandparent’s parents’ farm at Brompton.

“From being a child, I was there all the time,’ said Laura.

“My bags were constantly packed and I was off, just a mile up the road.

“My Uncle Chris would often pick me up as he biked past.”

As well as making rugs, Laura and Richard’s ambitions include helping to increase the number of Herdwick breeders in Yorkshire.

“We are all about encouraging new breeders, Laura said.

“When we started there were only seven or eight in Yorkshire and we are delighted with the expansion we have seen in recent years. They have a lovely tempera ment.”

Laura said she would also like to add some Belted Galloway or Highland Cattle to the enterprise in the future.