When I visited the Hamburg Wollfest last year, the yarn from The Little Grey Sheep was THE discovery for me. I took home some skeins of the incredibly soft Stein Fine Wool and recently transformed it into my Blozzom beanie. What an enjoyable knit! Reason enough to get in touch with Emma Boyles, the proprietor of The Little Grey Sheep.
Emma Boyles owns Well Manor Farm in Hampshire / UK. She bought the farm together with her husband in 2004. Along with the farm came a conservation plan that made a flock of sheep necessary. In Emma’s family crafts as weaving and spinning have a long tradition, so it did not took her too long to decide that she would use the fleece of her flock to make her own yarn. It was a flock of grey Gotland sheep which gave the yarn its name.
Today the flock has 400 sheep, 200 Gotland ewes. And 200 Stein Fine ewes. Never heard of those? Me neither! It is Emma’s own sheep breed. She will explain more below.
The sheep are shorn by Susie, the shepherdess. She has worked with Emma since 2006 and Emma states that she runs the flocks like they are her own. Her experience is crucial for the well-being of the animals.
Emma searches for producers and artisans that are keeping alive the British tradition of wool and textiles. That is her trademark. So once the sheep are shorn, the fleeces are sent to Yorkshire for washing, to one oft he two scouring plants left in the UK. After cleaning and washing the fleece goes to Devon, where John Arbon, who, according to Emma, is a perfectionist and knows to get the best out of her fiber, spins it into yarn. Last but not least the yarn goes back to Well Manor farm where Emma hand-dyes it in her beautiful shades.
WHAT EXACTLY IS FINE STEIN WOOL – AND WHAT MAKES IT SO SPECIAL?
Stein Fine wool came about as we decided to crossbreed our Gotlands with Shetlands, to further reduce the micron of the wool and increase the lustre in the shetland. We then imported to superfine merino rams, sub 19 microns, to improve the breeding. We decided to trademark the name as people were starting to say they had Stein Fine Wool® sheep. As we keep a closed flock this was not possible. We now have an amazing flock of lustrous very fine wool sheep.
SUSIE, YOUR SHEPHERDESS SHEARS THE FLOCK IN DECEMBER. ISN’T THAT UNUSUAL? WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE?
We shear between Christmas and New Year, this is when the fibre is at its best to keep the sheep warm and is full of the lovely oils and healthy and shiny. Once shorn, they are snuggled up in the barn to keep warm until they are turned out after lambing in early April. Normally sheep are shorn in the summer months, this is when their new coat is already starting to grow and they have shut off the oils to the old coat causing a break in the fibre.
I LOVE YOUR COLOURS, SO MANY GREAT HUES! COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR DYING PROCESS?
I am a self-taught dyer and really I do not see working with colour as a job. I just love it, a little like a little girl in a sweetie shop. My mum always said I should go to Art College but I decided on electronics. 30 years on, I realise she was right, mums always are! I love to experiment with different methods from painting to dip dyeing. We are always looking to improve everything we do from lambing to wool quality to labelling and colour range. It is is a mission.
Thank you, Emma, for answering my questions.
Besides from the Gotland and Stein Fine Wool, The Little Grey Sheep produces “Hampshire” a yarn with an interesting story: The Gotland and Fein Stein fleece from Well Manor Farm is worsted spun as it has a long staple. But there was still quite a lot of short fleece left which was about 50 mm and under which would not spin worsted. Plus Susie shears also for other farmers, which were too small to get their fibre spun or did not want to. Some started bringing the fleece to Well Manor Farm for hand spinners. Emma and the team then decided it would be a great idea to produce a traditional woollen spun yarn. Hampshire was born. A yarn which is still soft and luxurious but with character. Turning what was being wasted into a yarn.
Check out all the yarns from The Little Grey Sheep here. Emma ships wordwide.
I enjoyed knitting my Blozzom beanie and mittens with Emma’s yarn very much. You can find my pattern here. I know, it is warm outside in the Northern hemisphere. But if start now, and you will have to look forward to something cosy in winter 😉