Pam Hall on Working with Wool
WOVEMBER readers might remember that earlier this WOVEMBER we met Pam Hall and heard about her flock of Herdwick sheep? You might also have spotted an older piece that fellow WOVEMBERIST Kate Davies wrote in 2007 about creating a sweater with Pam’s wool. Today we are joined again by Pam to go into a bit more detail about what she makes with the wool from her wonderful flock of Herdwick sheep! Unless otherwise stated, all content and photos © Pam Hall and used with kind permission
WOVEMBER: When does shearing happen on Fornside Farm?
Pam: Usually in July but in wet summers it has been known to not happen until September when it’s often spoilt.
WOVEMBER: Are there any particular challenges involved in shearing Herdwick sheep? Is a special type of clipper attachment required for the sturdy wool?
Pam: The local shearers like to shear Herdwicks. They clip fairly easily and don’t have wool on their heads and legs – just standard clippers are used. Herdwicks also have a generally good temperament. They do have long undocked tails though so the shearers have to have good strong backs to reach to the end of the tail! We always shear the white sheep breeds first and the any other fine wooled sheep leaving the Herdwick until last so that we don’t get the different wool types mixed up.
WOVEMBER: I’ve noticed that you separate out the different clips – ewes, hoggs etc. – and I wondered if you could say a few words about the different sorts of clips you obtain from your flock, and what advantage you find in creating separate yarn batches from them?
Pam: The Herdwick fleece is relatively coarse and comes in a range of colours. The hogg fleece is softer and a dark chocolate colour so we separate this form the fleece form older sheep which comes in a range of greys from dark grey through to almost white. We don’t use the very coarse wool from certain ewes and most tups.
WOVEMBER: You do several things with the wool from your flock – do you look for different kinds of fleeces for these different things?
Pam: I am mainly looking for softness even in the Herdwicks and just select the best quality wool to send off to be scoured and spun. Sometimes a particularly striking fleece comes up and I might separate this and keep it for handspinning either for myself or to sell but most get sent off these days as I just don’t have enough time to wash fleece.
WOVEMBER: Could you say something about how you have developed the knitting yarns division of your business? Have you worked with knitters, where do you sell the yarn, what kinds of things is it good for knitting etc.?
Pam: Well the yarns I have now have been developed after working in the Wool Clip for 12 years and talking to other members and customers. I sell a variety of yarns form the soft, silky Gotland yarn to the coarser Herdwick yarns but they are all used for knitting and crocheting or weaving. All my yarns are spun at the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall and I have just this year had 2 lots of weaving yarn done for the first time. I have a lovely singles Herdwick and Blue Faced Leicester blend and also a 2 ply Shetland and am looking forward to creating some new designs with these. Most of the yarn I sell is in the natural colour but I also dye some of the light grey Herdwick to some strong lime greens, turquoises and russets that reflect the landscape colours here and are very popular.
WOVEMBER: Could you talk about a couple of pieces you have made from your own flock?
Pam: I currently produce a range of table runners which are in double cloth and directly influenced by the local landscape. One is called Tewet after the stunning turquoise blues and greens you get at a local tarn on a clear, sunny day – this is a favourite family walk and my daughter has taken some stunning photos there that inspire my work. Another colourway was inspired by a photo taken by a local photographer of Herdwicks on a packhorse bridge in Borrowdale and I call this Autumn on the Bridge.
WOVEMBER: You are collaborating with Mary Bell to produce woven cloth from Herdwick wool; could you say a few words about the collaboration and some of the specific joys of weaving with Herdwick?
Pam: My enterprise with Mary is separate to my handweaving activities. Mary and I developed the Helvellyn Herdwick range after Foot and Mouth in 2001 when we were fed up with getting so little money for our wool from the BWMB and seeing all our neighbours burning their wool. We collected our wool together and sent it off to Bradford to be scoured and spun and woven into beautiful throws and floor rugs. The weaving is all done now at Farfield Mill in Sedbergh by a master weaver David McDowell. It is great to see the Herdwick wool being made up on the big dobby looms there. The rugs and throws are very popular and we sell them mail order and through the Wool Clip and a few other local outlets.
WOVEMBER: Do you work much with other types of fibres and does Herdwick benefit from being blended or do you like to take a purist approach?
Pam: A lot of the Herdwick is left pure but I have developed an unusual blend which works remarkably well. I blend light grey Herdwick 50:50 with Blue Faced Leicester from a neighbouring farm to produce an aran weight knitting yarn that has the appearance of Herdwick but a much softer handle. This is really popular and I’ve now extended this idea into a weaving yarn. I also do some work with the wool from my other breeds – now Shetland and Gotland but I still have some wool from Wensleydale and Ryeland sheep I have kept in recent years.
WOVEMBER: Is there anything you are working on right now which you would like to share with WOVEMBER readers?
Pam: I am developing some idea to produce a range of hand-woven floor rugs and also Herdwick cloth from my new weaving yarns. All I need to complete the project is time…
I think many WOVEMBER readers will relate to that last point… we all need MORE TIME for our work with wool! Thank you so much Pam for sharing your wonderful weaving, felt-making and shepherding insights with WOVEMBER.