The story of my sheep
‘Why sheep?’ people often ask me. I grew up in rural Herefordshire and much of my design inspiration stems from childhood memories of the countryside. As an illustrator I enjoy coming up with characters, usually animals, which feed into my work. In 2008, I created a fictional character called Baatholomew who is bored of blending in with the flock. One day, he knits himself a beautiful, multi-coloured coat. He becomes the envy of all his friends. They too want a beautiful jumper, so the other sheep start to knit. In the end, Baatholomew realises that even though his friends have copied him, they all look different, with each jumper sporting its own distinct design.
This formed the kernel of an idea to make collectable woollen sheep using the dry needle felting method*, each finished in a distinctive hand-knitted jumper. Needle felting is a time consuming process, but I find it so therapeutic and love working with wool, which is very warming and tactile. The wool I use comes from a flock of Herefordshire Lleyn sheep originally bred by my family, which is then organically washed and carded in Wales. The jumpers are made from soft Scottish lambs wool from an ancient mill in Aberdeenshire.
Since first creating Baatholomew, he has been joined by a whole flock of colourful friends. Each season I design a new collection of bespoke jumpers. I love the process of designing new jumpers and coming up with new patterns and colours. I have also designed sheep for special events such as the Queen’s Jubilee and The Olympics. Every sheep is sold with a certificate of authenticity and has a signature button sewn into the back of its coat.
I make my sheep in many sizes, but I particularly love the tiny sheep. Although it isn’t easy designing for such a small, intricate shape, the finished piece feels like a precious little jewel. The bit I enjoy most is adding the faces. That’s when their individual characters emerge. People say they get attached to my sheep because of their expressions. I often have customers telling me they cried when they opened the gift box containing their sheep. That’s when I know I’ve got it right!’
*About dry needle felting:
Sculptural dry needle felting is a relatively new craft, pioneered in the US in the 1980s by fibre artists Eleanor Stanwood and Ayala Talpai. It involves using a single barbed needle used in industrial felt production to repeatedly jab the wool, causing it to tangle into a felted shape.