This episode I'm sharing a sheep to skein story that is very local to me and in an area of the UK I have loved for a long time: the South Downs. A few weeks ago I traveled to meet Louise, the founder of South Downs Yarn, and we hiked around Cissbury Ring while she pointed out sheep from the flock. I was left energised by a story of such passion and commitment to locally produced wool. I was also impressed by the highest respect that Louise shows towards all the people (and animals) involved in this story. Louise's local knowledge was completely captivating and I'm so excited to share both some audio and written words with from her with you today.
"The main motivation for SDY was to create a yarn that celebrated its situated-ness. I wanted to knit with Southdown wool from sheep that had been bred and grazed in the vicinity of the South Downs. It’s probably no coincidence that the creation of the South Downs National Park (2011) was happening at the same time as I was developing SDY. The idea of the SDNP goes back to the 1920s and I was also deep in reading about the Society of Sussex Downsman, founded in 1923 which is where the conversation about preserving ‘beauty spots’, ancient monuments and rights of way started.
So, geographically the South Downs stretches from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east. It also encompasses the western weald (which is wooded) and some of the coastal plain, but it is mostly known for its chalk downland and this is the native habitat of the Southdown sheep.
So, although there are some fabulous Southdown flocks outside Hampshire and Sussex, I only work with those that are still being reared and shepherded here in my local environment.
What is important from my perspective is not the size of the flock, rather the way the flock is managed and the interest of the shepherd in the dual purpose of the Southdown. It’s vital for me to develop a relationship with the shepherd[s] and the flock. Whilst there are strict regulations that govern all aspects of keeping livestock from animal welfare to registration and movement, I want to work with those who not only comply with these rules but also feel they share the purpose of SDY.
That is to celebrate the heritage of the breed and work towards reviving it to once again be known as much for its wool as for its meat.
The provenance of the yarn is central to this. Being able to tell customers which flock the yarn has come from including its lineage, where it grazes, who shears it and who shepherds it, is not only of interest but hopefully a way to connect people with a mutual interest in sustainability.
I will be starting a series of articles [on the blog] called ‘Southdown Folk and their Flocks’ which will give an introduction to each of the shepherd and flock that we work with."
Music provided by Noisetrade
Fly, fly, fly by Adrina Thorpe
Truth by Tim Halperin