As lots of you know who visit our page, I take on commissions as well as selling things from our shop. I’m mainly asked to make rugs for people but sometimes I get more unusual requests, for example, recently a lady with her own flock of sheep asked me to make some cushions from her favourite sheep’s fleeces. Sometimes the unusual requests are, well, slightly more unusual shall we say, in this particular case anyway – I was asked to make a jacket for a chainsaw carved, solid wooden sheep called “Lamby”.
To make things even more fun, the request was top secret, a birthday surprise for a friend of ours, Christine, who farm-sits for us on the rare occasions that we go away.
I had to be careful not to let anything slip out in conversation and had to work to a time scale to have the jacket ready in time for the birthday surprise!
So I allocated two weeks, and set about rummaging in the shed for the ideal fleece.
Now I should point out that “Lamby” the wooden, chainsaw carved sheep is actually a sculpture of a real live sheep belonging to our friend. So I had several photos to work with so I could make the jacket look authentic. Lamby is a Texel – Herdwick cross, and I had plenty of the right fleeces in the shed because to make things even more fun, our birthday friend Christine, happens to be the lady who gives me her fleeces every year!
So, armed with the perfect fleece, complete with purple paint spray on the bottom, I set about preparing it. This means going through the fleece and selecting the nicest looking locks. Not all locks are the same in one fleece, some are matted, prone to breakage, badly sheared, or just plain “manky”! I like to cherry pick my locks so that only the nicest go into what I’m making.
In the meantime, Christine’s husband, Russell, said he’d bring the wooden sheep over and leave it with me so I could get all the measurements I needed.
Now for some strange reason I had imagined the wooden sheep to be like one of those toys on wheels that you drag around. I’m not sure why I thought this, but when Russell arrived with the wooden sheep fresh from the chainsaw carver (https://www.facebook.com/chipoffchainsawcarving/), I nearly fell over backwards. He opened the boot of his pick-up, and there she was, she was enormous!! Probably bigger than the biggest sheep I’ve ever seen. Once I’d recovered myself and my husband and Russell had given themselves hernias getting her out of the car and heaving her into the shed with ratchet straps, I could see she was just beautiful! Intricately carved with amazing attention to detail I was left a bit speechless to be honest, which my husband would probably say is a rare occurrence.
The following day, after mulling things over and waking up a bit in the night in a cold sweat, I decided I’d need at least two more fleeces, one wasn’t going to be big enough. I also started to wonder if two weeks would be enough time to get the job done. Bearing in mind I’ve never made a felted fleece jacket before, least of all for a wooden sheep!
But in amongst the panic I was also hugely excited. I absolutely love making stuff, I love sewing, I love felt making, and this task would embody my two favourite things! Like a woman possessed I started to plan designs in my head, would I line it? Should I add a hood? What colour lining should I make? Should I make it reversible? How would it fasten? I had excitement butterflies from all the mulling and absolutely couldn’t wait to get started. Soon my work space started to resemble a mad professor’s workshop, there was wool everywhere, bits of pattern paper, bubble wrap, pink spotty fabric, it was such FUN!!!! By now I had a vision in my mind as to how I wanted the Lamby jacket to look and had it all drawn out on pattern paper. (Well, I had to order some more pattern paper actually as I’d scribbled so many “first attempts” that I ran out of paper!) I also cut up a few old bed sheets to make my “toiles” much to Adrian’s horror, “are those our new bedsheets from Marks and Spencer’s”? He asked me as I disappeared into my parlour like a puff of smoke!
Days went by and I worked away, I sweated and toiled as I tore locks from fleeces and made huge piles of “usable locks” and “locks for veggie patch” (non-usable locks would be used as mulch in the garden).
A week went by and I decided I had enough locks to start laying them out onto my enormous template ready and waiting in the shed.
Off I went trailing wool in my wake and Adrian didn’t see me for days as I placed locks of wool, small bunches at a time, until the entire template was completely covered. It was laborious work, but seeing it grow before my eyes was deeply satisfying, a bit like putting compost on the garden. You start counting wheelbarrow loads, at first you work out there are 50 more loads to go, and then suddenly you realise there are only 3!!
At long last, with the template covered with locks, I was ready to add the hot water and soap and begin felting.
I pondered how much water I’d need. Normally to make a large rug I use two enormous pans full. For this job I reckoned I would need at least 6.
Pans ready on the aga, I started to felt, running backwards and forwards between the shed and the kitchen like a bee, I thought, this is what it must have been like for a Victorian girl working “in service”, carrying huge boiling pans of water to and fro. I spared a thought for my Auntie Edie who worked “in service” in a big house during the 1920s. Auntie Edie would have been proud of me, I inherited her Singer sewing machine and I was sorry she couldn’t see what I was getting up to, we would have had a cup of tea together and discussed fabric and wool and things like that.
But back to felting, three days went by and I repeated the water ceremony. I wet the wool, massaged it, soaped it, rolled it up, then I rolled the bundle 400 times and let it rest.
On day three after a total of 1,600 rolls I was satisfied the wool had felted.
Now to let it dry!!
I absolutely couldn’t wait for it to dry so I could try it out for size on Lamby, and begin to snip it to shape so I could start the fun part, attaching the pink spotty lining to it!
But I had to be patient, oh dear, not my favourite thing I do admit.
In two days it was dry (ish), and I took my scissors to it.
Then I cut out the lining and realised I’d made a wee mistake, I needed to be able to turn the whole thing inside out as I’d be sewing it together “right sides facing” but the felted fleece was so huge I’d need to allow a long slit to be able to turn it the right side out. I’d later sew the slit up by hand and make it as discreet as possible. I decided to cut the lining down the middle but in my excitement I forgot to add seam allowance. Luckily I’d ordered twice as much fabric as I needed, phew!! I set about cutting it correctly and this time my plan worked!
With the jacket now finished all that was left for me to do was try it on Lamby, and let Russell know he could come and collect it ready for the next day.
I’m very pleased to report that Christine loves her wooden sheep complete with woolly jacket 😊