The Story of Sheepish Fibre Art

Welcome to my first blog post! If you’ve found it, thank you for stopping by.

I wanted to give a little bit of background on how Sheepish came about, and who I am.

Hello, my name is Wendy. I love cats, horses, sausages and cheese, I don’t like baked beans or ketchup and am mortally afraid of spiders. I have a deeply ingrained phobia of low flying aircraft.

I live in a small town near Cambridge, along with my engineer husband and our four Persian cats, William (aka Tiggy Wiggy, or just Tigga), Poppins, Thomas and Sandy. My horse Buddy, aka The Silver Prince lives in a village near by.

I’ve knitted on and off all my life, I have vivid memories of my mother teaching me how to cast on and do knit stitch during a visit to my maternal grandparent’s house in Edmonton. The first thing I knitted was a little flag! My grandmother, Sally, had always been an excellent knitter. Sadly, while I was still very small, my mother started finding the odd, very uncharacteristic, mistake in the little cardigans that Nanny had made for me. Unbeknown to us, those little mistakes were the first indicators that something was wrong, and a few years later Sally was very sadly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was in her late 60s. She died seven years later which was a devastating blow for my mother. I didn’t really get to know her very well, all of my memories of her are a mix of sad yet often comical incidents. But I feel connected to her through my love of knitting, and I wish we could have had more time to share our hobby.

My Auntie Margaret was also a keen knitter. One Christmas she gave me a pair of knitted bed socks, and they were a prized possession for many years. At that time, the idea of knitting socks was akin to some sort of rocket science to me.

I love the connections with loved ones, past and present that knitting holds. We recently observed the 6th anniversary of the passing of my father, and I shared a picture of my parents from the late 70s with my sister. In the photograph our mother is wearing a brown hand knit cardigan, which my sister remembered. Garments like that are literally woven into the fabric of our existence, pieces lovingly created with time and effort, and then treasured, not only for the time they’re worn but for decades after in our memories.

I knitted and cross stitched my way through university, where I met Paul. His grandmother also taught him to knit when he was a little boy, but he’s never proved that he actually can. He definitely can cross stitch though, and I’ve no reason to doubt the validity of his claims. He’ll give in one day and show me.

Knitting has seen me through some dark times, through depression and anxiety, bereavement, major upheaval, and more recently, chronic illness (Myalgic Encephalomyalitis) and being retired on the grounds of ill health. My final pay slip from my employer stated ‘Invalid’. It’s seared on my brain for eternity, I have never felt so worthless. Both meanings of the word writing me off as a waste of space that no longer had a place in my profession. I felt utterly lost.

When I was first diagnosed, I’d already had 6 months of doing very little, which was a stark comparison to my usual frenetic burning of the candle at both ends. I could do very little physically or mentally, but when I had the capacity, I could knit. So I did. At that particular point in my life I had no idea whether I was coming or going. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, or if I’d ever get better. But the gentle motion of knitting just one more row helped me process the dramatic change in my circumstances. Thankfully I’d got a reasonable stash of lovely yarn built up, so my new economic situation didn’t impact on my ability to keep knitting. No one talks about yarn stashes in that regard: they’re extremely good for emergencies and sudden changes in circumstances! Make hay while the sun shines and all that, or buy the yarn when you have the money to do so…

Over the years, I’d developed a total passion for hand dyed yarn, with my local yarn store being the wonderful Sheep Shop in Cambridge, now very sadly closed. It was my favourite place to spend an hour or two perusing the amazing yarns, and discussing patterns with Sarah, the owner. As far as I was concerned, it was a little slice of heaven. I bought my first ever acid dyes from Sarah, as a teach yourself to dye yarn kit. I was in awe of dyers like Lola of Third Vault Yarns, and Heather of Sparkleduck: my stash is still heavily populated with yarns from both.

As my dyeing skills developed, and my situation changed, I started to wonder if dyeing professionally was a viable option for me. At this point I literally had nothing to lose, other than a few hundred pounds on a wholesale yarn order should it all go horribly wrong. So that’s what I did. In early 2017 I ordered the minimum 5kg from a yarn wholesaler, and I got cracking.

It is the most fun to dye yarn and fibre. Colour is the most amazing therapy.

It’s not been a straightforward journey by a long chalk, my illness has dictated all the way through how much I can do without breaking, and it’s been a real challenge learning how to pace myself. Once I get to the point of no return with the fatigue, mentally I’m unable to make sensible decisions about when I should stop. Thankfully Paul is much better than me at recognizing the signs, and he’ll often nudge me in the right direction, but I’ve also got a lot better at reacting to subtle signs that I’ve done too much rather than being surprised by the sudden inability to talk coupled with a four day migraine. Having ME is a bit like playing Snakes and Ladders, you think you’re doing really well, then bam, you’re back to a week in PJs on the sofa. It’s a really fine line between pushing myself a little bit to raise my baseline and sending myself toppling over the edge. But I still consider myself lucky, many people with this awful illness are bedbound, with no cure or treatment on the horizon.

2020 was going to be my first year of trying out a couple of big yarn shows, I’d applied for the Cornish Fibre Festival, and Fibre East. A lot of umming and ahhing went into applying, two years ago Mum and I had a wander around Fibre East, and it nearly finished me off, at that point I just would not have managed it. Since then I’ve painstakingly raised my activity baseline up quite a lot, so we made a new plan to dip our toes into the water and get Sheepish out there. Sadly the ‘rona put paid to all of our plans, although Fibre East ran as a virtual event which I took part in from the safety of my father-in-law’s garden.

I launched a new website on 5/7/20, which I’m immensely proud of. Until then I’d been selling via Etsy, which is a wonderful marketplace and allows me to reach customers who wouldn’t normally have found me. But the new website marks the start of a new era for Sheepish, I’m no longer content to be pottering around on the periphery of the yarn scene, my tiny little venture is growing into something I can be really proud of and I’m determined to be here for the long haul. The imposter syndrome has been banished, my confidence in myself and my ability has grown tenfold. I get up everyday looking forward to doing my job. My fellow dyers are an amazingly supportive bunch, and my customers are a delight, and not just because they help to pay my bills. I’m so grateful to every single person who has bought from me, lent a hand, advice, support, let me take over their garden, you name it, I’m very thankful.

So, that’s the story of Sheepish to date! I’m really excited about what the future holds, I have grand plans for themed yarn clubs and project bags, and very soon I’m hoping to add batts to my fibre collection. Long term it’s my plan to get my own yarn line spun by a British mill, but that’s a good way off in the future.

But it’s good to dream though, right?


1 comment

  • Lovely to have found you! Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve just got into crochet over the pandemic… a bit of felting and now Rag Doll making for my grand-daughter… but your early memories ring true for me… knitting and handmade clothes were the fabric of my childhood from my mum and gran xxx
    Hope to be a customer not just a stalker very soon!

    Jo Puckering

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