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MacKenzie and Kellar: textiles made from Shetland sheep wool

The blankets come in a fringed or purled edging. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography
The blankets come in a fringed or purled edging. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography

Shetland sheep produce the most wonderful fleeces and it seemed a crime not to make good use of them. So Sarah Hogg decided to launch her own business making blankets and scarves from her small flock – all of which have names by the way.

High up on a wall in the lambing shed there’s a list of names, names like Lucky, Star, Midge, Thistle... all hand painted on little boards.

These are the names of the lambs that have been born here and become part of the small flock of Shetland sheep kept by Sarah and Alan Hogg over the years.

It’s a good indicator of this family’s attachment to the animals that live in the fields surrounding Yellands Farm, their home near Whimple.

 

What began as a decision to keep six sheep, has led to a passion for small scale farming and a new home business for Sarah.

MacKenzie & Kellar makes and sells beautiful blankets, throws and scarves using the fleeces that come from the couple’s small flock.

I’m here on a chilly day, entering the warm kitchen of the house they moved to 20 years ago. It’s homely and cosy – and there’s a chicken quietly resting by the stove in straw-filled cardboard box. She wasn’t looking too happy when Sarah went to feed them in their run this morning, so she brought her inside for a little TLC.

Going on a wander through the fields surrounding Sarah and Alan’s red brick farmhouse, I can see the affection the couple have for all their animals.

Great British Life: MacKenzie & Kellar blankets and scarves come in a range of either natural or gently dyed colours. Photo: Nova Wedding PhotographyMacKenzie & Kellar blankets and scarves come in a range of either natural or gently dyed colours. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography

The sheep are dotted around in different fields. In the first there’s a small flock of seven who are in lamb. Sarah talks about their fleeces, explaining how Shetlands were mainly bred for their wool which is soft and silky and has colour variations; she parts one fleece to show its wavy crimp.

The ewes regard us for a while, then continue to graze; it’s a peaceful scene. Things are a little more lively in a nearby field which contains a bigger flock, an assortment of all shapes and sizes of sheep.

These are the various individuals who aren’t having lambs, but live together as one big family. Some are quite elderly – they still have five of those original sheep - and some have had a few problems in life. Like Button.

Button is tiny, much smaller than her companions, and she wears a little jacket; she had trouble growing and will never get much bigger. ‘If she didn’t have the jacket she wouldn’t survive,’ says Sarah. Button likes her coat too – one time when it got pulled off after getting caught up on some undergrowth, she just stood quietly beside Alan while he fastened it back on, ‘She was very happy to have it on again.’

Great British Life: Shetlands' fleeces come in a range of beautiful colours. Photo: Nova Wedding PhotographyShetlands' fleeces come in a range of beautiful colours. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography

‘In the summertime I love to sit in the field and watch them all,’ says Sarah. ‘They’re not wild and they’re not a pet, but we treat them with a lot of kindness and they reward you by being friendly.’

The flock has averaged around 50 sheep at most, there’s no current desire to make it bigger.

The lambs live with their mothers for 12 weeks, by which time, ‘mum is quite glad to see them go!’ says Sarah.

They do produce some meat from the male sheep, but they live at the farm for around 18 months, so longer than most. They produce hogget, which is much more flavourful, says Sarah. It’s processed at Greendale and apart from feeding the family, some is sold to a waiting list of locals – which in turn ‘helps to sustain our hobby’, says Sarah.

Alan and Sarah moved to Yellands Farm for the views and the expansive countryside that surrounded the house. It came with two fields which already had some sheep belonging to a neighbour.

Great British Life: Sarah and Alan both love tending their flock of sheep. Photo: Nova Wedding PhotographySarah and Alan both love tending their flock of sheep. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography

As they got settled in, and started renovating the house, they became interested in the sheep and decided to keep a few themselves. Alan started his research and they helped out with neighbours’ animals. The support from the local farmers has been invaluable, they say. ‘They’ve been incredibly helpful and given their time and shared their knowledge,’ says Sarah.

They decided on Shetlands, partly due to Alan’s Scottish roots. It was never going to a commercial venture but the couple quickly fell in love with their new found hobby.

It’s a love shared by other members of the family too, especially around lambing time, when everyone tries to make it home. Teenage granddaughter Annabel always wants to help and has cared for poorly lambs – she's also behind that list of names on the lambing shed wall.

The sheep get sheared in early summer, in the first couple of years Alan had a go but shearer Dan has been tasked with the job in recent years.

Alan does ‘the lion’s share’ of looking after the sheep (although Sarah says, ’I’m very happy to go out with a bucket of sheep nuts!’); but as he points out, ‘My interest stops as soon as the fleece comes off the sheep!’ And this is where Sarah picks up the MacKenzie & Kellar reins.

Great British Life: Sarah's blankets are made to be passed down through the generations. Photo: Nova Wedding PhotographySarah's blankets are made to be passed down through the generations. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography

She had always thought it was terrible not to be making something special out of the Shetland fleeces.

So, she set about researching the wool and talking to local weavers and spinners for inspiration and advice.

We’re now back in the kitchen, drinking coffee and eating cake, freshly baked by Sarah. She brings out some of her beautiful creations. They are so tactile, the softest blankets and scarves to wrap around and snuggle up in.

Sarah set up MacKenzie & Kellar around five years ago, after sourcing a place to process the wool and a weaver. She was very intent on keeping both as local as possible.

Blacker Yarns just over the border in Launceston processes the fleeces into yarn which is then sent to Bristol Weaving Mill to be woven into the blankets.

Great British Life: Sarah's blankets are made entirely from the wool of her flock of sheep. Photo: Nova Wedding PhotographySarah's blankets are made entirely from the wool of her flock of sheep. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography

This micro mill was set up by textile designers Juliet Bailey and Franki Brewer and Sarah is delighted to have found them. The mill works on both small-scale, hand woven projects as well as larger ones.

‘We throw ideas around and talk about styles and patterns and the natural colours to go for. I wanted somewhere I could deal with directly myself and they are so lovely.’

A new range of blankets, scarves and wraps in three new natural colours is underway with a launch due around April-time.

Many years ago, Sarah was given a blanket by her grandmother, it was one that she herself had been given as a child. Holding this memory has been important to Sarah, and that sense of comfort and nostalgia is what she hopes to continue with MacKenzie & Kellar. It's certainly a continuation of the homely feel at Yellands Farm and the couple’s love for their girls and the wool they produce.

These are very special blankets, ones which Sarah hopes people will keep and pass on to future generations.

mackenzieandkellar.co.uk

Great British Life: Shetland sheep were primarily bred for their fleeces. Photo: Nova Wedding PhotographyShetland sheep were primarily bred for their fleeces. Photo: Nova Wedding Photography



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