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Blog Posts (18)

  • Cumbrian Fell Ponies - the Centenary of the Fell Pony Society 2022

    This year is the centenary of the Fell Pony Society, whose patron is Her Majesty the Queen. This year is also the Queen’s platinum Jubilee. Her 96th birthday photograph was Her Majesty with two of her Fell ponies. I have been invited to take part in the "Celebrating Fell Ponies' Centenary exhibition at The Old Courthouse, Shap in the summer of 2022. As you walk the Ullswater Way, you may be lucky enough to come across some of Cumbria’s fell ponies. Once widely used as working ponies, taking wool to market, pulling ploughs and working in the mines but there are now only about 6500 left worldwide and they are classified as ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. You may spot them high up on the fells above Ullswater where they are being used for conservation grazing because they eat and trample in very different ways from sheep. The ancestor of the Cumbrian Fell pony (and the Dales pony) is the now-extinct Galloway. They originated on the England/Scotland border before the Romans arrived. The Vikings used Fell ponies to plough, pull sledges, as pack animals and to ride. The working animals were kept in the villages and the breeding stock lived up on the fells. From the 11th Century, fell ponies were used to carry fleeces, woollen goods, cheese, meat preserves and metal ores long distances. By the 13th Century this practice had evolved into pack trains, with the front pony wearing bells so that the others could follow it in poor weather. In the winter of 1492-3, when fine wool was one of Britains largest exports, 11 Kendal traders made 14 journeys to Southampton carrying cloth. These pack pony trains continued into the 20th Century. Fell Ponies were used as pit ponies where seams were deep enough. They were also used above ground in collieries for moving machinery. They transported copper, iron and lead ores from mines to smelting work in the north west and they carried iron and lead long distances across the north of England to Newcastle and returned with coal. The ponies also carried dairy products from the farms above the pits into towns. Even after the arrival canals and railways pack ponies remained essential for reaching remote communities. They were used to deliver mail to rural areas and are still used for carrying grouse panniers and stags down from moors. Today, Fell Ponies are being used again as driving ponies, most notably by the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The predominance of dark coloured genes means that it is relatively easy to find a matching pair. They have a great deal of stamina and are very sure footed, even on rough or marshy ground. Most recently, they have started to be used to carry footpath repair equipment to remote areas of the Lake District. Fix the Fells, a charity whose rangers and volunteers maintain the Lake District trails, have used them to carry fleeces to a high trail in the Langdales. Here the wool will be placed on a boggy area before trail materials are laid on top so the trail will float on the bog rather than sinking in to it. See a video about the project here: Fell ponies are most often a very dark brown or black with only very small amounts of white, such as a star on their forehead. However, every so often you see white (grey) ones. We know that the Cistercian monks at Furness Abbey traditionally rode white ponies. When Furness abbey fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, the ponies were released to the wild and merged with the wild Cumbrian Fell ponies. It is thought that this explains the grey fell ponies we see in the Lakes today. There are some on the fells above Aira Force. Fell ponies are increasingly valued for their role in conservation grazing on the fells. They help increase biodiversity, for example by controlling the spread of gorse and trampling the bracken to creating open ground where seeds can germinate. Fell ponies sometime sport a bristly moustache (see photo) which is thought to help them feel and differentiate different types of grass, especially when foraging in pour light. There is concern that fell ponies may lose their ability to survive year-round on the fells if future Stewardship Schemes result in them being removed from the fells for a number of months each winter. Foals born and raised on the fells are hardy enough to survive the Lake District winters and, like Herdwick sheep, they become hefted to their home area, learning the terrain from their mothers. There are worries that these traits are lost if the ponies are brought off the fells each winter, or have been bred away from the fells. The Fell Pony has been a part of the Ullswater Valley’s history since Roman times. They have helped shape our landscape and been an integral part of our cultural heritage, invaluable in the past for transporting both agricultural produce and mined materials. Today their role has changed, but it is essential that this endangered native breed is preserved. When you next see a fell pony, why not take a moment to remember their rich cultural heritage and the role they have played in shaping the landscape of the Cumbrian fells. Fell Pony Heritage Trust Rare Breeds Survival Trust Fell Pony Society Quaker Tapestry Museum

  • Valais Blacknose: 'the cutest sheep in the world!'

    The Valais region of Switzerland follows the Rhone valley from its sources to Lake Geneva. The region is extremely mountainous and includes the iconic Matterhorn. The origin of the Valais Blacknose sheep is not entirely clear. Their name (Walliser Schwarznasenschaf) only dates from 1884, but there are mentions of them as far back as the fifteenth century. They are thought to belong to the Northern Short Tailed group of sheep that includes Shetland and Hebridean sheep in the UK. These breeds travelled all over Europe with the Vikings. The Valais Blacknose has been endangered more than once because fashions in sheep-breeding change (one of the reasons that the Rare Breeds Survival Trust exists). They have always been a dual purpose (meat and wool) breed but breeding to improve the wool has a detrimental effect on the meat and visa versa. Switzerland attempted to standardise their mountain sheep in the 1930s and older mountain breeds suffered accordingly. Diseases such as TB took their toll around the same time. It was not until the 1960s when the breed was officially recognised and they were admitted to the Swiss Sheep Breeding Association that their fortunes began to change. By the 1980s, there were almost 1000 and in 2013, over 17000. There are now around 13000 in Switzerland but these are threatened by the recent return of wolves to the region. In Switzerland a system of transhumance operates where the sheep are grazed high up in the mountains during the summer months and brought down to lower pastures in the winter, similar the the hefting of Herdwicks in Cumbria. The first Valais Blacknose sheep came to the UK in 2014 when they arrived in Northumberland. Being mountain sheep from a demanding environment, they coped well with their new home. They are large sheep, so very good for the meat trade, but their popularity is far more to do with their ‘teddy bear’ appearance and their nick name of ‘the cutest sheep in the world!' Once pictures of them hit social media when they appeared on the BBC Countryfile programme, their popularity increased dramatically. There are now flocks of them all over the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland. A Welsh bred ram fetched a record 14 000 guineas in a Carlisle auction in 2021.They command a high price in the UK because Switzerland has banned their export. They are docile and easily tamed, despite their size, so are often kept as pets, even in their homeland. They also have the unusual trait of being able to breed all year round with is shared with only a few British breeds, the Portland and the Dorset breeds. I was inspired to create these portraits and write this blog by my neighbour acquiring the ram in the photos above. My particular interest is in their wool, which can grow 30cm in a year, but they are often shorn twice to prevent it reaching this length. The weight of wool that they produce in a year is around 4kg but it is categorised by British Wool as ‘carpet wool’ due to its coarseness (or high micron count of around 38). It has a lustre to it and beautiful loose locks but does not felt well due to it coarseness. What causes wool to felt is the interlocking of the overlapping scales on the surface of the wool. Fine wools, such as Shetland have many more scales per square millimetre than coarse wools and consequently felt much more easily. The portraits I have created have used some Valais wool, but I have found that my neighbour’s Valais x Dorset Down wool is finer and felts more easily.

  • Bluefaced Leicesters and the history of wool in Great Britain

    The unusual and distinctive breed and its place in British wool production. There have been longwool breeds of sheep in Great Britain since the middle ages. At that time, British wool was a valuable commodity so the focus was on wool production. Consequently, these sheep were poor producers of lamb and mutton.The raw wool was exported to the weavers of Flanders in cities such as Bruges, Ghent and Ypes. From 13th-15th Century, wool was the backbone of the British economy (Shakespeare’s father was a wool trader) and the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords still sits on the ‘woolsack’ stuffed with Cheviot wool. Vast numbers of sheep were kept for wool in the middle ages. From the 11th Century, Cumbrian Fell ponies were used to carry fleeces and woollen goods long distances. By the 13th Century this practice had evolved into pack trains, with the front pony wearing bells so that the others could follow in poor weather. In the winter of 1492-3, when fine wool was one of Britains largest exports, 11 Kendal traders made 14 journeys to Southampton carrying cloth. These pack pony trains continued into the 20th Century. Later on the landowners dealt directly with the Flemish merchants, cutting out the middle man. The merchants continued to buy from peasants who even had specially built balconies to display their wares. The wool trade was so lucrative that it was heavily taxed by cash-strapped monarchs. Edward III even went to war with France to protect the wool trade with Flanders (“The hundred years war” 1337-1453). The Flemish weavers fled to Britain and set up workshops all over the country. By the 15th Century, Britain was producing much more cloth. The wool trade and the huge profits to be made lead to the ‘Highland Clearances’ between 1750 and 1850, where landowners forcibly removed crofters in order to convert their mixed smallholdings into more sheep grazing. Many of these tenants fled to Canada and the United States It was the genius of Robert Bakewell (1725-95), of Dishley, Leicestershire who converted the medieval longwool (or Old English Leicester Longwool) into the longwool breeds of today. Robert Bakewell was a pioneer of selective breeding. Selective breeding was made easier by the concurrent enclosure movement where commons were carved up, fenced and divided between tenant and landowners. The quality of the sheep improved because there was less incentive to overstock. When everyone’s sheep were grazing together on commons, selective breeding was difficult and diseases spread quickly. Robert Bakewell used Teeswaters, Old English Leicester Longwool, Ryelands and other local sheep to create the “Improved Dishley Leicester.” This was a bigger, faster maturing breed addressing the demand for meat. Robert Bakewell leased his improved rams out, enabling him to test many more rams than he would have been able to alone, so he could make faster improvements. His Dishley Leicester was used to improve many other breeds and to create new one including the modern Leicester Longwool (see my previous blog on Leicester Longwools: Robert Bakewell gathered a following, the most famous of which were Matthew and George Culley. They used improved Dishley Leicester rams, Teeswaters and Cheviots to create the breed we call the Border Leicester. These are now regarded as “at risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The Border Leicester has curly, beautiful lustrous wool and is used extensively as a crossing sire (see “Swaledales and the meat breeding pyramid” blog) ginving hybrid vigour to the lambs and improving the quality of the wool. The Wensleydale breed can be traced back to “Bluecap”, a ram born in North Yorkshire in 1839. He was a cross between a Dishley Leicester ram and a Teeswater ewe. He was a large ram with a nearly black skin and a fine white, longwool coat. The Wensleydale fleece is finer than the Border Leicester and prized by hand spinners. The Wensleydale is also extensively used as a crossing sire. When crossed with a Swaledale ewe, the result is a Masham. The Bluefaced Leicester came about at the end of the 19th Century by selecting Border Leicesters with dark skins and fine fleeces. Blue-skinned Wensleydales were also probably used. It was created as a ‘crossing breed.’ They are extensively use as the first cross in the meat-breeding pyramid, being crossed with Swaledales (amonst others) to produce the North Country Mule (see 'Swaledales and the sheep breeding pyramid' blog The dark skinned rams produced much finer wool in the North Country Mule than occurs in the Swaledale and their wool now makes up about 25% of wool bought by British Wool. The Bluefaced Leicester spread rapidly across Great Britain, replacing the Teeswater as a crossing sire. Today, the Bluefaced Leicester produces the majority of commercial breeding ewes in the UK. And then there were two In the last 30 years, there has been a divergence in the Bluefaced Leicester population. North Country Mule lambs have strikingly attractive facial markings. Bluefaced Leicester rams with the genes to produce these marking have been selectively bred and tend to have similar marking to their Mule offspring. The traditional Bluefaced Leicester has a blue head and white legs (see photograph at the top of this blog), whereas the modern Bluefaced Leicester has brown markings on its face and often brown legs too. Currently, they are still regarded as one breed. I love to needle felt Bluefaced Leicesters for two reasons: I can photograph them a few yards from my house and their wool is gorgeous to work with! My background colours are also Bluefaced Leicester bought from a talented local lady.

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  • Home | Ullswater Felt Art

    ABOUT ULLSWATER FELT ART Log In ULLSWATER FELT ART I started felting after a career in education. I was inspired by Cumbria’s long history of sheep farming and the many photographs I took. As a keen walker and photographer, I am often out on the fells which provide a constant source of inspiration. Needle felting is an ideal medium to capture the textures and colours that characterise the animals that are my subjects. Initially, I felted portraits of local Lake District sheep such as Herdwicks and Swaledales using locally sourced Herdwick and Swaledale wool. I now needle felt a wide variety of different breeds of sheep as well as ponies, cows, goats, alpacas, hares and red squirrels in a studio overlooking Ullswater. I am a member of the Cumbria Support Group of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Since 2018 I have been needle felting my way through their Watchlist of endangered breeds in order to draw attention to this important issue. Many of the endangered sheep breeds are the traditional wool breeds. It is also important to me to preserve our red squirrels and brown hares so my work highlights the importance of the Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group and the Hare Preservation Trust ( see blog page). Jane Firth To play, press and hold the enter key. To stop, release the enter key. My needle felted animal portraits have texture from the wool fibres and depth from many layers. They are created in a studio overlooking Ullswater in the English Lake District, Cumbria. I specialise in Herdwick and Swaledale sheep and British rare breed farm animals. Below is a short time-lapse of how a piece is created. If you are interested in a commission, please use the contact form below. Feedback from customers ​ It is as beautiful as we remember it and we are delighted. It will be prominently displayed where we will enjoy it. Your packaging is to be applauded too, extremely well protected, very well done, and much thanks for your follow up attention re the delivery (and Parcel Forces bizarre referencing number). Happy Customers Jim & Deborah (Norfolk) The felt arrived today, its lovely, I can't stop looking at it! I got a frame at the weekend so it's in there ready to go up once we've finished decorating.Lucy (Leeds) I has arrived! Thanks so much, it is amazing. Many thanks, Ruth (Dorset) They arrived today! In beautiful condition and even more lovely than expected.Winifred (Canada) I thought you might like to see your beautiful piece framed and ready to hang in my dining room. The hare will be ready early next week.Winifred (Canada) The cards have just arrived. They are lovely, much larger than I expected. I will be back for more.Sue (Somerset) What a joy it was to see my Mom open the package with the beautiful Herdwick. She loves it!! It’s so realistic and expressive. We just need to find a nice frame for him and hang it up in my Mom’s room. She had a brilliant birthday! Magdalena (Ireland) CONTACT US Send Your details were sent successfully!

  • About | ullswaterfeltart

    The reason I called it "Ullswater Felt Art" Thank you for visiting my website. I am Jane. Since I started felting in 2017, I have evolved a style of felting with a strong 3-dimensional element using local wool. I started with the sheep I see around me (Herdwicks, Swaledales, mules, Rough Fell and Blue Faced Leicesters) but I now felt a wide variety of sheep, goats, ponies, cows, hares, red squirrels and landscapes I work in a converted garage overlooking Ullswater. I have used wool from my neighbour’s sheep that I can see from my window. Shearing time is busy because it is an ideal opportunity to stock up on the colours and textures I want. There is a surprising variety of sheep in my local area, so putting my name on a fleece in advance is a good way of securing what I want! A whole fleece is a lot of wool, so takes a lot of washing. I wet felt my basic shapes (the same process that shrinks a wool jumper in the washing machine see blog page) and needle felt the detail and the background using a barbed needle that entangles the wool fibres in a similar way to wet felting.More recently, I have acquired a drum carder to card and then dye my own wool. The Brackenrigg Inn and the Quiet Site, Ullswater have permanent exhibitions of my work.The Eden Valley Artistic Network Gallery in Penrith and the Lion Gallery, Penrith also have some of my work. Two village shops (Pooley Bridge and Askham) keep my greetings cards. I take commissions too. Felting someone’s sheep with its own wool is particularly satisfying.

  • Greetings Cards | ullswaterfeltart

    Free delivery on UK card orders over £10. All cards are posted plastic free unless cellophane is requested. I love my cards, my friends & family are going to be delighted with them at Christmas Karen x (Nottingham) The cards arrived this morning, they are lovely. Thank you very much. Frank, Essex My order has just arrived, thank you for fulfilling it so quickly. The cards are so beautiful thank you, and very reasonably priced. Linda, South Yorkshire I just wanted to send you some feedback about your cards. They are absolutely beautiful. They look so nice on the website but are even nicer in real life! Thanks. Rebecca, Cheshire Quick View Highland cow greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Valais Blacknose greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Herdwick ram greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Hebridean lamb greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Herdwick lamb greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Badger greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Red Squirrel greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Red Squirrel greetings card Price £3.00 Seconds Quick View Fallow deer Regular Price £3.00 Sale Price £1.50 Quick View Highland calf Christmas card Price £3.00 Quick View Herdwick ram greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Swaledale ewe and lamb greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Jack the Border Collie greetings card Price £3.00 Stock clearance Quick View Fallow deer greetings card Regular Price £3.00 Sale Price £2.01 Quick View Swaledale ram greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Exmoor Pony greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Herdwick ewe and lamb greetings card Price £3.00 Quick View Herdwick Christmas card Price £3.00 Quick View Fell pony card Price £3.00 Quick View Highland calf card Price £3.00 Load More Thank you so much for the cards which arrived this morning, and for the extra one you included. They are beautiful, and I know my friends who love sheep, are going to enjoy receiving them during the year. Thank you for such a quick delivery service – very impressive. Janette, Sussex

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