Life at The Little Grey Sheep

A Portuguese Adventure

A Portuguese Adventure

When Neil suggested a break in Portugal my mind didn’t immediately turn to thoughts of woolly things although, unsurprisingly,  it didn’t take me long to start investigating.

The history of Portuguese wool is rich with diverse breeds of sheep produced for meat, milk and fleece. However, as with the rest of Europe, the decline of wool production tracks the rise of alternative fibres, and the subsequent loss of it's financial value to the farmer. This has forced the diversification of fine wool flocks into mutton and milk production.

A view of the city from São Jorge Castle from its commanding position overlooking Lisbon. 

In 2010 a group of people passionate about revitalising the cultural heritage of Portuguese wool established a project to renovate the spinning and weaving machinery to produce Burel. The wool is locally gathered from Bordaleira sheep, a breed capable of growing resistant, but still soft to the touch, fibres. The result is a tight, wear-resistant, natural fabric that is also water-repellent and fire retardant, without losing its flexibility. Burel was traditionally a very hard wearing fabric which had been spun and woven from the local sheep and then either boiled and compressed into an attractive, touch pliable fabric, or used as blankets and clothing.

The project looked at ways of bringing a contemporary feel into this ancient art. Through innovative design they have produced a range of outerwear of the most beautiful bags. Burel also now provide the felted fabric to architects and designers looking to utilise it's fantastic acoustic dampening properties.

The Burel shop located in Lisbon is cool and stylish and although I could of taken home many of the goodies on offer I opted for a back pack, as a girl never has enough bags.

A few of the Burel blanket designs.

The other treat to be held was Retrosaria a small shop, easily passed by on the Rue do Loreto 61. Through a rather tired doorway and up a steep stairway to the second floor we discovered a room full of beautiful things. From interesting Japanese pattern books to ribbon manufactured for the shop in Portugal. A worn table displayed many skeins of Portuguese yarn. All rather rustic, but beautiful and representative of the different sheep. The owner Rosa Pomar spends her time between the shop, where she teaches, and her field research of Portuguese textiles. Rosa has been crusading to bring back yarns produced in Portugal and has written a book , El Mundo de Pica Pau, which will be on my Christmas list as it is out in English later this year.

 My goodies from Retrosaria.

Our next stop was the seaside town of Cascais, 40 minutes taxi ride further West than Lisbon it sits sheltered from the Atlantic. The streets are a mosaic of limestone and black basalt in beautifully intricate patterns, wide promenades play host to numerous cafes and small restaurants where fish is fresh from the local fishing boats.

Through one of my Instagram friends I was steered towards The Craft Company, away from the beach front it caught my eye immediately with a lovely shop front display. Inside the tiny shop was an array of haberdashery and knitting treats, covering the walls from floor to ceiling. Suffice to say I managed to buy some holiday goodies before departing.

For rest of the holiday, I ended up steering away from more fibre related retail therapy, giving me a chance to concentrate on my holiday knitting.

Portugal is a beautiful country with kind hospitable people and the most amazing food. Inspiration abounds due to the fantastic landscape and light and it will definitely be on the list for a return trip.

Moving On - New Website

Moving On - New Website

Well we finally bit the bullet and realised that our old website, now 3 years old was creaking at the seams.

When we designed it, my knowledge was very limited as to what our fledgling company needed. Over time it has been added to, and added to, and now looks like and old favourite jumper being patched up at every turn. The final straw was when it told everyone who tried to order that they lived in Finland, whether from Guildford or Australia.

So here we are, a clean new look. I am hoping we do not have too many teething troubles, but please let me know if there is anything you think that can be improved. As most of you now, I am chief plate spinner, especially while my IT Director Bella insists on completing her degree. Kids! you just can't rely on them.

The first half of the year has evaporated already and June has its feet firmly under the table. A new exhibition on the calendar was Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March. Supremely well organised and in one of the most beautiful cities it was a great 2 days although rather exhausting. It was particularly exciting to meet Kate Davies who I have always admired. What a lovely lady and a really talented designer.

There were some great examples of Bohus Stickning on show. I find it awe inspiring the tenacity of someone to knit a full jersey on 2mm needles, but it does look awesome

The summer is always busy for us. Sorting of fleece to go away for scouring, hand dyeing our newly arrived yarns and preparing for the winter exhibitions.

Beautiful Lustrous Stein

The shine on our new seasons Stein Fine Wool® gives the impression that it has been blended with silk, but it is just the lustre that comes through from the breeding. This years crop of fleece is softer and shinier than ever, so it is really exciting and some what nerve racking to have to wait to see how the yarn turns out.

Reading The Tealeaves, The Faded Rose, The Merry Widow L to R Stein Fine Wool® 4ply

A really wet period has caused havoc with our normally with haymaking. The fields have turned into mud puddings, the joys of farming on clay caps and shearing in lots of areas has been delayed. Sorting the fleece took twice as long this year as I had to ensure anything unpleasant was consigned to the compost heap. Actually most of our skirted fleece ends up around the new hedging we have planted. It is great at keeping the weeds down as well as providing nutrients as it rots. Not a lot goes to waste on the farm, there is always a job for most waste products.