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A visit to the Woolly Shepherd

Back in 2010 we visited Val Grainger (a.k.a. the Woolly Shepherd) in the Blackdown Hills on the Somerset/Devon border.

Val keeps her own small flock of sheep and also started a fantastic, award winning ethical small business which processes waste wool into felt wool insulation and other products. Although she is now no longer involved in the business herself, she remains a bit of a wool guru to me!

I met Val a few years prior to our visit on a course for permaculture teachers, and was rather taken by her knowledge of sheep, wool and feltmaking on an industrial scale. Her micro-teach session on why we should all be buying British wool products was inspirational

and her description of how she applied permaculture principles of sustainability to her business design was positively enlightening! I decided there and then to find some time to visit her one day. Even though I didn’t really need an excuse for a trip to Val’s, I was looking into keeping sheep myself, and keen to explore the business side of feltmaking, so I arranged a visit in June 2010. Myself, Kane (partner) and Chris & Cordelia (of Vallis Veg fame), along with our two youngest children – and best friends – Arran & Alexandra set off in our rattletrap van and, on arrival, were treated to a cup of tea and tour of Val’s own small flock of sheep. After answering all our questions about sheep husbandry and the like, we piled back in our van and drove to Val’s wool processing plant.

Over a cacophony of sound coming from the machinery, Val managed to describe each step of wool processing that takes place here. Not only did she offer wool processing services to local smallholders and spinners, weavers, dyers and feltmakers, she also offered bespoke feltmaking facilities’ (felt covers for yurts for example), and more recently had entered into an agreement with Axminster Carpets (just down the road) to take their waste yarns off their hands. In true permaculture spirit Val spotted a real opportunity to turn a waste (weekly sacks of dyed off cuts from Axminster carpets’ giant weaving looms) into a product (wool insulation for meat boxes and homes amongst other things). So, she adapted her machinery so that it could to tease the spun wool yarn apart before carding, and developed an innovative and green alternative to conventional meat box insulation for Riverford Organic veg boxes in the
process! Did I mention she’s a bit of a guru?!

To top it up, the whole premise was run on solar PV and solar thermal and Val had lots more ideas up her sleeve to increase the business’s green credentials even more so. I came away from this trip thoroughly impressed, inspired and with a whole lot of clipped ‘hind quarter wool’, which is unsuitable for carding – even after washing – and full of nutrient rich sheep manure, with which to mulch my black-and red currant bushes at home. Although I personally prefer to make felt by hand, I totally get what Val is doing with her business and anyone who tries to singlehandedly rejuvenate the count(r)y’s wool industry gets my support!

Admiring the old machineryAdmiring the old machinery

Val demonstrates the felting machine which allows continous lengths of feltVal demonstrates the felting machine which allows continuous lenghts of felt

Val with her innovative felt meat box insulation for Riverford Veg BoxesVal with her innovative meat box insulation made from felt

Waste wool from Axminster Carpets down the road, carded & ready for re-useWaste wool from Axminster Carpets down the road, carded and ready for re-use

  1. Hi

    Good to see your lovely pics of Val’s old workshop. Thought you might like to know that The Woolly Shepherd lives on – we bought the company from Val and have taken it on into acoustic materials and much more. Despite the demise of Axminster Carpets, we are still thriving!

    Love your hare, corvid and ram’s heads – absolutely beautiful.


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