Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Sheepskin Slippers

This post probably isn't for you if you are a strict vegan! I’m most definitely a meat eater. I know there are a lot of good arguments for and against eating meat, I’m afraid I love the taste just too much to contemplate giving it up. My Mum is a strict vegetarian and has been since she was fifteen, so we’re used to veggie food although she did cook meat for us, but she eats dairy and wears leather.
Up until about 2 years ago my parents had a couple of sheepskin rugs in their house. One on the floor in front of the television and from childhood right up until they gave them away, I use to lie on it when watching TV. Here’s a good old 80’s photo (hence the poor quality) of my brother and me doing just that!
My boss, Pete, keeps sheep on his small holding for breeding and to sell the meat. They are all the same breed, Lleyn which originated in the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales. He sells the ewes for breeding and the males (wethers) for meat when they are old enough. Until then he gives them everything they could want on his orchard/farm in North Somerset overlooking the Avon Valley. Here's a picture of me helping to feed some of the ewes:
Last year I went over to his during lambing season just in time to see twins being born. Unfortunately the first did not come out smoothly, it took over an hour and was quite traumatic but the second popped straight out no problem. They were both fine and healthy though. This is a picture of the first lamb:

As I said he sells the meat and I especially love lamb, so much so we had locally-sourced lamb shank as the main course for our wedding breakfast (my Dad ate three! Luckily he was wearing a kilt and could let it out a notch). We bought half a lamb last year and again this year and it’s been delicious. In previous years, Pete has left the skins to the abattoir to dispose of. I’m a firm believer than things shouldn't be wasted, if it can be avoided, and that as many parts of an animal should be used as possible. So this year Pete and I decided we would have the skins tanned and make mittens and slippers from them.
We found a tannery in Devon that has been tanning sheepskins for over 200 years. The first step in the process, once the skin has been removed, is that they need to be “salted” preferable within two hours but definitely no more than a few hours after removal. As we couldn't get them there within this time I had to do the first part myself. It basically involved rubbing a kilo of salt into the flesh side of the skin to start the drying out and prevent rotting (wearing two pairs of nitrile gloves). It wasn't as bad a job as I had expected but it did hurt my back and thighs, also, with all that salt flying around my lips got very sore and red. 
The following day Pete sprinkled a further half kilo of salt on each and that was all that was needed before taking to the tannery.
My hubby and I went down to Devon with them over Easter. We put all 10 skins in the back of our VW Polo, it must have been a strange sight for anyone behind us.
Now have to wait for the tannery to do their thing, this is currently taking about 18 weeks, and hopefully we’ll have lovely, soft tanned sheepskins to make slippers and mittens with in time for Christmas. I’ll keep you updated.
Until next time, Craft in Earnest!


  1. bookmarked!!, I love your website!

    My web blog; Jonathan

    1. Ah thanks so much, that's very kind of you!
      I'll be sure to check your blog out. Cheers