Working from her farm in the beautiful Peak District National Park, Deborah Griffin creates one-of-a-kind felted fleece rugs crafted solely from sheep's wool. “I started making rugs about nine years ago, made from wool from my own flock of sheep,” she says. “We had just finished a renovation project on our 250-year-old farmhouse, and I was ready for a new challenge.”
Deborah was keen to create a business around her new homestead, linking her love of sheep with her interest in home interiors. After months of research, including trips abroad to meet with other rugmakers, Deborah decided to take the plunge and set up her first business, The Living Rug Company. “After a great deal of trial and error, it slowly but surely came together.”
Deborah acquired four Herdwick sheep in 2010; since then, many more breeds have joined the flock on her farm in the Peak District.
Soon enough, Deborah was receiving so many requests for her wool rugs that she decided to expand. “I thought it would be a good idea to start another company and give people the option of buying rugs made from different breeds,” she says. “And that’s how The Felted Fleece Collective came about.”
We’re delighted to partner with Deborah and The Felted Fleece Collective this season to offer a limited collection of unique sheep's wool rugs. We met Deborah (and her lovely flock of sheep) on a recent visit to her farm, where we spoke to her about the traditional process of making felted fleece rugs, why they’re the perfect alternative to traditional sheepskins, and her very early morning routine.
First up, how do felted fleece rugs differ from traditional sheepskins?
The main difference is that felted fleece rugs are made solely from wool – they don’t use hide. That means you don’t need to kill the sheep to get the rug. I started my own flock in 2010 when I bought four Herdwick sheep from a neighbouring farm. It’s grown from there, and I hope my sheep will all last until very old age, having lived the happiest life possible.
Deborah’s day starts early, and her first job is to feed the sheep and horses.
I strive to ethically source the fleeces I use for my rugs, primarily obtaining them from pet sheep and a select number of sheep sanctuaries located in the UK. I also get some fleeces from friends and acquaintances, all of which originate from farms practising high standards of animal welfare. I get fleeces from all breeds, but my personal favourite is the Gotland sheep.
Wool is a great natural product, the rugs are easy to maintain as they are washable, and they’re made with no chemicals. What’s not to like? It’s perfect.
Tell us about the practice of creating felted fleece rugs. How long does the process take?
Once the sheep have been sheared, then the process begins. The traditional technique for making these wool rugs is called wet felting, which has apparently been used since before the sixth century BC.
I start off with the fleece, and make sure to get it into a nice shape and get rid of any dirty bits. I then apply carded wool onto the back, which is worked in with hot water and soap. Then the rug is rolled in lots of directions until the felt is firm. After rolling, it’s then down to lots of cleaning. Then, you want a really nice sunny, windy day to help them dry.
With the traditional technique of wet felting, Deborah uses hot water, soap and lots of elbow grease to create her wool rugs.
For me, it’s a long process because I take a lot of time making the rugs. I only create high-quality pieces that I would have in my own home. This means a zero-tolerance policy for any quality issues, and it also means extensive cleaning – especially if it’s a white rug. If somebody wants an autumn collection of rugs, they’ve really got to get to me in January!
What does a typical day on the farm look like for you?
My day starts early. I wake between three and four in the morning, even in the depths of winter. The first job I do is to go and check on all the animals – the horses, and the sheep. I feed everybody and then I come in and feed myself. I fit everything else – gardening, DIY jobs, and all the other things people have to do – around the farm work.
The rugs offer an ethical alternative to conventional sheepskins, using only the unwanted fleeces the sheep no longer need once spring arrives.
One day I might be working on our house renovation projects, and the next I might be out there trimming sheep feet! I’m in bed by seven or eight, even in the summer. This lifestyle keeps me healthy and active. I’m sure that if I wasn’t doing this I’d be suffering from aches and pains.
And let’s finish with our quick-fire round…
Coffee or tea to start the day?
Definitely tea. And a slice of cake in the afternoon.
Describe your perfect Sunday morning.
My day is exactly the same 365 days of the year. When you’re looking after animals, it doesn’t change.
What’s your favourite way to wind down before bedtime?
A hot bath.
What’s a sleep hack you swear by?
Fresh air and hard work. Once you get in the habit of waking up early, you never really get out of it!
Thank you for showing us around the farm, Deborah! The Felted Fleece Collective x Piglet in Bed limited-edition collection is online now.
Photography by Leia Morrison ©