Our Sheepland Workshop is surrounded by beautiful countryside and rolling fields, amongst these fields are some real treasures – our Workshop for one! Another of these treasures is our favourite local sheepskin Tannery, who have been working for over 200 years. The Tannery continue to work in the same way they have done for years, the traditional processes still being kept alive in this very manual workplace. The Sheep which are bred and killed for the meat industry provide the sheepskin as a bi-product. Once these skins have been transported from around the United Kingdom they are treated here at the Tannery. The skins are treated because they need to be preserved, otherwise they would simply degrade over time. Hides and skins have been preserved for centuries, the bizarre methods are worth Googling if you fancy a go yourself! Thankfully our Tannery have it down to a fine art, so we have left them to it as the experts, they’ve certainly been doing it long enough!
They array of skins and finishes you can produce is astonishing, you hear phrases like “hair on”, “leather off”, “lambskin”, all sorts of wonderful names all related the the end result of the process. They can produce almost any required sheepskin, long or short fur, dyed or undyed, in a range of colours and finishes. As you can see from our website we tend to use doubleface, shearlings and mainly “fur on” skins, however the possibilities are endless!
The process seems relatively simple, but each step has to be painstakingly managed, the workload is physically demanding and very fast paced – even with our more laid back countryside outlook! The raw skins are first cleaned by hand in large vats of water and the reverse of the skins are cleaned using a rotary cleaner. The skins are then immersed in tanning liquid to preserve the structure of the skins and the integrity of the wool. These skins are then washed and dried using specialist equipment. The skins then have to be “flattened” to allow them to hold their shape. The Tannery then clip the skins to large metal frames and pass them through their giant oven (not the technical name you’ll notice). The back of the skins are then left with a conditioner on overnight, and passed through a series of machines which soften the back, which is why the reverse of your skins are not hard and stiff. The final stages are “buffing” the reverse of the skin which removes any marks or loose particles. The very last stage is when the skins are passed through a rotary iron machine, which combs out and straightens the wool, leaving the most incredible softness and fluffiness! The heat produced in the process is quite unbelievable – as is the mess! The Tannery is always a hive of activity, due to the specific skill set many of the employees have worked there most of their lives. Interestingly enough, they will even tan private hides for individuals wish to keep the skins from their own animals.
We get to do the easiest part of the job which is hand selecting our favourite fleeces, so that we can hand finish them at our Workshop or cut them to make our slippers. We have the luxury of choosing some of the most stunning British Organic Sheepskin Rugs directly, allowing us to choose nothing but the best fleeces and grades. We have a wonderful relationship with our Tannery and love nothing more then visiting and admiring the skills and traditional craftsmanship. After all the hard work that goes into your fleece, not to mention us stitching them into rugs or slippers, you’ll never look at a sheepskin in the same way again!