An interview with... Alison Hemmings
I understand the world of sheep’s wool has literally changed your life. What was it that attracted you to leave your job and dedicate your life to working with wool?
In 2006 I went to evening classes at a local college with my two best friends to do a City & Guilds in Textile Design and Embroidery. During this course we were taught how to make felt from scratch using wool fibres. I then went to a couple of workshops run by a local felt maker where I learnt how to create felt pictures. I was completely hooked on felt making, and for my final piece for my course I designed and created a felt purse. I began doing a lot more felting, teaching myself new techniques such as needle felting. I also started teaching other people how to make felt flowers, bags and pictures.
2011 was not a very happy year for me, I got divorced, my father died and I was made redundant. What better opportunity did I need to change my life and try to become a Felt maker/Textile Artist? I was lucky enough to be offered two play worker positions, and I got a part-time job at a local college. I was also offered the opportunity to work as a tutor for the Library Service running felt making workshops and courses in libraries in Hampshire. In 2014 they also gave me appropriate training to get a recognised teaching qualification. I gave up my job at the college and starting felting seriously. In October 2015 I was Artist of the Month for October on the World Of Wool website – and the rest you know!
We just love the stockings you have made for Dr Lipp, and hope people will use them on their Christmas trees. Is this something you would encourage people to make at home?
I realise felt making is not for everyone, but it is such a lovely relaxing thing to do, and I really appreciated you choosing me to make the pink and grey stockings for Dr. Lipp.
Since your life changing decision to work with wool did you find it difficult to find a job – or in your case several jobs – that involved wool?
I was and am still very lucky because all the jobs I have all dovetail into each other giving me a varied working week each week.
I think that lanolin is the most sensible, natural thing to use for nipples and lips. I have recommended it to a friend of mine who has excema.
I love the concept of the farm where you are working. What is it that you love the most about working at this farm?
I work at Butser Ancient Farm www.butserancientfarm.co.uk school term. I am part of the education team and I teach school children how to spin the wool from the sheep we have on the farm. I also teach them how to make copper jewellery; how to make wattle fencing; how to make daub and how to apply it to the wattle walls of the Saxon house being built on the farm; archaeology; and how to make cordage. Butser Ancient Farm is an experimental farm, we have Manx Loughton sheep on the farm, they are the oldest living relatives of the sheep they had in the stone age. They are very hardy and their fleece is very thick and brilliant for spinning.
The thing I love most about the farm is the peace and serenity it has. Nestled at the bottom of Butser Hill, it comprises of an Iron Age Settlement, a Neolithic Stone Age house, a Roman Villa and a Saxon House. Everyone who works at Butser Ancient Farm is passionate about the place and the animals we keep there.
How has wool affected your health & your life?
Since starting to concentrate on felt making, my blood pressure has gone back to normal after a lifetime of being high, and I truly believe that felt making has had an effect on it. Working at the farm means I am working outside all year round, and this is keeping fitter than I have been.
What do you think of my ‘Original Nipple Balm for Lips’?
Well I have read all this information on your website and I listened to everything you told me about it when we met, and I think that lanolin is the most sensible, natural thing to use for nipples and lips. I have recommended it to a friend of mine who has excema.
Did it shock you when you first heard of it?
Not shock. It made me smile!
Check out Alison’s Facebook page for more info.