A Real Sparkler
Ewellery jewellery, by Julie Harding
Angie Hopgood’s new sheeps’ wool Ewellery jewellery range has been flying off the shelves, while she has also been cleaning up on the county show circuit with her Coloured Ryelands. Julie Harding meets the rural entrepreneur — and her beloved sheep — at her Devon base
Most people are content to keep a dog or a cat to obtain their daily fix of animal cuddles, maybe in front of the TV of an evening, but Angie Hopgood likes nothing better than to get up close and personal to her sheep during daylight hours.
“I love my sheep,” she says. “There’s never a morning when I wake up and don’t want to see them. They’ve all got names, they’re pets and they’re treated like royalty. There’s a joke around here among the local farmers who say that if their wives kick them out they’ll come and live in my barn to be as well looked after as my sheep.”
When Angie calls, five inquisitive Coloured Ryelands — four-legged versions of teddy bears — trot over from the middle of their paddock, as keen to see her (and the food she usually brings, which doesn’t materialise this time) as she is to see them. She steps over three low strands of electric wire and rubs the deep, dense, soft brown
fleece, warmed by today’s strong sun, of a friendly young ram. She crouches down and puts her arm around his neck and snuggles up. He stands stock still, soaking up the affection.
“This is Gizmo,” she says, by way of introduction. “He’s a joy and the apple of my eye.”
Gizmo — proper name Smeafield Xowie — was Angie’s first-born lamb from her first flock of sheep. His was anything but a straightforward birth, however, which maybe adds to the intensity of her gratification that he is here at all as his appearance followed a period early last year that threw enough misfortune Angie’s way to test the metal of a seasoned sheep keeper, let alone a rookie.
“I had six ewes scanned at the end of 2016 and two were expecting twins and four were having singles,” says Angie. So far, so good. But when New Year’s day was barely a distant memory, two ewes aborted due to toxoplasmosis. A little later Marble the ewe’s labour commenced — of sorts. With almost nonexistent contractions and nothing happening at the business end, the vet was called to pull Gizmo into the wider world.
Angie, a Northumberland farm worker’s daughter, cuddles up even closer to Gizmo as she relives the nightmare scenario, throwing a tanned arm over his broad back which shows off the bracelets she is wearing. While most people don chains, charms, chokers and trinkets for a wedding, or a night out on the town, Angie Hopgood wears it while tending her sheep. In a field or in the barn. But these are no ordinary imported, anonymous costume bangles purchased from a department store; these bracelets and her necklace have been crafted in Angie’s Devon home, often in bed while she winds down from a frenetic day on her rented smallholding near Winkleigh. They are her own invention and her own creation and they are made from her own sheeps’ wool — the brown Celtic Ring Bracelets are made from the fleece of her Smeafield Coloured Ryelands, including her much-loved late ram Ramiro after whom parts of the range are named, and the white bracelets are from her North Country Cheviots.
How Angie puts together her Ewellery jewellery is a secret she guards closely for fear of inferior imitations, but she will reveal that the basis of every piece is plaiting and few people better fashion a few strands of hair than Angie Hopgood thanks to her years in the equine industry turning horses’ wayward manes into tight and perfectly-crafted mini buns along the length of their necks. And it was this horsey past that ignited the germ of the jewellery idea.
“I had the sheep shorn and I sent their fleeces to The Natural Fibre Company,” she says. “I got about 10kg back from just under 20kg of fleece and then I wondered what on earth I was going to do with it. My initial concept was to make chunky socks and I tried that on a loom. They were OK, but I wasn’t happy with the quality and instead I made a choker out of plaiting five strands. I put a heart in the middle and added a chain and I thought jewellery is where I’m going to go. It was because of plaiting horses that I really started to play around with the concept.
“The first bracelet that rolled off the production line was the Celtic Ring. Then I made a necklace. I’d bought an Alice Collins dress and that necklace was intended to go with it. When I went out, a lot of people admired it and asked me to make them one and that’s when I started to have all sorts of exciting ideas and plans.”
It is one thing to admire your own creations in the privacy of your own home, but another to venture to market with them and discover whether complete strangers feel the same way.
“I put the first bracelet on Twitter and it sold to Cumbria within minutes,” says Angie. “I’m still friends with the guy who bought it. My first international sale was to California.”
Ewellery can now be found in various prestige locations in Britain, including in Chatsworth House’s gift shop, and it will soon be popping up in many more, as Angie has just signed on the dotted line to supply certain National Trust retail outlets. Considering Ewellery only began life in November last year, it has grown almost as fast as a NASA rocket reaching the stratosphere from Cape Canaveral, and Angie’s solo nocturnal workshops can barely feed the insatiable demand from the paying public. She has therefore enlisted the help of her mother, Mollie, a retired cook, and will soon be hiring her first member of staff.
“Mum makes the longer runs for the necklaces, but she can’t stitch because she has arthritis. I’m a bit shocked by how well the jewellery has gone down,” says Angie, who could be found this year at county shows as far apart as the Devon County and the Royal Highland within the Shop for Something Different marquee. “I’ve been blown away by the response. People kept stopping to look. The jewellery would catch their eye. It’s different. Unique. No one else is doing what I do — designing and handcrafting wool jewellery alongside caring for a flock. People like the entire story that goes with it.”
Back in the paddock, Baaaabara (one of the ewes to lose a lamb to toxoplasmosis) thinks that Gizmo has had too much affection and that it is now her turn. She strides up to Angie with the boldness of an animal cosseted from birth and sniffs her jeans. “I want her to have a son so that we can call him Baaarney.” Angie laughs.
Soon this flock of Smeafield Coloured Ryelands will have left this paddock, as will the flock of Cheviots who are in a nearby field. Everyone is moving to Gillian Dixon’s South Yeo Farm while Angie relocates herself and her Ewellery operation to a cottage near Chatsworth in Derbyshire.
“I may be moving, but I’m still keeping a base [in Devon] and as looking after the sheep takes up a huge chunk of my day, I can now create more Ewellery designs, which is exciting,” she smiles. “I stuck a pin in the map and that’s where I’m relocating. It makes sense because it’s in the centre of the county circuit. I’ve also always wanted to go home to the north and this is my transition. I love Devon and it’s a good place, but I’m a northern girl in my heart.”
But if any of Angie’s show ring rivals are breathing a sigh of relief that the woman — often ably assisted by her trainee vet daughter Georgie — who netted many champion rosettes this season might be absent from their particular patch in 2019, they should think again, for her plan is to race down the M1 on a regular basis with her white show coat in the boot of her 4x4.
“We’re still going to be showing our sheep,” says Angie. “But Gillian is going to be taking care of them on a daily basis. I’m going to miss them every day. However, it’s only temporary. I intend to take them up to Derbyshire at a later date.
“People are contacting me now wanting to buy Smeafield Sheep because they have done so well. Gizmo won the Ram Lamb class at his first show and he’s gone on to win so many other prizes. He was even at the bottom of the catwalk at the Three Counties Show while the models were walking at the top. All my sheeps’ performances on the county show circuit have been beyond my wildest dreams. Out of nine shows with a team of six we were either champion or reserve champion on every outing except one. Georgie and I are so thrilled we have to pinch ourselves.”
Angie, a self-confessed horse-mad girl with early aspirations to be an event rider, puts her success down to many years working in the equine industry, including six as manager at Catherston Stud for dressage doyenne Jennie Loriston Clarke.
“My skills from the horse world are transferable to sheep — the professional
etiquette and the eye for detail and also knowing what makes a good animal and what doesn’t. I make sure that my sheep are always immaculate and turned out properly and that Georgie and I are clean and tidy.”
The first time Angie trimmed Gizmo it took three days. Now she can do six sheep in a single day. But the self-confessed workaholic relishes learning new skills and clearly picks them up swiftly. She notes that she delivered her first foal with a book in one hand and then went on to deliver hundreds more; she’s a keen photographer and her self-framed pictures of hardy four-legged farm animals sell as fast at country shows as her woollen jewellery items. Somehow she fits in the framing — she is qualified to Fine Art Trade Guild standard — around the sheep and her burgeoning jewellery empire.
“I’ve always been a doer and I’m a grafter like my parents. I can’t just sit on a beach and watch the world go by. When mum asked me if I was having a holiday this year, I told her that having my flip flops on and eating an ice cream at a tradeshow was the nearest I was going to get to a vacation.”
Angie welcomed six lambs into the world in spring 2017, but this year that number leapt to 51. One new arrival was Gucci, Gizmo’s first offspring, who is currently living in a roomy pen in a barn below Angie’s Devon cottage. Her name is symbolic. Like the products from the Italian luxury fashion brand, she cost a fortune.
“When Gale [Gucci’s dam] went into labour she didn’t look comfortable, so I rang the vet and took her to the surgery. She had Ringwomb [a failure of the cervix to dilate] and so needed a caesarean. When Gucci popped out she had to be revived. She’s stunning and I adore her like her dad, but she was very expensive.”
It appears that Angie doesn’t blame this woolly beauty for a dip in her bank balance. Not for one moment.
“I feel so lucky. I never imagined that Ewellery and our Smeafield Coloured Ryelands would do as well as they have. I may put in the hours and the miles, but I owe my sheep everything. Running Ewellery and having the sheep are just heaven. I feel that I’ve found my vocation.”
Angie Hopgood with Smeafield Xowie (aka Gizmo). ‘I love my sheep. There’s never a morning when I wake up and don’t want to see them’
Angie with Gizmo, champion at the North Devon Show, and Laura
Angie’s daughter Georgie, who is training to be a vet, delivering one of the Smeafield flock
Smeafield Yeti Bear winning at Devon County
Twirl and Gizmo as lambs