A Real Sparkler

Country Smallholding - - Inside This - For more in­for­ma­tion on Ewellery, visit www.ewellery.co.uk.

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

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