Reclaiming the Magic of Touch

Everything I make derives from my own wool and Wensleydale sheep.

I have worked with Wensleydale fibre for many years, on the sheep and off it. Raw and spun, knitted or felted it has a feel all its own. It is globally sought after and locally produced.

But that isn’t the point here in this first piece on my new website.  The point about Wensleydale Longwool is that it does special things for many people who see it and more importantly feel it. Yes, it is acknowledged to be the queen of fibres, for its lustre, softness and ability to hold dye colour, but that isn’t romance, that is partly due to itself and partly due to how it is grown, shorn and taken to end point, whatever that might be: combed TOPS for spinning, worsted spun yarns for knitting or felted as Textile Art Work.

The heart of the matter is its unique characteristics which have persisted since 1838, when the Wensleydale breed was first established as a distinct  Rare Breed through the work of Robert Bakewell in Yorkshire.

 Long locks suit the worsted spinning method, the flat lying scales on each filament reflect the light, the positioning and  prevalence of  the cells which can receive the dye strike all make this a unique fibre. If you want to read about the real Master of working with longwool  fleece , see Namaste Farms and the work of Natalie Redding in her  many You Tube tutorials

So where is all this leading? Recently, I was part of Pure ART360 Edition 2 and I was super excited to discover that one of my entries, a Sensory Wheel collaboration with  wood artist Mark Austin, was included in the Judge’s Edit.

Maxine Laceby, one of the Judges and founder of Marine Collagen and said, “The amount of work that has gone into this piece is incredible. I wanted to engage with it. I wanted to touch it. Actually, I was quite desperate to touch it.”

The Sensory Wheels are all about touch. Before Covid entered the picture, the concept was born out of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of Prayer Wheels, the idea being to bring together a sacred  and a sensory element, trialling them in schools (2 to begin with) so that children can experience the calming and maybe even therapeutic ability of touching this exceptional wool fibre mounted on a revolving wheel.  This is particularly relevant to those with difficulties such as children with autism amongst others.

In case this idea seems a bit fanciful, recent research at Oxford University under Emeritus Professor,  Robin Dunbar in the Department of Experimental Psychology, where  he specialises in primate behaviour has found that ritual grooming as part of social bonding has a special role to play in stimulating endorphins and touch is or was fundamental to socialising. See the following interview.

Robin Dunbar: human contact during social distancing. Dunbar is Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford.

Do you remember all those soft toys you dragged around as a child because each one had a different feel and there was usually one special place on one of them which had a magical effect on anxiety? How can children or teachers fully relate if touch isn’t a natural part of their day?

Maybe we all need a Wheel with felted Wensleydale on it to turn and touch!

We will report on this Project as it develops. The constraints on physical touch, during this last year during the pandemic and the effects of touch deprivation in the long term have unknown consequences. Touch is often referred to as the deepest sense and is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. about by the pandemic have required us to develop a new facet of the project, in researching anti-microbial properties of natural oils sprayed on the wool as a precautionary measure.

My next Blog will be about  the part that the Haptic plays in touch…….