A former farmer’s wife is on a mission to support sheep farming having gained a degree in fashion and design. Bridget Cole, of Lovaton, near Yelverton, whose family runs sheep farms in West Devon, used her BA (Hons) to highlight the use of wool in clothing and the benefits of the material. Bridget was a fully active sheep farmer with her husband Arnold, who died in 2013, but having passed the business onto sons Neil and Matthew, is now looking to help secure the future of the family and other businesses by looking at how to revive the wool industry using fleeces which are otherwise a waste product. She said: “The wool industry used to be the backbone of Britain’s trade, but died out as wool fibre was overtaken by nylon and polyester.  Our family already recycles wool, but I’d like to revive the wool processing industry locally to scale and develop old and new uses for the end product. “I want sheep famers to access a market for their fleeces and add value to their product. This will provide a sustainable future for sheep farming, especially on Dartmoor.” She said wool has so many excellent properties that rival or surpass other materials, including superior insulation absorbing moisture, fire retardant and therapeutic qualities to aid sleep in bedding: “Our sheep produce a new fleece annually while managing  the grazing on our Dartmoor farm and our moorland commons making it a sustainable, natural and biodegradable fibre ideal for the circular economy we are encouraged to attain for the future.” As a mature student at Art University Plymouth she achieved her degree in Fashion and Design aged 70, covering the future of wool and is now looking at regenerating the former nationwide industry.  Her degree catwalk clothing range was inspired by 1950s rural fashion, updated with imaginative use of wool and recycled fabrics.  Bridget taught her seamstress skills to younger students, while helping her with computer programmes. She used her granddaughter Bryony Brown to model her clothes along with the farm and sheep.

Bridget has seen the international textiles exhibition of manufacturing machinery in Italy, attended weaving and textile conferences and visited wool mills and investigated the growing talented crafting scene.  She said: “I’ve done my active part for the business - now I devote my time to helping secure a sustainable future for upland famers by adding value to their products by looking at how the wool industry can be revived as a sustainable environmentally friendly product.” The wool of the various breeds of sheep her family farm have different characteristics, ie the Blueface Leicester is a fine short curly fibre, for next-of-skin wear; the Whiteface Dartmoor wool is robust long curly fibre ideal for outer wear (jackets/coats); hill sheep such as Scotch Blackface or Swaledale are good for carpet or industrial fabrics like bus or train seating.  

Bridget Cole  with some of her own clothes inspired by sustainable sheep farming