28 April 1995

FLEECED IN THE NICEST WAY

Like most Angora goat keepers, finding a market for their mohair was a matter of concern to Margaret and Vicki Booth, until

a parish project to embroider new church kneelers gave them

a good idea.

Ann Rogers reports

PLEASURE is the biggest return that partners Margaret and Vicki Booth have from their herd of Angora goats.

They bought their first two Angoras, which were from good quality stock, in 1988. "We soon realised we were not going to make our fortune with them," says Margaret of Penclose Farm, a 122ha (300-acre) arable holding sliced by the M4 at Winterbourne, near Newbury, Berkshire. "But by that time we had got to love the goats themselves."

So the goat enterprise became a hobby for Margaret, who also runs a Hereford suckler herd, and Vicki, one of the two Booth daughters. Margaret and her husband Peter also have a son John who farms with his father and takes responsibility for the twice-yearly task of shearing the Angoras.

Margaret and Vicki keep their herd small because they can see little point in increasing the stock for little financial return. The only reason herd size has doubled to 12 in the past year is that they needed some young stock for the pleasure of entering more show classes.

They have received prizes for stock, fleeces, the yarn made from their fleeces and handcrafts worked from the yarn – and won friendships with fellow Angora enthusiasts along the way. In fact the social side of Angora goat keeping is one of its attractions for them. Vicki is secretary of the Wessex Angora Goat Association, which is about 20 strong and has regular meetings at venues within the area. "It is a nice association," says Vicki, "with everyone trying to do something original with their yarn."

Margaret has hand-spun their Mohair fleeces and knitted up the yarn; one of her achievements is a very fine baby shawl produced for a grandchild. But with each goat producing 10lb of fleece twice a year she has a lot of mohair to use up.

So she has turned to commercial processors and now has her fleeces spun by the Natural Fibre Company in Lampeter, Dyfed. "It is the only company we could find that would do small quantities and let you have your own stuff back," she says.

The Booths sell the lustrous yarn in its natural colour in double knitting and embroidery plies, the latter as part of a kit for needlepoint cushion cover fronts.

Their friend Barbara Brooke, now a partner in their Penclose Needlepoint venture, and the community effort to stitch a new set of kneelers for the parish church, were the inspiration for the needlepoint kits they are now selling. They comprise canvas, yarn and instructions (complete with a helpline number for embroiderers who find themselves in difficulties).

The embroidery is to a geometric design devised by Barbara, who is a needlepoint teacher. It is a one-colour pattern, rich in the texture of the stitches and the lustrous quality of the fibre. The design is produced in two versions, the variation being in the stitches used. There is a simple version (ref C2) and a more difficult one (ref C1). Each version is worked 12 holes to the inch and the completed work measures 36cm x 36cm (141/2in x 141/2in). Kits sell at £38 plus £2 post and packing.

"Customers can back and pipe their cushions with a fabric to suit their furnishings," says Margaret. "We are hoping to produce coloured embroideries later this year, three colours plus natural. It will be the same design in two colour tones: Two shades of blue with green and two shades of pink with green."

Most of their sales are made at shows. They will be going to the Surrey County Show at Guildford, the Alton Show, Hants, and the Newbury Show, Berks, again this year but the next event on their calendar is the British Mohair event at Blakemore Farm, Little London, near Longhope Glos, home of their friends Jill King and Yvonne Williams, their Mohair Classics enterprise and the largest herd of Angora goats in the UK.

This takes place over the May Bank Holiday weekend (May 6-8). A dozen or so producers will be promoting mohair products and at 3pm each afternoon there will be a catwalk show of mohair fashions.

"There is such satisfaction in having a goat and the end product from it that is all our own," says Margaret.

Inquiries: Penclose Needle-point (01635-248307) British Mohair event (01452-830630).

Margaret and Vicki and the display they take to shows.

Cushion and pincushion designs: Embroiderers can back and pipe their cushions to match their furnishings.

The Angoras gather round Vicki Booth for extra titbits. The group includes some of last years kids bred for showing.

Margaret and Vicki decided to keep their herd numbers low.