HARDY Cumbrian hill farmers and the sheep who have grazed the fells for generations are helping to weave the Lake District into life.

Timeless tweed patterns, inspired by eight Lake District valleys, are being used to produce quality throws by Lake District Tweed.

Now a unique tweed, inspired by the re-wiggled river at Haweswater, is proving popular in the US.

The wool used in producing the tweed comes from Haweswater's own flock of Cheviot sheep.

Lake District Tweed began producing tweed inspired by different valleys across the Lake District in 2020 and the Haweswater tweed is the latest one to be added to their collection of eight, the plan being to eventually have thirteen tweeds by next year.

Maria Benjamin, who created Lake District Tweed on her farm at Nibthwaite, Coniston, along with her partner John Atkinson said: “We originally had the idea to make tweed from our own wool and then managed to get the funding from the Farming in Protected Landscapes fund, part of DEFRA’s Agricultural Transition Plan, to make this happen.

John's family have farmed in the area for more than six hundred years and John is the sixth generation at Nibthwaite Grange Farm.

Maria added: “I’m Scottish and in Scotland tweeds are linked to families. I came up with the idea of linking our tweeds to places in the Lakes, so it was inspired by my Scottish roots. Too many things are made overseas, and we wanted to make something in the Lake District, from Lake District wool. A truly locally produced, quality product.”

The Haweswater tweed is their newest addition, and the pattern has been inspired by the story of the re-wiggling of Swindale Beck.

In 2016, the RSPB who manage Haweswater in partnership with the landowner United Utilities, put the natural bends back into a one kilometre stretch of Swindale Beck, which had been artificially straightened around two centuries ago. This restoration work was to slow the flow of the river, creating suitable habitat for spawning salmon and trout, improving water quality, and contributing to reducing the risk of downstream flooding. Now, its meandering course is being recognised in the new tweed, using wool from the RSPB’s own sheep at Haweswater.

Lee Schofield, RSPB Senior Site Manager at Haweswater said: “We were thrilled when Maria and John approached us about creating a Haweswater tweed. At Haweswater, we are carrying out large-scale ecological restoration in a way that is compatible with sustainable upland farming. Our flock of North Country Cheviot sheep, alongside our fell ponies and belted galloway and highland cattle help to sustain the landscape's rich mosaic of woodlands, meadows, mountains, bogs and streams. The story of putting the bends back into Swindale Beck has really captured the hearts of the public, so the wiggly pattern in the tweed, using our very own sheep’s wool, is the perfect nod to our conservation and farming work here.”

Maria and John called upon the expertise of the Lancs and Lakes Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to help them come up with workable tweed designs based on unique aspects of each valley in their range. The Haweswater tweed comes in two colour options - blue and white, and green and white. It has been made into throws, priced at £140. The eight tweed patterns are inspired by Haweswater, Ennerdale, Coniston, Windermere, Ullswater, Borrowdale, Langdale and Grasmere.

All processing: the washing, combing, spinning and weaving takes place in Yorkshire and the Northwest of England and the next batch of wool has arrived at Haworth Scouring for washing this week.

To produce the tweed, the wool goes to the British Wool Board who grade it, then it goes to Bradford to be washed and cleaned. It is then spun in Huddersfield and finally to Oldham where it is woven into the finished tweed. Completed products are sold via the Lake District Tweed website. Farmers receive an above the market price for their wool and a profit share from sales of the tweeds and throws.

Haworth Scouring, where the wool is washed, is in the heart of the UK’s textile centre and is one of the largest, modern, and environmentally responsible commission wool scours in the world. Located on an 8-acre purpose site which include both Haworth Combing and Enco Global Testing, Haworth Scouring can scour up to 1,000.000kgs wool per week.

Maria added: “Haweswater throws are selling like hot cakes, and we’ve been surprised how quickly they have sold.

“We sell a lot to America – 40 per cent of our customers are from the US - people love the Lake District, and even if they’ve not visited here before they know the brand and the name and have seen it on films.

“Word has really got out about us. It’s amazing, when we go to farm events and shows, we’re approached to buy people’s wool.

“Making a premium product from something that would likely have been burned or gone into compost is a great feeling. Wool breathes, it keeps you warm, it lasts for years and it’s sustainable.”

Faith Garvey, RSPB Livestock Assistant at Haweswater said: “We’re proud that our sheep’s fleeces are being used for this special tweed. Sadly, British sheep’s wool doesn’t often have much of a market these days, so given the work that goes into caring for our flock and shearing them each year, it’s incredible to see it being used for this unique Cumbrian product. And even better to know that it’s not only popular here in the Lake District, but in the United States too!”

Well-known Lakes farmer and writer James Rebanks supplies a wool clip every year to Lake District Tweed from his flock of Herdwick sheep. Some of the wool is spun into Ullswater tweed to make Shepherd's Bags.

To find out more or to buy a Haweswater tweed throw visit: lakedistricttweed.com/