ABOUT THE ‘STANSBOROUGH GREY ‘
In the early 1990s Barry and Cheryl Eldridge discovered a small flock of rare grey sheep in the South Island, which had been brought to New Zealand from Denmark 20 years prior and developed as a potential NZ Breed for Pelt Coats. These elegant and fine-boned breed of Grey sheep were traditionally farmed for their pelts in Northern Europe and were not particularly sought after in the pragmatic south for their wool. The sheep historically originate from an island off the coast of Sweden, and their unique grey fleeces were perhaps adapted to keep out the keen north wind which scours this cold land. The wool was utilised by the vikings for making the sails for their medieval longships, strong, when spun fine and dried quickly. Cheryl and Barry decided to develop and strengthen the traits that led to the soft & lustrous ‘Stansborough Grey’ fleeces and breed of today. Gavin, their son is now taking over the development of the flock and the management of the Stansborough Farm day to day operations.
Barry & Cheryl specialised in wool for textile production, rather than the traditional pelt production, and their aim was to develop a fibre suitable for worsted spinning into worsted fabric right here in New Zealand and use natural colours. The line of sheep has been kept pure, and is run as a “closed flock” there has been enough semen and embryos frozen to provide the wide gene pool essential for future research and development. During the last 25 years of experimenting and careful management, any brownish tips or guard hairs associated with the pelts of the original sheep brought in, has been bred out, It took 25 years to create the special wool breed of what is now a unique flock of some 1500 pure bred, lustrous blue grey fleece producing animals – the ‘Stansborough Grey’ sheep – now a unique registered breed in their own right and the only flock of it’s kind in the world. This is also the only fleece that was used in the creation the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Trilogy Textiles. This is only the genuine article.
Cheryl personally hand classes and sorts every fleece into three shades of grey as the sheep are shorn twice a year, taking her inspiration from the environment to create her unique designs at the mill. The wool of the sheep comes in dark grey, mid grey and silver light grey, and within these pre-selected tones there is a whole greyscale spectrum which creates the marvelous, almost metallic sheen. The yarn is better spun as fine worsted, and then it is combed to enhance the lustre. The demand for the fibre is such that Stansborough cannot supply generally, and are currently unable to sell any yarns to hand weavers or spinners. All their production is used in house currently.
The fibre can be woven, knitted and felted, and all processes are used to produce the unique Stansborough designs and this is all scoured, spun created and finished in New Zealand. If woven, then the yarn is taken to the Stansborough weaving mill in Wellington. The looms at the mill weave their own strands of history. They date from the early 1890’s, and are the only six in commercial operation in the world. They are amongst the first mechanical looms ever designed. They add rather than detract from the general impression of intense individual involvement in production, as each loom can take up to two days to hand thread before weaving.
This intensity of involvement in all parts of the process between farm and garment results in products that are utterly distinctive. Years and huge investments were spent in the development of the unique fleece, yarns and weaves, and the resulting fabric has a unique handmade and natural feel, quite different to other mass-produced commercial products. The fabric has beautiful draping qualities, enhanced by the careful- hand finishing to emphasise the lustre, drape and handling of each individual piece.
Throws, blankets, ties, scarves, wraps , jackets and more have been fashioned from the gleaming Stansborough fabric, as well as other knitted, felted and woven products, for discerning fashion, interiors and tourist markets. The Eldridge’s also work with individual designer stores around the world, boutique hotels, movie costume designers, architects and interior designers, developing and designing specific lines for as exclusive bespoke collections from these durable and exquisite fibres.