Rural Business Gets Creative with Alpacas

Rural Business Gets Creative with Alpacas

A Shropshire business woman is launching an innovative series of workshops combining the talents of a well-known artist with the fleece from her herd of alpacas.

Jan Wheat of Balmer Alpacas in Welshampton, near Ellesmere has joined forces with North Yorkshire artist, Kirsty Hopkins, to stage one-day workshops in felt making.

Those taking part will have a rare chance to work with highly prized fleece from alpacas and at the same time produce their own unique piece of art.

Jan, 55, explained that Kirsty, specialised in producing artwork in felt and particularly liked working with alpaca fleece which is regarded as being similar in quality to cashmere.

“Alpaca fleece produces felt, yarn and fabric that is light, very strong and very warm and is particularly valued because, unlike sheep’s wool, it is hypo-allergenic,” she said.

Alpacas originate from South America and Jan explained that she had introduced the herd of eight animals to the smallholding at Balmer Heath Cottage, Welshampton, as a way of using the pasture and keeping away foxes.

“We did have a problem with foxes taking the chickens when we moved here five years ago and we were told that alpacas were a good deterrent. But then I wanted to find a way of developing the business using the alpaca fleece.

“We don’t have enough fleece from eight alpacas to make our own products but I knew that a lot of people with an interest in crafts would love a chance to work with alpaca fleece. Then I saw Kirsty’s work at one of her exhibitions and realised working with her would be a great way of using the fleece for something really creative,” said Jan.

Felting is a traditional fabric craft. Balmer Alpacas specialises in wet felting which involves soaking the fleece and pressing it to produce an unwoven material that is light and strong. It can be used for making garments, light handbags and boxes, hats or rugs.

But Kirsty, who will be the instructor at the workshops, uses the felt with beading, ribbons, wool and other fabrics to produce pieces of art which can be used as wall hangings or framed as pictures.

The workshops will be limited to just four people per session to give each the chance for individual tuition. . The day will include a taste of country life with the farmhouse lunch produced mainly with ingredients from the smallholding.

It will also feature a tour of the smallholding and the chance to meet the alpacas before putting the animals’ fleece to artistic use.

The cost per person is £95. and courses can also be arranged for groups of friends. Gift vouchers are available for anyone wanting to buy a workshop day as a present. Information is available from Jan on (01948) 710472 or by emailing at

“It’s a really enjoyable day and a great opportunity for a group of friends to have a taste of country life working with an unusual product. At the end of the day they leave with their own special piece of artwork and an understanding of the felt making process.

“If anyone gets really hooked we can organise a two-day session to take them on to more advanced techniques,” said Jan.



Date Posted: 5th October 2009

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