Crazy for crafts
Country Smallholding|November 2020
In an ordinary back garden and single paddock near Kidderminster, Kay Dalloway has created both a thriving smallholding and a successful fibre business — all while working full time for the NHS. Helen Babbs drops by to find out about her ventures
Helen Babbs

The road through Cookley in Worcestershire is lined with plain brick houses and bungalows set behind spacious front gardens. Everything is quiet and ordinary except at one driveway where Kay Dalloway stands in wellies, hosing a large pile of white, curly sheeps’ fleeces with a pressure washer.

“Some people think that you have to treat fleece gently,” says Kay, getting straight to the point as she splashes through the puddles to turn off the water. “But I buy these fleeces from two local commercial farmers who have sandy, slightly orange soil and so the fleeces come coloured!” She grins, tucking a strand of her own bright blonde hair behind her ear. “I bring it home, sort it a bit right here on the drive and then just wade in and wash the soil out with the hose.”

The rinsed fleece usually ends up in the kitchen where it is washed with very hot water and lots of Fairy Liquid. However, with the need to stay outdoors for social distancing, Kay carries her wet armful around into the back garden. Washing lines strung across the lawn droop under the weight of a rainbow of fleeces — some natural colours, some brightly dyed.

“The neighbours think I’m a bit mad, probably,” chuckles Kay. “But once the washed fleece is hung out, all clean and scented with essential oils, they tell me that it’s really pretty to look at.”

Kay has always been “fibremad”.

“I grew up here in Cookley,” she says. “Mum taught me to knit and crochet. As a teenager I knitted fuzzy mohair jumpers on huge needles to sell to my school friends. I realised that I wasn’t going to get a job doing that, though, so I decided to train as a nurse instead. I’ve never regretted that, but I kept on doing my crafts all the same.”

After 36 years with the NHS, first as a community nurse and then as a liaison nurse in Worcester helping patients with learning disabilities, Kay retired last year.

“It was great — now I could go full time on fibre,” she laughs.

WE COULD BE here to visit the garden, a picture-perfect span of lawn surrounded by colourful shrubbery and mature trees, but Kay follows the curving gravel path past a large wildlife pond where Koi carp flash golden-orange in the dark water. She reaches a wrought iron gate in a brick wall which she opens with a flourish.

“This is where my yarn business lives,” she announces. “Well, it’s everywhere, really — in the spare bedroom and in the garage, and bits of fluff are on the sitting room floor — but the fibre sheds are through here.”

The beautiful planting continues, with swathes of flowering perennials lapping up against a large, Perspex-roofed wooden building resembling a glassed-in carport.

“This is my ‘spinning pod’. And I’ve got it fixed up as a bit of a shop if Etsy customers want to call and collect.”

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