About Bellacouche wool felt studio

Bellacouche – meaning “beautiful resting place” – is the old name for the ancient granite building where I started designing and making the Leafcocoon wool felt coffins. After many years in the Chapel at Moretonhampstead, Bellacouche Wool Felt Studio has now moved to a beautiful, light and ample workshop in Chagford on Dartmoor, Devon.

The Bellacouche philosophy is not affiliated to any religion, but respects all religious faiths and the right to believe in none. Wool is my raw material, which is made into felt, classed as a non-woven material. The pieces are all handmade, motifs are either sewn or needle felted in.

Sustainability: Read more…
sheep life cycle Achieving true sustainability is my aim, so sourcing materials is done with the utmost scrutiny and care. It is a continuing journey with ethics and environment at the forefront.

“If you have to make a thing, you must know the background of it, the skeleton, the foundations, the actual stuff that the materials have grown out of, their connections with their natural background, their biotechnics – and then building can begin. And then the reason for making, the purpose, the human connection. All sides must be considered and known. You cannot just make.” – from Hand Weaving and Education by Ethel Mairet (Faber & Faber 1952)

A law of 1666 decreed that the dead must be buried in wool. The reason for this law was to ensure a continuing trade that was key to wealth in Britain at the time. I believe this – now defunct – law has a relevance today, but for different reasons. The wool…

  • Wool is the only fibre that it is currently possible to grow and process within the UK and could be part of a ‘green’ economic revival post-COVID.
  • Wool is a ‘soil-to-soil’ fibre, meaning it can be returned to benefit the soil at the end of its useful life.
  • Wool felt is a low-energy process – there are fewer stages in production than for woven cloth.

The sheep… With a more ecological management system – holistic/mob grazing, high welfare and appropriate breeds – sheep can become part of a regenerative agricultural system, sequestering carbon and increasing biodiversity. Appropriate breeds are more resilient and robust, needing less housing and intervention during lambing, for instance. Shetland sheep are a good example: they are naturally resistant to fly strike and survive on rougher pastures, allowing space for more ecological diversity on the land. They are less ‘meaty’ than modern breeds and happen to produce some of the finest coloured fibres in the UK. By using regenerative livestock principles and appropriate breeds, sheep have a valuable contribution to providing sustainable fibre in the British Isles.Natural burial Natural Burial… Bringing the 17th Century Act into a contemporary context:

  • completes the natural circle – the Cycle of Life
  • makes good use of a readily available sustainable fibre
  • sequesters carbon
  • offers a more comforting alternative to a hard-edged coffin
All materials are 100% natural: more…
wool With the ‘soil-to-soil’ ethic, all my products are plastic free. For instance, other needle felting suppliers sell foam-based felting pads and plastic tool holders. My felting pads are made of the same wool felt as my other products and the kits are presented in the Bellacouche felt bags, so it’s all plastic free! When it comes to providing shrouds and ‘soft coffins’, the same principles apply. No glues, no plastic liners or additions.
Locally Sourced: more….
Oseberg cradle 2 My wool is organically produced from various farms in the South West, and processed in Yorkshire. I use wood for some products, and this is either from my local hazel hedgerows (toggles, handles), from a local sustainably managed woodland, or reclaimed timber for the Oseberg Cradle. Andrew Vaccari has designed this beautiful vessel. He makes wooden bolts, and a hemp ‘square rope lashing’ technique, which binds the wood together, giving it huge weight bearing strength while avoiding glues and metal. I also use waste textiles from Proper Job Chagford, for making handles, straps and other additions and if the material is natural and suitable for its purpose. This means I can avoid buying in virgin cotton, and by reusing these textiles, I am removing them from the waste stream.
Organic Wool: more…
D22cb27c 3edf 4e7d 9024 e6efc8fb597eThe organic wool I use is from Fernhill Farm, an holistic eco holding in the Mendips, Somerset. Owners, Andy and Jen have a flock of approximately 600 Shetland-cross sheep selectively bred for their fine colourful fibre, hardiness and ability to restore biodiversity when continually grazing in larger nomadic-style flocks. Chemicals such as organophosphates, pesticides and fertilisers have no place in this approach. Sheep are born of the land, and their annually harvested wool is eventually returned to the soil, having enhanced our lives in the process: a soil-to-soil ethic.
Natural Dyes: more…
I like to work with small amounts of colour which are enhanced by the natural shades of the wool. Less dye is less environmental impact, and more visual impact! I commission Isabella Whitworth; These are the dyes she uses:

  • Madder and Weld – from Green Ingredients
  • Indigo (natural) – from KMA Exports – Tamil Nadu
  • Walnut hulls and leaves – locally foraged
  • Alder Bark – locally foraged
  • Alder buckthorn – locally foraged
  • Cochineal – (tiny amounts used for scarlet colours) – Textiles Naturales – Lanzarote

Mordants – Isabella uses:

  • Oak galls – locally foraged – after the gall wasp has left!
  • Alum
  • Cream of tartar
  • and sometimes rusty nails (iron)
All natural waste is composted on site: more…
Because I only use natural fibres, my waste is composted on site. But before it is, I make sure that I have made maximum use of all my resources, so offcuts are made into insoles and small products, some are sold to other crafters, then anything that is really too small will go out for the compost creatures to do their work.
Packaging: more…
PackagingOffice paper, packaging or printed matter is always from recycled materials. Printing is done by a local firm: Hedgerow Print. There is no doubt that plastic is a very useful substance for packaging, but I choose not to buy it. Instead, I salvage it from other local businesses. Fabric labels on my products are GOTS Certified, organic cotton. You may notice that all my kits are packaged in wool bags, and the needling pads are also made of wool. They last a long time and can be composted when they have no use left… although that might not be for a long time!