That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Avril Manderson, in this week’s women in ag segment. The established handmade silver jewellery artist discusses her town roots, moving to the countryside, establishling Fresh Fleeces and the benefits of running an online business whilst raising a family.
“I am a 46-year-old, born and raised in Northern Ireland, and I live in Killinchy, a very green part of the countryside beside Strangford Lough.
I was born in Belfast, and my family moved to the countryside when I was 11. However, I quickly changed from town girl to country girl, and the countryside is home for me now.
I remember eagerly waiting for the barley fields to be cut so we could gallop our ponies through them! Building dens out of hay bales was also a favourite pastime.
Living in the countryside from age 11, I felt at home. I love animals, and you can never go far in the countryside without meeting a flock of sheep or a field of cattle.
Also, I learnt to ride and spent hours at the local riding school helping to muck out and look after the horses in exchange for rides.
My group of friends and I loved exploring the local countryside, including wading down the local river for hours.
I run a business called Fresh Fleeces, which I established in 2011; however, I have been making silver jewellery commissions since 2001.
After my second child, Eve, was born in 2011, I wanted to move away from one-to-one commissions and make a range of jewellery I could sell online.
Someone asked me to make jewellery for a local exhibition, and I came up with the idea of making a Suffolk sheep from fine silver wire and enamelled sterling silver.
From that first sheep brooch, we have expanded to over 200 pieces of handmade silver and gold countryside animal jewellery, including 20 breeds of sheep and cattle.
Our jewellery has been on BBC Countryfile, and the King of Sweden owns a pair of our silver sheep cufflinks!
Our full range is available at https://www.freshfleeces.com, and prices start at £69.
This is a full-time job for me. I have three children, aged 13, 11 and 8, and I love the flexibility self-employment gives me to spend time with them.
Team and studio
Our team of talented silversmiths make and finish all the jewellery pieces by hand.
The fine silver wire fleeces are very soft to work with, and you can even knit or crochet with it.
We added some gold and rose gold accents to our range last year, and these have been popular with our customers.
Our studio has a range of specialist silversmithing tools, from silver soldering equipment to handsaws with ultrafine blades and a range of polishing stations to ensure the jewellery shines bright!
The breed details, such as the distinctive faces of the Swaledale or the nose of our Herdwick Sheep, are all engraved by hand onto the sterling silver to ensure we capture their distinctive features.
We have a small team of 5 silversmiths across the UK who make jewellery for us.
This team of talented women makes all the jewellery, and each piece of Fresh Fleeces’ jewellery is a miniature work of art.
We have so many requests for different breeds and animals it is a full-time job creating new designs.
In June, we launched new pig, Border Collie, and Belted Galloway necklaces. Moreover, in August, these will be joined by some Jack Russell Terriers, two horses and a few more additions to our Wee Sheep range.
Some of our best ideas for new designs come from customer requests, and we love working with them to develop something new.
The handmade nature of our jewellery means that each piece is truly one-of-a-kind.
We work with farmers, animal owners and breed associations to ensure we replicate the different sheep and cattle breeds in an instantly recognisable way.
Lastly, we are delighted to be top-rated on Trustpilot by our customers. I believe this reflects both the quality of our work and our strong commitment to customer service.”
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