Fleece Internship & Residency

At Birkhill House CIC is delighted to be able to offer two new fleece and fibre opportunities this summer: a three-week residency and a six-week internship. Let us introduce the successful applicants…

Emma McLellan and Magdalena Sobula both submitted compelling applications detailing their unique and ambitious plans for their time here At Birkhill House, where they will observe and assist with the fibre processing – seeing the fleeces through from shearing to finished yarns – and focus on their respective independent projects. We will post updates here, on our Facebook page and our Instagram (links in the page footer). Emma & Magdalena will also be posting on their respective social media channels and we will share details of those once both have settled in.

Emma McLellan

Born originally in the North East of England, Emma’s family moved to Scotland, and she was schooled at Dumfries Academy.  Emma was taught by her mother to sew, and her grandmother taught her to knit.  However, her creativity and curiosity came from her father who was a bit of an‘inventor.’  He could always come up with a solution for something.  One of Emma’s prized possessions is a diagram he drew of circuit breakers, on graph paper.  Emma worked for the NHS for over 20 years.  When her younger sister, a very talented artist, died at aged 40 from Multiple Sclerosis, Emma decided to leave her profession, and explore her own creativity.  She now finds herself drawing and painting, and loving it.

Emma is currently working towards a second career, studying for a BA Hons in Design for Textiles, at Heriot Watt University, Galashiels.  She is keen to specialise in knitwear design, although she loves printing as well.  She is increasingly interested in maintaining our textile heritage, by making teaching accessible to all, as well as finding ways to reverse the mass production of ‘fast fashion.’ Emma aligns herself to ‘Sustainable Fashion Scotland,’ which seeks to promote a circular economy, where clothes and textiles are treasured as opposed to being thrown away.  She is excited to see how these themes can be developed further, as she progresses through her textile degree.

Magdalena Sobula

Magdalena was born and grew up in Krakow, Poland. She started crafting when she was six: her mum taught her to knit, her auntie taught her to crochet, her dad showed her embroidery stitches and she picked up sewing somewhere along the way. Although she always had a few projects on the go, she never considered crafting as a career. She graduated with a Master's degree in Physics from Jagiellonian University but instead of teaching physics she taught ballroom dancing for several years. And then she moved with her husband and kids to Scotland. She enjoyed being a stay-at-home mum, filling the little bit of a spare time she had with all sorts of crafting. She fell in love with patchwork and quilting and ran a small business called 'Stitching a Rainbow' for a couple of years. 

As Magdalena never could find the right fabric, she decided to finally turn her passion into a career and applied for a textiles course at Glasgow Clyde College. Four years later, she graduated from Heriot-Watt University, in love with weave, textile design and alpacas. She decided to continue her studies and enrolled in the MA in Design for Fashion and Textiles course. She focuses on designing according to Slow Fashion principles: using locally grown and processed fibre, designing textiles to last and to be cherished, with the wellbeing of people and our planet guiding her design choices. Currently, she am working on my final collection, inspired by natural alpaca colours and woven with British alpaca fibre.

Further information about the residency

This residency was offered from Saturday 29th May – Saturday 19th June 2021.

Using this year’s shearing process as a starting point, the successful applicant will be given the opportunity to develop a self-driven, independently-led project involving At Birkhill House CIC fleeces/fibres. The project details and content will be determined entirely by the successful applicant.

Although there will be no structured tuition, we will be on hand to teach our inaugural fleece resident about the animals in the field – from feeding and handling to nutritional support for fibre production – and demonstrate the basics of equipment use in aid of fibre processing. Everything here is done by hand and that process will necessarily translate to the chosen project.

Whilst the resident is here, they will have their own concerted workspace in one of our renovated stable workshops, which can be accessed 24 hours a day. They will also be able to access the whole of our nine-acre smallholding, which is a beautiful, inspiring setting that will no doubt help to fuel creativity.

The emphasis is very much on experimentation and play. They are being invited to share in the joy brought by these magnificent creatures and the care and concern involved in looking after them, whilst growing their knowledge of small-scale, sustainable fibre production at the same time. Birkhill House is a family small-holding and, as such, they will be welcomed by the entire Armitage clan and their menagerie.

Residency Accommodation

The successful applicant will stay in our gorgeous, three-bedroom Victorian-era cottage, which is adjoined to our smallholding. Comprised of a fully equipped kitchen, large downstairs landing, family bathroom, lounge with wood burner, downstairs double bedroom, upstairs en suite queen bedroom and small children’s bunk room. There is also a suntrap conservatory and small private, fenced garden with a table for six and an outdoor barbecue. Family and friends are very welcome, as well as dogs, cats and other creatures. There is a wireless network, flat screen TV (Firestick) and lots of books, games and puzzles stocked in the cupboard. Eggs from our hens and produce from our outdoor garden beds and polytunnel are included in the offer. Further information and pictures of the cottage can be found at: www.birkhillcottage.co.uk

Further information about the internship

This internship was offered over a six-week period from the week beginning 22nd June 2021.

It entailed attendance At Birkhill House CIC for one day per week for the duration of the internship. Once our alpacas and sheep are sheared each year, we find ourselves surrounded by beautiful fleeces. Skirting, picking, carding and prepping for the mill are all parts of the job at hand and we envisage the successful intern as being at the heart of this process. This internship was for those with an interest in learning about the process of preparing fleece from start to finish. The intern will also be afforded the time to conduct an independent project of their choosing, using some of our fleeces, as well as their own concerted workspace in one of our renovated stable workshops, which can be accessed between 8am-8pm on their chosen day.


Birkhill House

Earlston TD4 6AR

email & phone


07779 339 653