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Three bags full

IMG_20180425_104604108.jpgThe yarn has arrived safe and sound.  It was a surprisingly emotional moment. I confess I did well up a bit.  Silly, but it was a bit of a moment for me.

No you can’t see it yet.  I’m being quite possessive.  Its not ready for its debut yet.  I want everything to be perfect.  It deserves it.

It is exactly what I had hoped for.  The care and effort taken at each step of the way was well worth it.  In the husbandry of the shepherds,  the shearing by the shearers, my fussiness in sorting only the best of the fleece before taking it to the mill, and the exceptional milling by The Natural Fibre Co.

Its perfect.

Just to tease you: It is so soft, bouncy and fluffy as tufts of clouds and just a bit tickly.  A proper sheepy yarn.

But I am only half way there.  There is an extraordinary amount of stuff that needs to be done to get a yarn to market. I think I may have just done the easy bit. I have a budget so low it’s almost non-existent so buying in expertise is not an option.  This is going to be a one woman operation.  Production – me. Marketing – me. Admin – me.  Sales – me.  Do I have any experience of these things?  No.  This is going to be interesting.

For example, labelling.  How will it be labelled. Tags or bands? What information needs to go on it.   Whos going to print it?  On what paperstock? What size?  So many questions that need answers.  My head might just explode.

But what has been exercising me most is how to minimise the environmental impacts of what I am doing.  If you know me or have read my blog, you will probably have noted that these things are important to me.  I try to do less evil wherever I am able to.  So for me all the packaging for this project has to be as low impact as possible.

Paper? Have you ever thought about swing tags, you know  those attractive tags that you will pull of your yarn and then chuck in the recycling/bin/compost.  These are the choices that need to be made in producing it:  Paper stock: 100% virgin woodpulp from sustainably managed forests or 100% recycled paper? Either kraft (unbleached brown) or if white then chlorine bleached or can I get unbleached? Laminated with plastic for that shiny smooth professional look or unlaminated? That’s an easy one. And then there’s the inks and how it’s printed.  And the list goes on. And then there’s finding a printer that not only offers these choices but also has the environment embedded in their own practise and thinks the same as me.

Packaging?  This is another huge (and very topical) issue. FFS we’ve been recycling since the late 1980’s so you would think we would have this thing sorted by now.  I hate those plastic postal bags.  I’ve taken the decision to be as plastic free as possible with packaging. My customers should be able to throw their packaging straight on the compost heap where it will biodegrade. Luckily there are now a huge choice of recycled card options.  I’ve even sourced a 100% recycled paper parcel tape that is completely biodegradable as it uses latex based adhesive to seal my parcels with. How good is that.

In the meantime.  Me and the Norfolk Yarn are having a cosy time of ‘getting to know you’.  As you can imagine, lots of squishing and sniffing and lots of swatching.  I’ve been testing out different needle sizes, different stitches, lace, cables, textures.

More on this soon.  I’m not ready to share yet. When she is ready for the big reveal you will be the first to know…

 

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#GiveaKnit about christmas jumpers

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Let’s talk about those Christmas jumpers.

At the moment I am getting very exercised by the Christmas jumper phenomena. Aren’t they fun? Aren’t they festive? Isn’t it jolly to see all the great and good come out for the photo op on Christmas Jumper Day with their big cheques attired in a suitably cheesy/tacky acrylic/polyester jumper that was purchased only the day before by the PR office intern.It will probably the same intern that will be charged with taking said jolly jumpers to the charity shop the following day.

A survey by the HUBBUB foundation  found 1 in 4 Christmas jumpers were worn just the once. Further, 1 in 3 under 35’s reported buying a new one every year.  That’s appalling. I don’t think you could find a better example to highlight the issue of fast fashion and the devastating impact our take – make – dispose attitude to clothing has on the environment.

It’s absurd that vast amounts of non-renewable resources (oil!) are used to produce clothing that is quickly discarded. Resulting in greenhouse gas emissions of 1.2 billion tonnes a year. Clothing that is little worn before being discarded.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation over 73% of this new clothing and textiles will end up either in landfill or incinerated[i].

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I love infograms, probably more than spreadsheets…

But, and this is what I find the most disturbing, most of these clothes will be made from synthetics including acrylic and polyester. These materials are plastics. Plastics do not biodegrade unlike natural fibres.  Plastics gradually shred into every smaller particles. Every time a synthetic garment is washed or worn tiny fibres (microplastics) are shed and washed out with the waste water. For an average wash load of 6 kg, over 700,000 fibres could be released per wash[ii].

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Acrylic fibres washed out from textiles under electron microscope. Source:University of Plymouth

These microplastics are washed out to sea. Textile fibres such as acrylic are denser than seawater so they sink and accumulate in the deep sea[iii]. A recent study took marine sediment samples taken from the Mediterranean, SW Indian Ocean and NE Atlantic Ocean. The study found abundant microplastics in all the samples. Reporting 57% Rayon, 23% Polyester and 5% acrylic microfibres in a colourful rainbow of blues, greens, reds and vibrant pinks, purples and turquoises.  The same study also found microplastics on corals in shallow seas. The story of Stuff has a nice little video explaining this process if you want to know more.

More worrying still these microplastics are now so prevalent in our oceans that they have entered the marine food chain.

We are quite literally plasticising our planet.

I don’t know about you but this terrifies me.

We are all part of the problem and we are all part of the solution. Our attitude to clothing and the materials we use needs to change.

Wool is a fundamental part of this solution. It’s renewable, sustainable, biodegradable. Needs little resource inputs and has low emissions. You can wear a sheep, milk a sheep and eat a sheep!  Sheep are beautiful, miraculous, marvellous and under-estimated creatures.

Going back to the Christmas Jumper. I can’t help thinking that politicians such as Nicola Sturgeon and her team on Christmas Jumper Day 2017 would have made more of an impact if they had turned out in a wool sweater produced from Scottish fibre that they had worn last year and the year before and the year before that and given the cash that they avoided spending on the disposable version direct to charity.

I have decided that I need to join in with the jollity and get myself a festive jumper. I’m not one for the full Rudolf  – and there are some seriously jawdroppingly godawful patterns available if that is your thing. I really like The Perfect Christmas Jumper by Susan Crawford, Boreal by Kate Davies and Northshore by Tincan knits.

It’s too late for this year but then that’s not what it’s about. It will take me all year but then it will be there for every year thereafter.

So, remember A jumper is for life not just for Christmas!

I wish you all a very happy festive season, mine starts on Thursday, can’t wait, and a very happy new year.

[i] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

[ii] Napper, I. E., & Thompson, R. C. (2016). Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions. Marine pollution bulletin112(1), 39-45.

[iii] Woodall, L. C., Sanchez-Vidal, A., Canals, M., Paterson, G. L., Coppock, R., Sleight, V., … & Thompson, R. C. (2014). The deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris. Royal Society Open Science1(4), 140317.

 

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Team HSN goes to Howarth Scouring Co Ltd

image_mediumOn Friday I was extremely honoured and privileged to join the Team HSN UK Spinzilla team on our visit to Howarth Scouring Co Ltd in Bradford at the very kind invitation or Martin and Adam Curtis (of Curtis Wools Direct one of our proud Team HSN UK sponsors).

It wasn’t quite the relaxing trip we had planned (original intention was a nice couple of days in the Peaks – not that I had planned a few trips to places such as Wingham Wool Works for a spend up – however something came up with the OH that could not be cancelled so we decided to do Bradford and back in one day. Knackering. The A47 was quiet – no Lorries or caravans creeping along at 40 miles an hour causing everyone else behind to white knuckle grip the steering wheel in frustration and developing a rage related embolism.

It was great to see people and put faces to the Ravelry code names. Martin was the best host and was extremely candid about his business and the future.

The tour around the Scouring and combing plants was fascinating.  Kate Davies gave a splendid and informative post on her blog describing the process from a non-technical perspective here.

What struck me most was that it is exactly the same process we use at home in preparing our fleece. Just with machines, probably a whole lot more consistent and well regulated (in terms of pH, temperature, water and detergents) and on a massively different scale.  And without the odd felting related mishaps as well.  Hmm learning experiences.  Well I would hope so anyway.  Imagine felting up on that scale.

Raw fleece arrives at the factory baled.  Curtis Wools buy approximately 50% of the BWMB annual clip in addition to fibre for other clients from around the world.  We saw some amazing fleeces stained orange by desert sands and some beautiful fleeces in browns and tans from Egypt.  Very strong fibre but wonderful colours.

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The bales are unpacked and fed onto the conveyor.  The smell was unmistakeable. Shit and sheep and lanolin. Glorious. It smelt like my cupboard in the workshop where I keep the raw stuff I can’t decide what to do with. And the dust. It was so dusty.

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The conveyor moves the unpacked fleece into the first machine that opens out the fleeces. IMG_20160219_114007693The conveyor then moves the opened out fleece through a long scouring line of a series of washes. Each one steadily cleaner. The fleece still contained a lot of vfm and other unidentified foreign articles.

IMG_20160219_114023907At the end of the scouring line is a giant dryer.

IMG_20160219_114729650The fibre then moves up the conveyor and is picked over as it passes through into the baling plant.

IMG_20160219_114845154The dry scoured fibre is blown into large containers where it was stored until it was fed through into the balers.  IMG_20160219_121313332Martin opened up a full container, the fluffy clean fleece spilled out and caused minor chaos amongst the team as all were transfixed by sight and unable to stop themselves rushing forward.IMG_20160219_120510120

The scoured bales are then transported across the road to the combing plant. Here the fibres are first carded into sliver, still lumpy and neppy, with some vfm in it.IMG_20160219_123141093IMG_20160219_123502780

The carded sliver was then passed through the combing line. These machines were mesmerising as the sliver pulsed its way into the combers and out the other side forming rhythmic and amazing shapes like a curious white unending snake. And the noise was indescribable. The final combed top is quite beautiful. The shapes are amazing as it coils out into the bumps.  My photos do not do these justice. IMG_20160219_122516047 IMG_20160219_122538988 IMG_20160219_122548645_HDRIMG_20160219_122628129

Did consider if this would fit in the back of the Fiesta:

IMG_20160219_122456239The whole process is the most efficient in the UK if not the world. This makes it a very clean process. In attempting to minimise ‘waste’ (thinking no such thing as waste, just lack of imagination and will in what to do with it) the plant also producers an amazing array of co-products.  The combing waste (nepps) is sold on for uses including mattress stuffing. The lanolin is sold on into the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. The residual solid matter (other greases, particulates and dirty bits) is used as a soil improver. Also the treatment chemicals are specified and used efficiently to reduce the toxicity of the effluent stream. For example, the detergents used are specified specifically because they breakdown in the effluent treatment. We were also introduced to the EnCo testing team.  Unfortunately there wasn’t time to have a conversation about the environmental side of things that interest me.  However, I got the business card and will be contacting them with all my questions in due course.

We were also joined on the day by the fabulous Ellis Stokeld who owns the Doulton Flock of Border Leicesters. IMG_20160219_123203965

This is the largest flock in the UK. You can find Ellie and The Doulton Flock on Ravelry (The Doulton Border Leicester Fleece group).  She bought along some samples of her spun fleece. Including a skein of handspun.  This was hands down the best skein compared with the mill spun skeins.  It was glorious.  Hats of to her spinner, it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in some time.  But then again I would say that wouldn’t I (no?). The 4-ply mill-spun had a wonderful lustre and drape to it.  Looked like it would knit up with a great stitch definition. You can find The Doulton Flock Border Leicester yarns in a 4-ply and DK at Blacker Yarns.

The trip closed with a treat – a fibre retail opportunity. I came away with some more Shetland top in natural and two colours, grey and oatmeal.  I’m planning on having an art attack with some of it dyeing it up and carding into some painterly batts. The remainder I think I may spin up for a colour worked piece. Traditional Shetland/Fairisle stranded work? Hmmm. So many ideas so little time.

All in all a very happy day. Ended up home by 9pm with a beer, a curry, feet up on the sofa and ‘Shetland’ on the TV. Perfect end to a perfect day.  My thanks to Jan, Martin and Adam for making it all possible.

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Olivers hat: musings on paying a fair price for our habit

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This is Olivers hat.  I made it as a thank you.  I hope he likes chartreuse.  Everything I do at the moment seems to have chartreuse in it.  I can’t help it.

Now I knew Oliver kept a couple of pigs on the village allotments but what I didn’t know was that he had also recently started to dabble with sheep (Norfolk Horn).  These are they:

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I found this out when he sidled up to me at a concert in the village hall and said ‘ you spin don’t you?’  and offered me one of his fleeces.  For free.  Gratis.  Niet.  Well you can’t turn down a man that makes an offer like that!  A few days later a potato sack turned up by the back door stuffed with one of the nicest fleeces I have seen in a long time.  It was better than many that I have paid for.  I have this thing where I can’t take anything for nothing.  I have to gift something back.  Its good form and helps keep the karma going in the right direction. Hence the hat.  But it got me thinking.

sheepcupcakes

In the UK sheep are primarily raised for meat, wool is perceived as a by-product of limited value. Shearing is done for welfare, to avoid stress from overheating and from fly strike. Shearing sheep is a cost that erodes still further narrow profit margins. I don’t keep sheep, I don’t have anything to do with the raising of sheep, I don’t shear sheep.  I just want their fleece.

So I don’t really have any idea of how much it costs to shear a sheep.  A quick trawl through the internet didn’t give much information, which normally means the data either doesn’t exist or its held in some vault somewhere so someone can sell it or hide it.  Someone somewhere must keep statistics on this – if you know where or have them please let me know.  However, the little snippets I did pick up gave a range from £1 – £2.50 up to £4 for longwool breeds. Which must eat into profit margins (if any) possible from the revenue that can be generated from sale of the clip.  There are many anecdotal stories of it costing more to shear a sheep than the wool was worth.

But, thankfully, things are changing.  According to the British wool marketing boards average clip value statistics in 2015 the average clip value was £1.05 per kg. Which makes 2015 a very good year for wool prices. In 2015 wool was actually worth more than the cost to get it off the sheep. Yay!

British Clip price historic

The table shows the actual wool clip value (£/kg) from 2010 to 2015 (guide). In five years the value has fallen and remained low but showed signs of an upturn this year.  I also did a very quick and very dirty average fleece weight to see roughly how much value there was in a raw fleece for each of the main breeds shown (Note this is not a robust investigation so please interpret accordingly and use wisely). You don’t need a PhD to see sheep farmers can’t be in it for the veritable gold mine that is wool…

For small holders – the main resource for spinners who like the raw stuff – the costs may be even greater. They are typically not participants in the BWMB.  They generally have smaller flocks.  The costs of shearing will be higher.   Typically smaller flocks mean a greater outlay in terms of transport and overheads for the shearer or a slower rate of clipping for the smallholder which increase costs.  Indeed, many smallholders undertake the shearing themselves. Often this leaves the small holder with fleece that has ‘no value’ or rather no market.  It is not unusual for fleeces to be burnt or disposed of in some other way.  If they are fortunate they will know someone who knows someone who spins and they will give it away happy in the knowledge that it will go to good use.

So if you get offered fleece for free. Bear all this in mind. Gift something back. Whether it be a crisp £5, some of your time, a cake to go with the cup of tea you will inevitably be offered or a beautifully hand spun hat/scarf/teacosy/gloves/doily or whatever you have made from said fleece.  Answer this question: Do you work for free?  Why would you think that someone else would not deserve the same?

 

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Getting faster to live slow

Apples 2015
Apples 2015

September is a crazy stupid busy month.  The last of the fleece that will be spun up and knitted over winter needs to be scoured whilst there is still power coming out of the PV panels and sunshine to dry it before storing.  The garden is banging out so much fruit and veg that needs eating (yum my favourite thing), freezing, pickling and jamming/chutnifying. There is no more room in the freezer, the pantry is nearly full, as is the workshop. The green tomato chutney is on the hob as I write and this weekend is all about Christmas booze.  Sloe gin, damson vodka and getting the cider on the go.  Oh I’m very amused when I read about ‘Slow Living’. An oxymoron?  You tell me.  I can’t move fast enough nor have enough time in September.

Its just about over now and I have some space to focus on Spinzilla.  Spinzilla kicks of next week 5 – 11 October – go Team HSN UK!  Which incidentally also coincides with UK Wool Week 2015. I’ve been thinking about my own personal challenge.  I have two.  The first is to spin enough yarn for two projects.  A cardigan with some cabling in Castle Milk Moorit and a circular shawl that has been in my head for a year but more on that one in another post.  My other personal challenge is to speed up my spinning.  Yes, I am well aware that this may appear contradictory to my own ethics.

The fundamental reason I spin is the very slowness of the whole process.  Particularly if you are working with raw fleece fresh from the farm.  It allows for a very deep connection with the things made. From what the weather was like when I collected it, who I have to thank for providing it and the conversations we may have had, to the very sheep it came from embedded in the smell of its fleece and how it feels in my hand.  Everything made is unique and has a story woven into its making.

As an activity spinning is a repetitive, mindful activity that I find totally immersive and (mostly) relaxing.  My mind is occupied enough for it to loosen its focus on the brain babbling and helps deal with anxiety. This is well observed, creative activities, such as spinning and knitting, can ease stress,  help with anxiety, depression and pain may counter the effects of stress-related diseases (see for example this review by Gutman and Schindler 2007).

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me spinning in pyjamas

Spinning faster is not necessarily a contradiction.  During a week of intensive spinning (a luxury that life very rarely affords) I want to work at improving my hand (drafting) and feet (treadling)  co-ordination so I don’t have to concentrate so much, to let the rhythm take over, and the mind to become freer.  The whole spinning process ought to become not only more productive but, more importantly a more relaxed and deeper meditative experience.

The spinners nirvana.  A perfect state of bliss.  Just ask any spinner.

From competitive spinning comes the road to enlightenment…who knew.

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environmental impact of wool

Sheep are important. Sheep are amazing. I love sheep. Wonderful multi-functional creatures that provide, in addition to wool, meat, milk, cheese, skins, lanolin, tallow and many other products. Not to mention their enormous cultural, ecological and economic importance. All on four legs. All made from nothing but grass and so very beautiful.

In an earlier post on FSM  I spoke about the amount of energy and water needed to in scouring a fleece at home. And it got me thinking. Just what are the environmental impacts of wool?

In our knowledge driven world, we know that all is not as rosy as it should be. The production of wool and the manufacture, use and disposal of the products we derive from it will have environmental impacts.

On the plus side wool is (mostly) a sustainable, renewable and low impact resource. Sheep don’t need massive inputs of artificial stuff, they get by on grass and can live in places that aren’t useful for other forms of agricultural production. Wool can keep us warm.   Not just jumpers but also insulating carpets and insulation in our homes, reducing our need for heating energy. Wool is not a highly processed material.  Its clipped from the sheep, scoured, organised and spun ready for use. Its reusable, recyclable (see Tom of Hollands great blog on re-purposing and mending) and it’s biodegradable. What else? Wool is also hygroscopic – that’s science for absorbs moisture – so it can keep you and your home low in humidity. Dragging the bottom of the barrel now – but I’m sure there’s more – let me know.

On the other hand the production of wool (more so in intensive systems) can use pesticides, fertilisers and, if housed indoors at any point, feeds. These all require energy, resources and emit greenhouse gases and produce wastes in their production and use. These include the use of organophosphate pesticides in sheep dip. If not managed sustainably overgrazing degrades land.

Wool scouring can use huge amounts of water – although information is difficult to find I have a figure of at least 5 cu litres of water per kilo of fleece. Fleece typically looses about 30 of its weight during scouring.  Some of this is lanolin which is collected as a useful co-product but the remainder will be found in the effluent waste water stream.  This waste water contains particulates and suspended organic matter (polite way of describing things such as pooh and dandruff) and residual pesticides and insecticides from ectoparasite treatments of the sheep (including organophosphates) and cleaning agents (this is covered really well in this post by Ecotextiles ).  As does treatments of wool products for insect resistance and stain resistance.

Dyeing can also involve the use of toxic materials and can cause the pollution of water with heavy metals and other nasties (and natural dyes aren’t entirely off the hook here – some of the chemicals used as mordants are real nasties). And there’s the transport, all that southern hemisphere merino…

Actually putting numbers to the environmental impacts such energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions, land use degradation and toxic impacts of wool is difficult. A recent report (Understanding the Environmental Impacts of Wool) found that there were many problems. Firstly, wool is a secondary product to meat so how do you allocate the impacts between them? Secondly, supply chains are diverse both between and within countries. Thirdly, sheep farming covers a very wide range of geographic and climatic regions. Sheep farming practices are incredibly diverse. As are processing and manufacturing technologies and production efficiencies. And finally, there is very limited data available on wool production globally and very few studies. So, we simply do not have any usable answers to that question yet.

In my other life I recently came across a recent paper by Weidman et al (2015) which examined the environmental impacts of raising sheep in four case studies including one UK hill farm with a flock of Lleyn and Cheviots, one New Zealand flock of Romney and 2 Australian Merino flocks. The UK case housed flock in a barn for one month, the other 3 case studies were 100% pasture.

The study used an environmental assessment method called life cycle assessment (LCA) to estimate the environmental impacts the production of meat and wool from cradle to farm gate.  I deal with LCA in my other life so this post is a bit two worlds colliding.

Here’s the science bit – feel free to skip to the punch line if this bores the pants of you.

The biggest problem with LCA studies in systems like sheep is that wool is not, in general, the only product. It is what is known as a co-product. The other dominant product is meat. So how do you separate the environmental impacts of a sheep’s fleece from its meat? Allocation is the thing. The impacts need to be allocated according to a specified ‘thing’. Allocation can be done in many ways. In systems like agriculture the most often used and easiest is by economic output (i.e £/kg). But the results will vary hugely between different markets and over time, so the results will be relatively unstable and difficult to compare. Interestingly this study allocated the burdens using biophysical allocation. Not as complex as it sounds. Impacts were allocated according to the percentage of total protein mass in the meat and the wool. This method produces more stable and reliable results. It’s based on actual sheep biology and not a spreadsheet of funny numbers that changes on a whim driven by a bunch of numpties sat in front of computers buying and selling stuffs they will never see. Clever hey.

In this study the production of a sheep was found to produce green house gas emissions of between 8.5 to 10.5 kg CO2-e per kilogram total (including wool and meat). This includes not just carbon dioxide but also methane – sheep eat grass, they digest grass, they fart – alot – and other greenhouse gases. I’ve played with the results and made some lovely charts showing greenhouse gas emissions as kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2 e) and energy as MJ of oil equivalent (MJ oil-e) per sheep for biophysical and economic allocations. These two charts show the difference that allocation method can make.

Allocation1allocation 2

When allocation was based on biophysical (protein content) the results for wool production are less variable between the four case studies. It would be great to see what a similar study based on the same sheep breed would show.

The UK has the lowest GHG impact and energy demand. This is even more pronounced when using economic allocation.  Wool was only 4% of the total value of a sheep for the UK case compared with approx 50% for the Australian cases.  As we all know, there is not much value in wool in the UK .

But of course what we don’t have is the rest of the lifecycle for wool. The shipping, scouring, processing in to lovely spinable fibre. I will keep digging and let you know what I find.

 

 

Wool is fabulous. Wool is the perfect material – almost. So what can you do to keep things just so? I guess the main thing is know where your fibre and yarn comes from. Can you source sustainably produced, organic fibre and yarns? Shift from imported sheep breeds and play with British breeds. There are now many producers that you can buy direct from. I’ve used Romney Marsh wool top and have my eye on some o4500348_origf Risby Granges Leicester Longwools.

Just look at Louise’s wedding dress! Just look at it!

Fabulous!  

Fabulous!

Fabulous!

 

 

Can you go even more local? Source fleece and fibre direct from the producer and support your local and regional flock.

Me, the most perfect thing I can do is to get on my bike in June to the farm down the road to get my fleece.
And don’t forget Wool Week is 5th – 11th October