For much of the past year I’ve been spending alot of time learning and experimenting with plant based dyes. What has really excited me has been learning about the colours that are within the landscape that I live in. This is so closely related to the Norfolk Horn project. I want the colours I use to be related to its place and its history. Before this I had only ever used acid dyes – I think I wrote about this in a very early post – like many I hadn’t used plant based dyes because I thought they were time consuming, not very light fast, drab and not particularly environmentally freindly when you look at the chemicals used as mordants and modifiers. Never say never. The Norfolk Horn project was the catalyst that got me thinking.
One of the classic books on the subject is A Dyers Manual by Jill Goodwin. Jill was incredibly knowledgeable and very well respected. Her book is a classic text on the subject. It was, and continues to be an inspiration to dyers since it was first published in 1982. It has been the one book that I have kept going back to. In particular the section on woad. Ian Howard of Woad -Inc recomended Jills work to me when I started my journey with woad. Sadly, Jill died in 2013 aged 95. Like many of us, whilst we will be very familiar with her through her writing we have no real idea about her. There is so little. So it was with some amazement that I stumbled across this little peice of tv gold on the East Anglian Film Archive :
The 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.
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…
I am still waiting for the Norfolk horn to come back from the mill all spun up into what I hope is some wonderful sproingy feisty sheepy yarn. I am so anxious, its taking a very long time. But the delay has given me lot of time to keep on with research into the Breeds history.
A fact that I keep coming across in my Norfolk Horn research is that its fleece is difficult to felt. It was this characteristic that made it not particularly desirable for the making of woollen cloths and probably went some way to explaining why it was the cheapest wool on the markets during the Medieval Wool Boom.
After weaving, woollen cloths are fulled. Fulling is a controlled process where the cloth is purposefully felted to shrink it slightly pulling the weave together to make a warm soft and light cloth. Clearly to make this process as economic as possible you would want a wool that felted with some degree of ease.
In contrast Worsted cloths are not fulled. They are cleaned and pressed to give a smooth silky surface that keeps any textural details that were woven in.
It is this resistance to felting that gave it its low price and is what made the Norfolk Horn so desirable to Norfolks Worsted cloth industry. If you have access to a plentiful supply of a cheap raw material you would be a bit of a dufus if you couldn’t come up with the perfect use for it. Wouldn’t you? It made perfect sense to make the best of what you had.
But just how felt resistant is Norfolk Horn wool? Obviously this is another one of those not quite scientific investigations – we have no idea of what the ancestors of the modern Norfolk were like but we can surmise that the wool characteristics would not have been too dissimilar.
Now, I was quite fussy about what I sent off to be processed by the mill. I really want this yarn to be the best it can be. So as you can imagine I have had quite a bit of reject ‘waste’ fleece left over. The stuff sprayed in various dayglo shades of orange, lime green and blue, the coarse stuff and daggy bits. That has been sat around under the eaves of the shed since last summer.
The really poopy nasty stuff I used as a mulch on the veg patch. The remainder is still useful and I had this in mind for insulating my workshop. When we built the workshop it was on a limited budget (is no budget a limited budget?). Running out of money when it came to things such as a window and a door. Luckily Sean acquired a large sliding patio door that would fill the gap until I had saved enough to finish the job. Which is now. Yay! Bit late as the cold is now past.
I didn’t want to spend ages cleaning the fleece and as I wasn’t going to spin it. I thought I would experiment a bit and test out that felt resistance characteristic. Actually that is a bit of a white lie, as you will find out as I recount this story.
I wondered what would happen if I shoved it through the washing machine. Normally I would carefully soak and hand wash to preserve the lock structure and blah de blah. But who has time for that if its not going to be spun.
After an overnight soak in rain water from the butt the fleece was drained on a rack for a bit before putting it through a 40oC wool wash cycle.
And it was amazing! Fluffly, clean, unfelted. I could actually work with this and spin it!
The second batch was again put in the butt water overnight, drained and then…
Sean “ do you want me to put this through the wash?”
Me, from the garden “yes please that would be great. Put it on 40oC”
Should I have mentioned that would be a Wool wash cycle? It was fairly self-evident it was wool, wasn’t it?
Well apparently not. This is what happened on the normal 40oC cycle:
So what are the magic three things you need to felt wool? Heat, soap and agitation.
The results of this suggest that yes Norfolk Horn is indeed resistant to felting. But it is not entirely immune.
Not to worry, I have the felted fleece dried and bagged. I’m sure I can find a use for it somewhere. Ideas welcome.
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].
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].
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.
[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 bulletin, 112(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 Science, 1(4), 140317.