Wovember Words #20

More Wovember Words from Edward Miller’s Textiles, Properties and Behaviour in Clothing Use. These are three words related to remanufactured wool.

This is wool which has been used or processed before, as opposed to virgin wool or pure new wool which is wool being used for the first time. Wool [has] the capacity to be used more than once and in view of the cost of new wool, this is a distinct practical advantage which is not shared by any other textile fibre type.

There are three main sources of raw materials for this industry:

  1. Shoddy Fibres obtained by shredding ‘soft’ rags, ie knitted or loosely woven wool fabrics
  2. Mungo Fibres obtained by shredding ‘hard’ rags, ie closely woven or thick heavily milled fabrics
  3. Noils The shorter fibres of the wool staple extracted during the worsted combing process

The term shoddy will be familiar to many as a word signifying something which looks inferior or poor in quality. The rags used to obtain shoddy and mungo fibres are either old fabrics or new clippings but in reducing the rags to fibres there is considerable fibre damage and breakage. These fibres then are short, and vary considerably in thickness and quality and lack the full qualities of resilience and softness which new wool possesses. Noils are better in tha the fibres are merely shorter than average and not damaged, but they are not fully representative of the quality of wool from which they were extracted.

Due to the shortness of shoddy and mungo fibres they would be difficult to hold securely in a yarn and would easily be rubbed out in use so that the fabric would gradually disintegrate in wear. It is easy to see therefore how the term ‘shoddy’ came to represent something poor in quality.

These fibres are mostly blended with new wool in order to prevent rapid loss of fibres. In this use they are a valuable contribution to the textile industry because if they are skilfully used, attractive medium and low priced woollen fabrics can be made which have sufficient durability, particularly for fashion garments.

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Shoddy freight team of Slack Shoddy Mill, Springfield, Vermont, circa 1871. Image from www.slackshoddymill.com

Sue James on Working with Organic Wool

Good evening! We continue on from yesterday this evening, as we are joined for a Q&A by Sue James, who works with the wool produced by Juliet Morris, the shepherd we heard from yesterday! Sue is the Knitwear designer for Llynfi and brings fascinating insights on how to utilise what is produced locally, as a fashion designer. All content and photos © Sue James and used here with kind permission.

WOVEMBER: Where is Llynfi based, and to what extent is the place where you work an influence on the designs which you produce?

talgarth-Black-MountainsSJa

Our main base is in Talgarth, at the foot of the Black Mountains between Brecon and Hay on Wye in beautiful Mid Wales; Emily designs and makes the woven clothing in a small studio here. I live and work further west, near Lampeter, renovating and restoring an old water mill and, most exciting! – getting my new knit studio up and running.

Llynfi is the name of a little river that runs from Llangorse Lake to the River Wye, past Talgarth and through the hamlet we used to live in when I started out with Angora bunnies as Llynfi Angora. It’s an SSSI, noted for otters and kingfishers and crayfish – and represents much of what is dear to us I guess. Taken literally it could mean ‘My Lake’. (Llyn = lake, fy = my)

Our surroundings are not so much a direct influence on our design, but living in such a rural area and away from urban centres perhaps gives a certain freedom from the constant pressure of trends, and allows us to explore our own ideas. We do have days out in Cardiff or Swansea, to the Big Shops, just in case we’re missing anything… but we’re always relieved to get back to the rural idyll!

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WOVEMBER: I have spent some time going through the Shear Waste Report; it is a compelling case study of the untapped potential of Organic woollen textile production in Wales, and has some really fantastic ideas in it which will benefit both the shepherd (who will earn more for the wool) and fashion designers primarily concerned with traceability, provenance and sustainability (who cannot currently access easily locally produced organic woollen textiles to work with). This latter point is where, I guess, you fit in! Would you mind first of all unravelling for WOVEMBER readers the relationships between your own company – Llynfi – and Organic Wool Wales? How are those two entities related, and how has “Llynfi” come about, as a fashion business operated by you and your daughter?

Sue: Well, to start at the beginning, a fashion business as such was never really the aim – it’s just about making good clothes. It’s evolved over a lifetime: my mum taught me dressmaking, my grandmother taught me to knit and we made our own clothes. My mum got a spinning wheel when I was about 15, in the mid 70’s. I’ve been in love with our British wool ever since those early days of unrolling fleeces on the back lawn, with books by the likes of Mabel Ross close by to enlighten us in the mysteries of sorting. And so it continued, encouraging my own daughters to sew and knit, knitting and sewing a bit for other people, becoming ever more interested in the origins of whatever I was using. My middle daughter, Emily, continued with textiles and design and began her own work with natural dyes while she was studying Surface Pattern Design at Uni. She joined with me part-time when she graduated, continuing with screen printing using natural dyes on wool fabrics, and I gained a Soil Association licence for dyeing and knit in 2007. About 3 years ago we decided to stop selling hand-dyed yarns and cushions etc and concentrate on our first love, making clothes – best decision ever!

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From the start, everything we were doing led back to making the most of wool and, where possible, certified organic British wool. Unless you personally know your supply chain, organic certification gives best assurance of production and processing to highest environmental standards. Knitting yarns weren’t such a problem – Chris King at Garthenor Organic Pure Wool, here in Wales, was one of the early pioneers and produces a wide range of beautiful British breed yarns. Around 2008, I met Juliet Morris of Ystrad Farm who had decided to breed her sheep for quality of wool, again to Soil Association standards, and we began using her yarns too.

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Ystrad Farm Yarn, © Juliet Morris

Working with Juliet, we all felt that more needed to be done to make the most of wool from organic Welsh farms and, in particular, certified organic wool fabric as this is currently only really available by special commission from one weaver. There seemed to be a gap where fabric was concerned. Was it a case of demand/supply? Lack of awareness? The costs? The ‘right’ wool? Organic Centre Wales run a scheme called Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) aimed at developing supply chains from primary producers to market. The Organic Wool Wales project was born; Juliet organised the weaving of fabric and wrote a report to investigate the current position, and Emily and I curated a collection of pieces to be made from the fabric to create a showcase and a talking point, all with BOBL support. We set out to find some answers!

WOVEMBER: Central to the report and also to establishing Organic Wool Wales was the production of two big lengths of Organic Welsh Wool, produced to demonstrate that it can be done! If I have understood correctly, over twenty-five designer-makers from across the UK and overseas applied to join the project and, for no remuneration, designed and made works using some of that fabric. Eighteen designs were selected to form part of an Organic Welsh Wool Fabric Collection, launched at Wonderwool Wales 2013, showcasing the designers’ range of original pieces including accessories, footwear, clothing and furniture, all from the organic wool fabric… could you tell WOVEMBER readers a little bit about your own role in that part of the project?

Sue: Emily and I had the job of finding people to work with the fabric. We sat and scratched our heads and drew up a list, but in the end it was the power of social networking that produced the response. We were really encouraged by the enthusiasm for the idea. What we had forgotten of course, it that these Twitter, Facebook and Linked-in are global – we had to turn down quite a few overseas enquiries.

Applications were sent out to all who asked, and the three of us made the final selection of 18. There was a tight deadline of 6 weeks which made for a good buzz. Emily had the work of cutting up and sending out all the fabric and I set up a Facebook page, which worked brilliantly as a way for the participants to share their progress and feel part of what was happening. It was like Christmas when the completed work started arriving, the standard was amazing!

Chrissie Menzies at Wonderwool was enthusiastic about the whole idea and reserved us an exhibition space, having a rope barrier specially made and getting PR. Staging the whole thing was a challenge as we had our own stand too, but Tony Little of Organic Centre Wales manned the exhibition – and learned a huge amount about wool in the process! It all gained a great amount of interest, and made an inspiring collection – just what we’d had in mind.

After Wonderwool, we staged the collection at Kate Humble’s Wool Weekend, Welsh Smallholders Show, Royal Welsh Show, British Wool Weekend at Harrogate, and Llandovery Sheep Festival. It was also on display for the final Project event, the Farm Day, where it all started. Now the pieces will all be sent back to their makers.

We’ve also tried to maximise publicity for the contributors too, and one participant is going on to stage her own exhibition of Organic wool interior products next year.

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Designed by Lorraine Pocklington and Camille Jacquemart using Organic Welsh Wool

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Designed by Lorraine Pocklington using Organic Welsh Wool

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Designed by Lu Underwood and Helen Hickman using Organic Welsh Wool

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Designed by Mick Sheridan using Organic Welsh Wool

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Designed by Ruth Davey and Rose Wood using Organic Welsh Wool

WOVEMBER: I took a look at your collection online and was impressed by the textiles that you use; there is a strong emphasis in your collection on natural and renewable textiles. Could you say something about your ethos in terms of sourcing fabric and yarn to work with?

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Sue: Researching and sourcing materials led us on a difficult journey: dyeing and its issues made us think about the use of colour, how ‘eco’ is bamboo, and what is ‘Peace Silk’ really all about? What was the problem with using British wool? Many of the answers were difficult to pin down, were surprising, enlightening… and often depressing. We realised it was a case of doing the best we could, accepting that compromises had to be made sometimes; that we need to wear clothes, and that good clothes that women would want to keep would be best use of resources. As makers, it is up to us to do the thinking. Wool is our fibre of choice and wool produced as close to home as possible could be a challenge – but then, there’s nothing like a challenge is there?

The main difficulty for a micro business is cost of materials. Maintaining a provenance for your wool tends to mean small quantities, small quantity equals high costs. Buying direct from the farm allows the shepherd to add value to the wool – quite rightly. We could obtain beautiful wool yarns from, say, Italy, and they would be a fraction of the price. But we didn’t want to do that – Britain does wool, and Wales in particular has many sheep! – it must be possible to utilise it, but wool needs to be the right quality for the purpose. One issue appears to be that there isn’t enough of the right grade of British wool available to interest larger mills. However it is all getting better: the rise of the Internet has, I think, made it easier for people to ask questions and think about problems and try and get answers. There’s nothing wrong at all with a yarn (knitting or weaving) made of imported wool, but when you’re led to believe it’s British and then you end up telling your own customers it’s British… well, it raises the question: is a British yarn one that’s spun in Britain or spun in Britain from British wool? The end consumer rather expects the latter. For us, Welsh Wool means wool grown in Wales.

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Welsh Wool on the hoof, © Juliet Morris

Small scale production can also mean uncertainty and long lead times and this does cause a huge problem, most especially with fabric – we had to wait over 6 months for a bolt of cloth for example, and a batch of wool was spun into the wrong gauge, which lost us a design and a wait of over a year for another chance… Certified organic is the best one can do, as a maker, to prove the provenance of the material used. Organic is currently small scale – and so the circle goes…

In developing the Organic Wool Wales project we’re looking at various ways of people working together to reduce processing costs, to make the yarns and fabrics more affordable and easier to access for small businesses, yet still give a proper return for the producer; it’s also at the core of the Cambrian Mountains Wool group, which Juliet and I are also working with. Small can work to your every advantage of course – but it still has to be economically viable. Fabric is a particular issue as the wool has to go out of Wales to be spun; it can come back to be woven to Organic Standards, but then has to go up to Scotland for finishing; it all adds to costs.

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WOVEMBER: The price point for your garments is significantly higher than the prices you might find on the High Street, reflecting the extra costs involved in using local labour; high quality materials; and the small-scale production runs you are working with. Could you say something about the economics of Llynfi?

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Sue: There’s no way we can compete with ‘High Street’ and we’d like to think that what we are offering is quite different to what might be found there! We fall into the category of designer–maker, we’re not manufacturers, we don’t use manufacturing facilities. We sell directly to our customers as we can’t price our work to allow selling through retailers. It’s hard work, but people appreciate being able to talk to us as the makers of the piece they are buying, we can take into account personal figure issues, we can tell the stories of the materials we use. Our customers tend to be women who buy only very few items in a year, or who have saved specially. We don’t change the collection every season – being wool we focus on Autumn/Winter anyway, and we have to keep older patterns as they get asked for.

The challenge we set ourselves was to use Welsh wool wherever possible or, at least, British, and in a contemporary style. I think my previous points about scale also highlight the challenges involved in working at this artisan level.

WOVEMBER: The Shear Waste report includes some very heartening phrases, including this gem: “Organic Welsh wool has a powerful resonance with the new economic values of natural, sustainable, local and organic. There is no difficulty engaging designer and consumer support in the concept.” I wonder if you could say a few words about changes in perception which you have noticed, as a fashion designer, in terms of both what you now want to design, and what your customers now want to buy?

Sue: There is definitely a shift to paying more for fewer pieces that are well made, that are going to last better and have a reassurance about them where production is concerned. I think people are starting to realise the true cost of cheap clothing. Having never set out or trained as fashion designers, we have come into making clothing from a different angle – that of developing our own interest in wool and taking our own clothes making a step further. We design and make things that we like, one eye on the trends but definitely doing our own thing, with clean lines and interesting detail. We haven’t really had to change anything – but it’s certainly heartening to discover more and more people who like what we do. I think there is much more opportunity out there now, people are learning how to wear wool, and they appreciate knowing about the origins of the fibre and buying into a sense of place.

WOVEMBER: In the world of organic food production, one of the things that seems to have really taken off is product differentiation, and also increased consumer awareness regarding different types of breeds, provenance, etc. I wondered if the organic food model has been inspirational at all to you in terms of thinking about how woollen textiles might be once again considered artisanal, and marketed as such to an increasingly aware consumer base?

Sue: Absolutely! One of the puzzling and frustrating things is that wool isn’t considered an agricultural product so it doesn’t have the same status when it comes to farm support, or the same promotion behind it as organic food. Organic farming is all about food – why not the wool as well? There is very much to be done with farmers through to general public though, when it comes to wool qualities. All wool is not the same, and it’s vital to make the appropriate use of the wool available. Just because a particular breed has a certain appeal doesn’t mean that it would make a jumper that someone would pay a lot of money to wear, and I think that’s where wool producers, processors and designers could gain much by working together more closely . It also needs to be accepted that artisanal products have a price attached to them which reflects the production, or that the product needs to be made in such a way as to repay the maker appropriately.

WOVEMBER: The Shear Waste report covers the whole sheep to shoulders supply chain, describing where value could be added both for end consumers and wool-growers. It bought people together from all ends of the wool industry, including designers, mill-spinners, representatives from the British Wool Marketing Board, Shepherds, Designer-makers etc. have these meetings with folk involved in other areas of the Organic Welsh Wool industry changed how you think about your work as a fashion designer?

Sue: It has been an extremely interesting year! It’s made us realise how little the general public know about textile production and how interested they are to find out; how massive the wool industry is and the vast quantities involved (and how very, very tiny we are!); how much passion there is among small producers and designers/makers and craft people for making more of Welsh (and indeed, British) wool; how supportive the Wool Board wants to be – they’re not the bad boys after all… And it’s given us much encouragement and helped us grow tremendously in our direction for the Project. Personally, it’s given us so much more confidence in moving forward with what we are already doing – exciting times!

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Organic Welsh Wool display at Ystrad Fram

WOVEMBER: Your current look-book has a wonderful, WW2-inspired atmosphere; I wondered if this vintage aesthetic in some way harks back to an era when more clothes were made by hand and before the widespread adoption of synthetic textiles caused an international drop in wool prices?

AirshowSJames

Simply – yes! That wonderful rose-tinted way of looking back to a time of a slower pace, elegance of dressing for an occasion, women starting to have more freedom, and discovering flight and travel.

WOVEMBER: Could you talk WOVEMBER readers through a couple of the designs you have made using 100% WOOL?

Sue: Although I make the knitwear, dressmaking was my first interest and I always start with the dress styles of a period. For the current aeroplane designs, it was the detailing of cuffs and collars in the 30s that caught my eye. The more we looked into this era, the more we found out about how popular flying was for women, and cycling for holidays. Then I came across a lovely old photo of a model aircraft show, with planes of all shapes and sizes lined up ready for take-off. Cue developing the jacquard pattern of aeroplanes. I’d also found a little vintage red aeroplane brooch, which was the perfect shape. I really, really, wasn’t sure about it though! I mean – ‘planes? For ladies? I made up a jacket, using a smaller ‘aeroplane tweed’ for a contrast of scale as well; Emily loved it and made me do more! It’s taken off (!), and the funny thing has been – people don’t see the planes at first; they fall in love with the overall pattern. So I can get people wearing aeroplanes, without them realising they are… I felt this design needed a soft yet fairly sturdy woollen spun yarn and tried Sue Blacker’s ‘Classic’ (although not organic); this has Blue Faced Leicester from a Welsh farm with Lleyn (which is a Welsh breed although this particular flock is in Cornwall) and some Hebridean for a grey blend. The yarn works beautifully, with a slight sheen, and dyes well with madder for the red aeroplanes.

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WOVEMBER: Finally, just for fun, there are quite a few sheep breeds native to Wales – do you have a favourite and why?

Sue: Tricky! I’m interested first and foremost in suitability of wool. I think the Welsh Black has to come pretty near the top though – we like to use naturally coloured wool and this is a breed developed specially for its colour. The wool can be good for knits, and for woven cloth. Hill Radnors (of which Juliet has a flock) have a great, sheepy, friendly appearance and an interesting fleece, also the little Balwens with their blaze.

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Balwen with its blaze, image found here

Wovember Words #19

Today’s Wovember Words is very au courant, and we have to thank Stephen West for coming up with the word: SWANTS. Stephen repopularised this concept of repurposing an old sweater into pants: sweaterpants. Swants (for the UK/US language barrier: in US English, pants means trousers and not underwear.)

Swants seem to be very popular amongst the Team Wovember Members, and both Kate and Felix have been busy making themselves a pair of swants. Incidentally, Kate also coined the word SWEEKS in the process: sweaterbreeks (breeks being Scottish for breeches.) Tom is waiting for some quality swantsing time during the coming Christmas holidays.

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Felix swantsing in her lounge. Image ©Felicity Ford

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Kate is completely swantsed with her new sweeks. Image ©Kate Davies

Juliet Morris on working with Organic Wool

Good evening WOVEMBERITES! This evening we continue to build on yesterday’s Organic Wool theme, presenting a Q&A between WOVEMBER and Juliet Morris, the Shepherd behind Ystrad Organics. Tomorrow, we shall continue ‘Working with Wool’ in a related Q&A with Sue James, who is the Knitwear Designer at Llynfi, and who is working with Juliet on the Organic Wool Wales project. Juliet and Sue are working together from different ends of the Wool Industry to make the very best of their amazing local product: Organic Welsh Wool. All content © Juliet Morris and used with kind permission.

WOVEMBER: I wondered if you could tell WOVEMBER readers a little bit about your organic farm in Carmarthenshire, the type of sheep you have, and their relationship to the specific environment there?

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Juliet: The farm’s Welsh name, Ystrad, describe its setting perfectly: a bowl shaped valley that runs east to west, on the north side, it’s ancient woodland and coniferous forests, on the south, it’s classic Welsh uplands and panoramic views. Poor farm land by modern agricultural standards, its real wealth lies in its natural habitats. For me, this relationship between production and nature is fundamental.

The animals that do best on the old traditional pastures at Ystrad are the old traditional, now rare, breeds. And, because you really need more than one species to manage healthy organic grassland, I farm Irish Moiled cattle along with my sheep – pedigree Hill Radnors, black and white Wensleydale sheep, and their exceptionally fleecy cross-bred lambs.

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WOVEMBER: I love the title “Shear Waste” of your amazing report; it suggests that at the moment the full potential of organic fleece is not being maximised. Could you say a few words about how your fleeces have historically been used and how you feel they could be better used in the future?

Juliet: By law and apart from a few exceptions, anyone with more than 4 sheep has to sell their wool to the Wool Marketing Board and, until a few years ago, it had no means of keeping organically farmed fleece separate from conventional. That meant that there was no such thing as certified organic wool from the UK.

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The Board has now developed clear processes for keeping organic wool separate but only a fraction of organic farmers use the system. The Board is still not getting organic fleece through in sufficient volume to value it as anything different from conventionally farmed fleece or to attract the attention of the big wool buyers. Of the organic wool that is sold onto the world market, the price is no different from conventional and there are no systems in place to allow us to see where it goes or what becomes of it. Whilst certified organic wool from the UK now exists, it remains largely invisible.

The lack of traceability, combined with the lack of financial return in the British Wool system, make it nigh on impossible for farmers to maintain any sense of pride or purpose in what happens to their hard work. It’s heart breaking that such a precious, natural, home grown, organic resource is ‘lost’. It is why I secured permission from the Board, a number of years ago, to retain the 500kg or so fleece that I produce every year in order to process and sell it direct.

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WOVEMBER: Obviously your farm is an organic farm and you are looking towards developing an organic certified sheep to shoulder production chain. In the world of organic food production, one of the things that seems to have really taken off is product differentiation, and also increased consumer awareness regarding different types of breeds, provenance, etc. I wondered if you feel this model is applicable to wool growers and indeed whether looking at the organic food market has played a role in your decision to move towards organic wool production?

Juliet: Organic production is a whole system thing. The values and principles define the way in which we do everything – from the soil up, literally. They’re about the inter-connectedness of everything we do and our impact on the planet. I would farm organically, whatever I was growing.

Your observation about the food market is a good one. The last decade has seen the rise and rise of consumer choice and a whole wave of ‘differentiation techniques’ in food, many of which are based on values and ethics – traceability, locality, provenance, tradition, heritage, animal welfare, the environment, fair trade, food miles. And the best of these are about breaking down the barriers between producer and consumer, allowing and encouraging us to start thinking a little more deeply about where things come from, how they are produced and processed, and whether the journey from farm to fork, or sheep to shoulder, is marked by a simple vapour trail across the sky – or a whole tonnage of newly released carbon into the atmosphere.

The textiles sector is still somewhere off shore, so vast and so intrinsically global that it is proving an incredibly slow tanker to turn. But there are some strong tidal forces – organic, fair trade cotton has gone mainstream, wool is resuming its platform as a fibre of choice and ‘made in Britain’ has real brand value. They combine to suggest that the best of what has happened in food is becoming increasingly evident in textiles and fashion.

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WOVEMBER: What are the positive benefits involved in switching to organic production for the wool-grower?

Juliet: Just as farmers seeking financial return from organic farming over conventional and consumers applying a ‘better taste test’ to organic food are likely to be disappointing, organic wool is unlikely to look or feel any different from conventional. Given the strict chemical prohibitions in the organic textiles processing standards, a residue test might discover an awful lot more in your conventionally produced woollen goods than you’d bargained for!

‘Isn’t all wool organic?’ is my most often asked question. For clarity, I’m talking ‘certified organic’ – a set of standards that define, not so much the thing itself, but the way in which it has been produced, and processed. They specify cost-neutral demands on the plant with optimal health and welfare of the people and animals involved.

For everyone involved in the organic chain – from producer to processor to consumer – commitment is everything. It’s hard! But the organic standards give me a tried and tested framework of methods and knowledge that set out everything I do and should be doing – from building fertility in the soil to managing clean, productive pasture to ensuring the health and wellbeing of my animals and the wildlife around us.

The organic standards are like a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ and ‘can use and can’t’. Occasionally they restrict you to the point of fury. More usually, they offer solutions to problems that you might not have considered. They always challenge you to keep thinking about underlying whys and wherefores, and sustainable, long term practice and implications, rather than short-term, quick-win measures. You can see where the tensions lie!

Ultimately, the (nightmarish, I have to say) inspection process and paper-based bureaucracy that you are tasked with providing, gives me absolute confidence that I am farming using as sustainable, environmentally sensitive and welfare-friendly a system as possible. And, when you’re farming, a reason to hold your head high, and a slight sense of smugness, go a very long way.

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WOVEMBER: Beyond the administration-heavy side of things on the farm, what are some of the key challenges involved in establishing a sheep to shoulders process that is certified organic?

Juliet: The wool textiles journey from ‘sheep to shoulder’ has a lot of very different steps along the way and organic certification covers every one – from the muck that’s used on the grass that feeds the pregnant organic ewe to the approved detergents and machine oils that are used in the organic fabric finishing process. Accessing the certified processing chain is a challenge in itself – although I hope ‘Shear Waste’ has helped – and being confident that everyone who says they are ‘organic’ has a certificate to prove it.

For me, as a practical person, the hardest thing is the ‘audit trail’. Not only does everything have to be done to organic standards, you must be capable of proving it has been done to organic standards. The entire production and processing journey must be fully traceable with a clear record of every input – from muck spread on fields to hay fed to ewes to detergents used in fabric finishing – and every movement – from the birth of the lamb to the date of shearing to the journey from spinner to weaver. The certification process anchors the integrity of organic wool and textiles. For me personally, it very often feels like a triumph of bureaucracy over getting a life!

WOVEMBER: As a wool grower you have become very engaged with what happens to your wool once it leaves your farm; what are the advantages in getting more involved in what happens to wool once it leaves your farm?

Juliet: There is little romance about shepherding. It’s a business that is entirely reliant on natural and market forces totally outside your control. Sheep farming is hard. The weather, the environment and the sheep determine the health and productivity of a farm, and can never be relied upon. The value of breeding stock, meat animals and wool rise and regularly fall, whilst feed, medication, machinery and contractor costs only ever go up. The connection between what my sheep produce, the creativity it inspires in makers and enjoyment or users and wearers gives me and my flock a profound sense of purpose – it’s why we do what we do.

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But my involvement ‘beyond the fleece’ also gives me intelligence that I can use to change and improve what I do. As farmers, we have significant control over the quality of the fleece we produce – from our choice of breed stock to the standards of health and welfare we achieve to the way in which we manage wool ‘on the hoof’ and off. The way in which it is processed can be its making, or its ruination. My relationship with spinners, weavers and makers is as critical as my relationship with my sheep and their wool – though not as daily an obsession!

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The farm is the start of a continuum of woolly activity. Tweak anywhere along the line and you influence the end results – and the ultimate arbiters are my end users. A direct connection to them, and an engagement in the entire process, from farm to yarn to fabric, allows me to learn from their feedback, to adjust they way it’s produced or processed, and evolve what is done in response.

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Thank you so much, Juliet, for telling us a bit more about Organic Wool production in Wales, and for your insights into working through the whole sheep-to-shoulders process organically! Join us tomorrow to hear what Sue has to say about working directly with Organic Wool as knitwear designer for Llynfi, and to hear about the joint venture Organic Wool Wales which Juliet and Sue are working on together.

Wovember Words #18

More Wovember Words from “The Wool Pack” by Cynthia Harnett. It’s aimed at young adult readers and was published in 1951. So do forgive its traditional thoughts on the division of labour, because clearly the fun of spinning with a spindle hadn’t escaped this young man. It is set in 1493 in The Cotswolds when the British Mediaeval Wool Trade is in full force.

Nicholas left the fields just where the muddy road ended, and the cobbles of Witney Street began. The fine spring evening had bought all the women to the doors of their cottages, each with a distaff tucked under her arm, busily dropping, twisting and winding up a spindle as she gossiped. Some of the well-to-do possessed new-fangled spinning wheels; but spinning wheels were heavy cumbersome things, and, wheel or no wheel, every good wife carried the old-fashioned distaff and spindle with her always. There were odd moments all through the day when she had at least one hand free, and every spool of spun yarn was of value. Nicholas would not for worlds have admitted it, but he loved a spindle. Meg had taught him to use one when he was young. He liked dropping it on the end of a length of rough wool drawn from the distaff, and watching it twiddle round and round, winding the wool into a firm thread. It was fun catching it again at the exact moment before it began to untwist, just as much fun as whipping a peg top in the market place, but because it was woman’s work, he never dared to confess that he liked it.

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Cecilia Hewett dropping her spindle on a crag, just the kind of thing I could see Nicholas doing. Image ©Cecilia Hewett

Pete Glanville on Working with Organic Wool

Pete Glanville is the secretary of ShetlandOrganics, a Community Interest Company in Shetland, dedicated to the production of Organic Shetland wool; he has a lovely flock of organic, coloured Shetland sheep which he and Linda Glanville shepherd in Tingwall. Here they are!

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Pete Glanville’s flock, photo © Felicity Ford

The ShetlandOrganics Community Interest Group includes several other shepherds, who – like Pete and Linda – are growing organic Shetland wool in Shetland. There are quite a few shepherds who have begun to concentrate on a certified organic production system here in the UK in recent years, and we thought you might be interested to read more about what is involved in taking the organic route as a yarn producer. Therefore this evening Pete Glanville has very kindly provided us with a Q&A about ShetlandOrganics. All the words are © Pete Glanville, while the photos are © Felicity Ford. All the sheep shown belong to Pete and Linda Glanville while all the textiles have been produced by different artists and makers using ShetlandOrganics wool, and were displayed at Vaila Fine Art during Shetland Wool Week in a glorious sheepy celebration of what can be done with this distinctive textile

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WOVEMBER: Could you tell WOVEMBER readers a little bit about Shetland Organics and the different shepherds and sheep involved?

Pete: ShetlandOrganics Community Interest Company was set up in 2008 out of a desire by Shetland Organic Producers’ Group (SOPG) to form a trading arm. SOPG was formed in September 2001, with ten organically certified sheep producers among its membership at that time. There are now eleven organic certified producers and processors that include six sheep producers. These organic units vary in size from a croft of just 40 ha to a farm of 700 ha.

WOVEMBER: In the world of organic food production, one of the things that seems to have really taken off is product differentiation, and also increased consumer awareness regarding different types of breeds, provenance, etc. I wondered if you feel this model could be useful at all for wool growers and indeed whether looking at the ideas surrounding organic food market played a role in the decision for you and the other shepherds involved to move to organic wool production?

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Pete: Only one of our members is marketing organic lamb, but three or four units supply him with lambs for that market. The Native Shetland sheep is renowned for the special nature of the meat, both lamb and mutton, and this equally applies to the fleeces from this breed. Prices obtained for fleeces at the time we first formed SOPG were very poor, and there was little interest in the coloured fleeces in particular.

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ShetlandOrganics decided that there had to be a way of improving on that situation, and now its members concentrate on the native breed in the production and processing of yarns from natural coloured fleeces. Some organic certified dyed yarns are also produced. ShetlandOrganics CIC has concentrated on product development utilising only pure 100% Organic Native Shetland Wool, and placing it at the top end market, emphasising the unique variety of colours and shades available from this native breed.

WOVEMBER: What are the positive benefits involved in switching to organic production for the wool-grower?

Pete: The description ‘organic’ is the only one that is subject to EU and national regulation. ‘Organic’ production means working with natural systems rather than seeking to dominate them, as is often the case in intensive farming systems, and to minimise the use of animal medicines and non-renewable natural resources such as the fossil fuels used in the manufacture of fertilisers and pesticides. However, once the producer accepts these principles and can comply with the certifying authority’s requirements regarding record keeping etc., it is possible to benefit from an improved financial return on the products, whether that be meat or fibre.

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Organic Shetland Fleece on sale at Vaile Fine Art during Shetland Wool Week, 2013

WOVEMBER: What are some of the challenges involved in establishing a sheep to shoulders process that is certified organic?

Pete: Under an organic system, animals are kept in ways that minimise the need for medicines and other chemical treatments. There are strict regulations controlling the use of all treatments, and animal welfare is of utmost importance. Therefore, if an animal is sick it is essential that the correct treatment be employed under the direction of a veterinary practitioner. However, normal withdrawal periods for medicines, including dips are increased by 100%. Should the ailment entail special treatment, derogation from the Organic Standards has to be obtained from the Certifying Authority. Under certain circumstances this might not be permissible, and the organic status of that animal could be lost.

In addition to the producer’s organic certificate and before a fleece can be utilised in the production of organic textiles, a Livestock Veterinary Treatment Declaration detailing the courses of veterinary treatments for external parasite control administered to each animal has to be provided. These days there is a general awareness that there may be traces of residues from fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides in finished food products, and this also applies to the fleeces of sheep. No external treatments should have been administered within 3 months prior to the date of clipping. The processing of the fleeces into yarn has to be carried out by a spinning mill that also has organic status. In the UK that means Soil Association Certification Ltd. (SA), who also certifies ShetlandOrganics for the handling of the raw fleeces, carrying out the manufacturing of garments and the marketing and packaging of the final product. Currently there are just two spinning mills in the UK with such certification: The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall and New Lanark, Scotland. Therefore all organic fleeces produced in Shetland have to be sent to UK mainland for processing.

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WOVEMBER: You yourself have a small flock of organic Shetland sheep; could you say something about them and the land that they live on?

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Pete: Linda and I own a small croft of 40 hectares in Tingwall, in the Central Mainland of Shetland. This comprises about 35 ha of rough hill ground and the remainder permanent grassland in-bye. We have a flock of 10 pure-bred Shetland ewes that produce on average 10 lambs each year plus 2 gimmers. We do not carry our own ram, but get one from our organic neighbour in December for tupping. Generally this is a tup lamb, the colour of which we alter, depending on the predominating colour of the off-spring each year, in order to maintain a good variety of colours in the flock. Most of the year, the sheep are kept on the hill, but come down for lambing and later to graze the aftermath following the cutting of silage.

WOVEMBER: What are the highlights for you in the shepherding year?

Pete: There is no doubt that Linda’s favourite time is lambing in May, when they are brought in-bye. I on the other hand am content to see the flock doing their own thing on the hill!

WOVEMBER: Processing organic wool presents several complexities which readers of WOVEMBER might not be aware of; would you be able to outline these here? Obviously one of the things that is amazing about producing a small, niche product such as Organic Shetland Wool is that it has a very specific cachet value. However, are there any problems associated with protecting that cachet value, and how does dealing with small quantities of wool work when it comes to negotiating with spinning mills?

Pete: Because of the small scale of production and high level of ‘hands-on’ intervention required this becomes one of the first opportunities for the consumer to obtain full traceability from croft to finished product. ShetlandOrganics CIC is a registered Trade Mark for organic yarns, garments etc. made in Shetland. The two spinning mills mentioned above are quite different in terms of the quantity of material they are able to process; while Natural Fibres have a minimum batch size of 20 kg of fleeces, New Lanark will only accept 500 kg per batch. The other difference to note is Natural Fibres has on-site scouring (washing), while fleeces for New Lanark first have to go to an outside organic certified scourer.

WOVEMBER: Have you got any advice for other wool producers maybe considering pursuing an organic wool route?

Pete: Our advice would be first to look at the market opportunities, and processes from flock to yarn, and consider whether you want to sell the finished product as processed yarn or as fleeces for hand-spinning or machine-spun to be sold by others. For the former route, you have to obtain full certification by Soil Association, complying with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). There is no doubt that there is a revival in the use of natural fibres, and home-knitting in particular; so the opportunity is out there for the (dedicated) entrepreneur.

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Extraordinary work by Mati Ventrillon displayed at Vaila Fine Art during Shetland Wool Week

WOVEMBER: Could you say a few words about dealing with multiple mills and multiple yarn types?

Pete: Since we started processing yarns, we have used the services of five different spinning mills. For one reason or the other three of these have dropped their certification. Each one had a distinct product, and so, as we have a small stock of yarns from each, there is an inconsistency about the weights; some being finer or softer than others. This has to be highlighted when dealing with customers, as each batch might well vary in colour as well as texture.

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WOVEMBER: Finally, for WOVEMBER readers, what will your sheep be up to this Wovember?

Pete: At present, the flock are enjoying the last of the grass along with the two Shetland cattle, but soon they will be put back to the hill, with the lambs taken off. Two of these will be kept in-bye as replacement gimmers for next season.

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THANK YOU Pete, for telling us a bit more about some of what is involved in the production of organic Shetland wool! At Vaila Fine Art this year during Shetland Wool Week there was an extraordinary display of different things created using your yarn, including work by Sheila Fowlie, Andrea Williamson, Helen Whitham, Mati Ventrillon and Sue White. Di Gilpin has also worked with your yarn has of course fellow WOVEMBERIST, Kate Davies!

Here is a selection of some of the wonderful things spotted at Vaila Fine Art during Shetland Wool Week, all created in organic Shetland wool and conveying some of the lovely things that can be created out of this special, traceable product.

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Wovember Words #17

The last week of Wovember Words! Today’s Wovember Words come from “The Wool Pack” by Cynthia Harnett, which was published in 1951, a book aimed at a younger audience (I guess we would call them teenagers now.) The opening paragraph for the book immediately sets the scene for a context in which ALL WOOL is deeply valued; this is 1493 in The Cotswolds when the British Mediaeval Wool Trade is in full force!

Nicholas Fetterlock lay on his back on the hill-side, gazing up into the young leaves of an oak-tree.
He was hot and dirty, and it was good to stretch his full length in the shade. All round him from hills far and near came the bleating of the sheep – the high anxious cry of lambs and the deeper reassuring answer of the ewes. Farther away he could hear the voices of the village children. They were wool-gathering down near the river, collecting every fragment of fleece that the sheep had left caught on hedges and bushes. Presently they would take it home to their mothers who would wash it and spin it and make it into warm garments for the winter.
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Blue-faced Leicester sheep under an oak tree. Can you hear the village children? Image ©Cecilia Hewitt

Vanessa Bracewell on Working with Wool

It is always amazing to discover the different ways in which people are working with wool to make life better, and today WOVEMBER is delighted to introduce Vanessa Bracewell of Knit Quit Kits, who is producing kits that use 100% WOOL, designed to help smokers quit. I smoked as a teenager and in my early twenties, and picking up my knitting was one of many strategies that I adopted whilst trying to give it up. I am happy to say that I have avoided smoking since 2004 and don’t miss cigarettes at all. Indeed with hindsight I realise I may have given up much earlier if I had developed the healthy WOOL HABIT which now utilises the time I once spent smoking! It took me the best part of a decade to move from cigarette smoke to wool fumes, but luckily, if you are a smoker and wish to quit, you don’t have to wait that long! Simple patterns for knitting comforting objects in Bluefaced Leicester Wool are here to help. And here to explain Knit Quit Kits is Vanessa, who has kindly agreed to do a Q&A for WOVEMBER. All content and photos © Vanessa Bracewell and used with kind permission.

WOVEMBER: When I was giving up smoking, one of the things that helped was understanding what I enjoyed about the habit and finding healthier alternatives. Having something to do with my hands and a talking point for when meeting strangers were things I liked about smoking; I’m happy to say that knitting has provided wonderful replacements for these. When I am waiting for a train or a bus I can get on with my knitting rather than smoking, and when I meet people for the first time, my knitting makes a great social talking point! Does any of this resonate with your own experience, and how has knitting helped you quit? What was the first thing that you knitted when you were giving up smoking?

Vanessa: Over the years there seemed to be an increasing list of activities I could accomplish quite fluently with a cigarette on the go; thankfully knitting isn’t one of them! In retrospect I certainly wasted a great deal of money and a large amount of my precious time whilst actually smoking. In the beginning the most difficult thing about not smoking was having nothing to do with my hands. Although my Mum and Granny were both fluent knitters and keen for me to learn the practical pastime, as a child, the quiet, sedative nature of the activity never did appeal to me. However those qualities have now become my salvation and given me a fascinating new and productive interest. Taking up knitting again has also encouraged me to share my success – of knitting instead of smoking – with others who want to be rid of the addiction.

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My first knitted item (six months ago, when I quit smoking) was a poor attempt at a sweet little mouse for my cat to play with. I had tried following patterns but couldn’t really apply myself to learning complicated stitches and keeping track of my rows and stitches. Using the basic knit stitch I ad-libbed the design and produced my first knitted keepsake.

WOVEMBER: Your kits contain three patterns: ‘Bill the Owl’ Keyring (to offer wisdom in moments of stress); Best Friends Together Bracelets (one for you and one for your quitting-smoking helper); and a practical drawstring bag for stashing money that would otherwise have been spent on cigarettes! These ideas are lovely, and the kits are suitable for beginner knitters, as well as being stylish and fun. Could you say a bit about how you have gone about designing Knit Quit Kits with someone who is trying to quit smoking in mind?

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Vanessa: Wanting to design something both practical yet simple to knit, ‘Bill The Owl’ came to mind initially, symbolising the wisdom of my efforts to become a non smoker. I kept that to the fore of my mind whilst knitting in those early difficult days when I was really desperate to kick the habit and still felt vulnerable. It seemed a natural progression from the owl to the drawstring bag which represented somewhere to keep the savings I was making. It does hold quite a number of £5 notes and it became pleasing to see them increase in number! The bracelets were useful objects to wear as a reminder of what I was trying to achieve, so that each morning when I put them on I was pleased to remind myself that another non-smoking day had passed and I was heading nearer to my goal.

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WOVEMBER: Of course of key interest to WOVEMBER readers will be the fact that you have chosen to use pure wool for your Knit Quit Kits and that you officially support the Campaign for Wool. It took me ages to discover wool when I got back into knitting; like most people, I started out being obsessed with softness and colour, and knew nothing about the provenance of what I was knitting with. It seems that you have discovered the wonders of working with pure wool far quicker than I did; what was it that made you decide the Knit Quit Kits should be made of pure wool and not something cheaper like acrylic?

Vanessa: It was an easy decision about what yarn to use. Initially I tried acrylic for cheapness but hated the feel of it – particularly the way it caught on the needles, and because it made me cringe, (like fingernails scraping along a blackboard ). I recalled that in my childhood my mother only ever knit with pure wool.

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Her contention was that if she was going to spend so much time creating garments like, for example, Aran sweaters for my sister and me, then she was only going to knit with the best yarns. We lived on the Yorkshire border, over which she went to buy hanks of wool that I held whilst she wound the balls. Since I stopped smoking my sense of smell is keen and the wonderful country odour of the wool is very pleasing to me now and very reminiscent of snuggling into those warm and comfortable garments.

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WOVEMBER: You have specifically chosen Bluefaced Leicester Wool for these kits; I wondered if you could talk a little bit about this yarn in particular – where it is spun; why you chose it; – and what you feel the benefits are of working with British Wool?

Vanessa: I first came across the Bluefaced Leicester sheep in my fell walking days as a teenager although at the time I saw many breeds of sheep without knowing anything about their wool. I have begun to recognise the different breeds more since I made a study of their yarns for the purpose of producing my Knitting Kits, and when I decided I wanted to use British wool for its feel and quality I tested various 100% British Wool Yarns. For me, the gorgeous Bluefaced Leicester is the softest and most rewarding wool to knit with and all the yarns we use in the Knitting Kits are spun in Yorkshire Mills. We use various suppliers of British Bluefaced Wool because the colour options are quite important to me and can’t all be obtained from the same source – which may seem a little fussy for a basic ‘learn to knit kit’ but I feel that if you have stopped smoking and new to knitting – why not use the best? You’re worth it.

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The various yarns are now available to buy on our website at www.knitquitkits.co.uk

WOVEMBER: Where can folk who are trying to quit smoking find your kits to buy and is there any way in which WOVEMBER readers can help support Knit Quit Kits?

Vanessa: After a great deal of testing, knitting, re-testing, knitting and enlisting the help of many volunteer knitters including family, friends, knitting groups and two wonderful review knitters found through the Ravelry website, our Knit Quit Knitting Kit is now ready for sale:

They are available on our new website at www.knitquitkits.co.uk , priced £16.99 each.
You can also follow us on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/knitquit, or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KnitQuit
You can also see some beginner-knitter tutorials on some of the techniques used in the kits on the Knit Quit Knitting Kits YouTube channel here.

Thank you very much Vanessa for sharing your story here with WOVEMBER readers. We were thrilled to see that you have also been joining in with the WOVEMBER WAL! We love the photo of your knitting, cat and fire, and hope that you are having a wonderfully warm and woolly WOVEMBER without cigarettes and WITH your WOOL!

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Working with Wool: The WOVEMBER WAL

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As announced back at the start of WOVEMBER, this year we have been running a WAL – a Wool-a-long, in which you are all very warmly invited to share progress on your work with wool! For a quick recap on the rules:

If you want to join the WOVEMBER WAL simply select your proposed 100% WOOL project and set a timescale for the month. You could:

  • Knit something in 100% WOOL yarn
  • Crochet something in 100% WOOL yarn
  • Sew something in 100% WOOL cloth
  • Weave something in 100% WOOL yarns
  • Felt something in 100% WOOL yarns
  • Complete a personal spinning challenge using 100% WOOL fibres
  • Come up with ingenious other WOOL based making activity

The point of the WAL is to celebrate the diversity of what we can do with WOOL, to share what we discover about this amazing textile as we work with it, and to encourage each other as we go.

We thought that in addition to sharing THE JOY OF WOOL, we could also showcase a range of WIPs + comments in the “Working with Wool” section of the Wovember.

This is how you participate in the WOVEMBER WAL:

  • identify a 100% WOOL project which you would like to work on during WOVEMBER
  • assemble necessary items (knitting needles, spindles, looms, crochet hooks, sewing thread etc.)
  • WORK ON YOUR WAL PROJECT THROUGHOUT WOVEMBER
  • On 15th WOVEMBER photograph your project in progress and email it to wovember[at]gmail[dot]com with your name, what you are working on, the WOOL that you are working with, and a sentence describing the experience so far
  • Send a photo of your completed project in on 30th WOVEMBER for the end-of-month WAL showcase!

Please note, if you are currently part way through a 100% WOOL project, you can also use the WAL as an incentive to finish it.

As we are now past the 15th WOVEMBER, here is a collection of some of the wonderful WAL projects in progress which have been emailed in to WOVEMBER. We hope this is inspiring to everyone who is part-way through their WAL; we have added photos of inspiring things relating to your WAL projects, and can’t wait for the full showcase on 30th WOVEMBER of your work with wool!!! Do email us your finished WAL objects so that we can all see the amazing stuff you have been doing with this peerless textile.

Birte’s Cardigan

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Birte’s Cardigan

‘My name is Birte Kurth. I am working on a cardigan, the ‘Clarity’ on Ravelry and since it’s with 100% wool I thought I can also join the WAL and that way feel more ‘pressure’ to finish it this year (I doubt that I will be able to finish it this November). Here is the photo with the cardigan knitted from the top to almost the bottom edge: the arms and the cowl are still missing.

My problem will be that the wool I use, 100% Xisqueta, a Spanish breed from the Pyrenees, is quite coarse so I don’t want it for the cowl. But I don’t have a matching colour yet: I am thinking of spinning some Cormo or Polwarth for the cowl and dyeing it with Koolaid. But to be able to spin it, I have to finish the Ouessant first which I have on my bobbins. You see, I am quite short on time…

Sorry, I couldn’t say all this in one sentence…’

WOVEMBER says: This looks amazing, Birte! We aren’t quite sure which yarn she used, but Rachael solved the problem of needing a softer wool for the cuffs and neck of her own coarse-wool sweater by creating the impression that the mountains were made of stony Herdwick, and the cuffs and neck were made of soft snow!

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Rachael’s sweater

This approach probably won’t work with your design because of the stripes, but your approach with koolaid and softer yarns for the sensitive areas sounds wonderful! GOOD LUCK with it!

Laura’s Scarf

I’ve decided to dig out my knitting needles for the first time in years, inspired to try knitting something with my own yarn (not least so I can answer questions from all those knitters out there!). I really don’t know what I’m doing and it doesn’t help when the knitting instructions are incorrect, but I’ve so far managed to knit about 25″ of what I intend to be a scarf.

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Laura’s scarf

I’m trying a Shetland Lace pattern – Print O The Wave. It’s only 47 stitches wide (two repeats) but it takes me an hour to knit 16 rows (as I said, I’m a novice knitter and apparently I hold the needles all wrong but I can’t get along with any other method – I originally learned when I was 6, sitting opposite my knitting-sensation of a granny and copying what she did. She could talk, listen to the radio, look at a newspaper and knit complicated cables all at the same time. I’m left handed and she was right handed and I now have no idea if I knit one way or the other but whichever way it is it’s all a bit cack-handed!). Anyway, I came across this lovely pattern when I was researching lace on-line with a view to weaving some lacy scarves. Still haven’t worked out how to do something like this on the loom (another work in progress) so I decided to knit it instead. Lo and behold, up comes a book at our local guild on Shetland Lace knitting – The Art of Shetland Lace by Sarah Don – so I grabbed it…

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The Art of Shetland Lace

It’s a lovely book, all in black and white, with instructions on lots of different patterns and a photo of what the pattern is supposed to look like. The reason I chose this pattern is because I can while away many hours staring at the sea whenever I get the chance, which isn’t often enough, and I find water patterns on sand endlessly fascinating. I find being by the sea as calming and soothing as I do weaving. Can’t say the same for knitting just yet!

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Print O’ The Wave (how it’s meant to look)

Turns out these instructions aren’t quite right but if a novice like me can do the maths then anyone can! If anyone knows where I can get a copy of this book let me know as I have to give this one back. I’ll be back in touch with me hopefully wearing the finished article at the end of November!

P.S. I’m knitting with my own yarn – a lovely silvery-grey blend of Bluefaced Leicester & Black Welsh Mountain singles wool spun to a count of 14 yorkshire skeins weight (now there’s another story for you!) It needs a good wash in a machine followed by a little tumble to bring out its best qualities.

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Laura’s scarf in Bluefaced Leicester and Black Welsh Mountain singles

WOVEMBER says: this looks completely amazing, Laura. It’s very exciting to see how your beautiful yarns will behave as lace, when we have all seen how well they work when used in woven textiles! We met some of the Bluefaced Leicesters in your yarn last year during WOVEMBER, how nice to think that soon their wool will become a classic lace garment. Thank you for sharing your progress so far, and GOOD LUCK with finishing it for the 30th!

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Some of the Bluefaced Leicester’s whose fleeces Laura uses in her amazing work

Barbro’s Spinning

I’m exploring six sheep breeds (Finn, Kainuu Grey, Åland sheep, Swedish Finullsheep, Gotland sheep, Värmland sheep). My progress so far: sample skeins of Kainuu Grey, Värmland, brown Finull, black Finull, black Finn on the bobbin, rolags from Finull and silk (I hope the silk is OK).

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Barbro’s spinning experiments

Thank you so much for Wovember! It really lightens up this very dark month – Barbro Heikinmatti

WOVEMBER says: Barbro, that looks like a wonderful experiment in exploring different sorts of sheeps’ wools plus some spun fibre from the silk worm! We are excited to hear back about the character of different wool from these particular breeds; your blog already has some lovely notes on this! I once met Finn and Åland sheep on Joel and Julika’s wool farm in Estonia, and found the Åland wool to have a lovely lustre and a very rich mixture of whites, creams and ivories in it! For anyone who has not checked out Barbro’s ‘Fiber Studies‘ on Ravelry, I suggest you go there at once as it is truly a place of woolly joy. Here is one of the sheep I met at Jaani Talu; I think she is a Finull Sheep? GOOD LUCK with the spinning and do let us know how you’ve got on with all these exciting wool types at the end of the month!

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Finull Sheep

Kate’s spinning

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A fleece picked up locally to Kate

I’m going to spin up the last of my really local fleeces. The farmers who had a thing for special sheep have now retired, and the interesting breeds and crosses are being absorbed into the main flock by their son, so I won’t be able to get any more of this lovely BFL cross: Mind you, I’ve no idea what it was crossed with. Maybe a Welsh Mountain but it’s quite soft, so my bet is on their Texel ram being responsible (records got a bit confused before retirement).

WOVEMBER says: that wool looks lovely, Kate! And your WOVEMBER blog postings have been absolutely gorgeous. For anyone who’s not read them, do pop over to Woolwinding for some wonderful inspiration! We all remember your gorgeous postings from last year; thank you for reminding us about the sheep that graze near to you and what their fleeces mean to you, and GOOD LUCK with your spinning plans!

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Sheep near Kate

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Black Welsh Mountain sheep near Kate

Cecilia’s Darnings

Because I always wear 100% WOOL socks and spend a lot of my life in wellies, which aren’t really very good for socks, I’ve decided my WOVEMBER WAL should be Sock Maintenance! I’ll be doing a little of this every day, either darning the socks or spinning wool to use for darning.

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Some of Cecilia’s mendings!

WOVEMBER says: Cecilia, we are so excited about this special spinning/darning project for WOVEMBER 2013! How marvelous that you have the skills to design exactly the right sort of yarns required for mending, and how inspiring to see that you are giving your old socks new meaning with extra patches, darns and additions! We are reminded of the wonderful work of Celia Pym and of course fellow WOVEMBERIST, Tom van Deijnen AKA tomofholland! GOOD LUCK with the darning and we can’t wait to see the amassed SOCK MAINTENANCE at the end of the month!

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Celia Pym’s darning

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Tom van Deijnen’s darning

Sophy’s Spinning

Here’s what I’ve done in the first four days of Wovember:

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Sophy’s spinning

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Sophy’s spinning

The dark wheel-spun is Wensleydale; the light spindle-spun is Romeldale. I deliberately spun the latter thicker because my first attempt with Romeldale felt like skinny twine, which is a shame, because the roving is cushy and squishy.

WOVEMBER says: This handspun looks beautiful, what a contrast between the sheen on the Wensleydale and that soft, relaxed Romeldale! Here is a lovely coloured Wensleydale Sheep from Julia Desch’s Woolcraft With Wensleydale flock; good luck with the rest of your spinning!

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Wensleydale sheep

Speaking of spinning, the WOVEMBER WAL on Ravelry has revealed an exciting type of spindle which was new to many of us: a Basque spindle! You can see it in action here in this YouTube video, kindly shared by Ariette.

There are many other projects in progress which can be seen in the WOVEMBER WAL Ravelry thread, and for some of the most inspiring reading this WOVEMBER you could try checking out some of the blogs maintained by people who are WAL-ing: SO MUCH SHEEP & WOOL ACTION!

Serenity Farms
Punkin’s Patch
Woolwinding
Despinkamer (in Dutch, with amazing photos and videos of different sorts of spindles, made by Ariette)
Barbro’s Threads

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you all are making, but we hope that reviewing some of the WAL action is inspiring to all who are participating; further inspirations can be found in our wonderful gallery! Thank you to everyone who has emailed WIPS in to WOVEMBER, and to everyone who is joining the celebration of WOOL this month, you make WOVEMBER amazing. x

Shepherds & Shearers in progress!

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In WOVEMBER 2012 we were thrilled to hear about the “Shepherd & Shearer” project when it was announced by Susan Gibbs and Emily Chamelin. A year on, we delighted in sharing Emily’s story of how the wool for this amazing project was harvested. Today we continue to explore the wonderful story of this project by hearing from some of the knitters knitting up the designs by Kate Davies and Kirsten Kapur created especially for this special crop of wool. All of the reports have been sent in by wonderful ‘Aunties’ from the Juniper Moon Farm group on Ravelry, and the words and images are © of each of the individual contributors and used with kind permission!

Valerie’s Shepherd Hoody

As soon as I read Susan’s post about the Shepherd and the Shearer project, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Her words resonated with me on such a powerful level. I have long had a love of woolly sweaters, and started knitting about ten years ago because, after having purchased a (very expensive) hand-knitted aran sweater from Ireland, I decided I wanted to make one like it myself. Why not, I asked? Ten years later, I have developed the skills to make that sweater, and have made many lovely, soft, (and now pilly) sweaters, but have not been able to find suitable yarn for that heirloom quality, hard-wearing sweater in any stores in my area. Upon entering said stores, and asking for a sturdy and strong yarn, I’m met with blank stares. Hence, when I found out about TSATS, I knew I had to try this yarn. One year later, I am so happy I did. I am part way through making Kate Davies’ Shepherd Hoodie, and loving every minute of it.

Valerie_hoody

The yarn is wonderful to work with: a beautiful, warm, creamy colour; a lovely, sturdy, lanolin-infused texture which makes my feel hands soft and pampered; and a comforting, slightly sheepy scent, reminding me of its origin. It has a beautiful halo, yet excellent stitch-definition to make all those sinuous cables stand out. I honestly find it tragic to think that the fibre from which this yarn was spun is generally headed for the trash, as Emily said in her recent Wovember post. I sincerely hope that the interest and excitement which this project has engendered will alert everyone who works with sheep to the demand for this sort of fibre, and the beautiful, warm, and functional garments which it can become.

Best Wovember wishes,

Valerie Heuchan
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Gail’s Shearer Sweater

Gail_Shearer

I’m knitting The Shearer, although not from The Shepherd and The Shearer yarn. I’m making mine from that *other* great American yarn – Bartlettsyarn. Fisherman, to be more specific.

I love me a good, honest, hard-wearing yarn. Others can squee over merino or cashmere or whatever is the flavor of the moment. I love the heritage sheep, the hardy ones that have survived the years without AI or breedlines.

Anywho, attached pic is where I have gotten in my sweater. I’ve finished the front and back and am ready to start the sleeves. I’ve modified the pattern to knit the body in the round, and will be doing set-in sleeves.

Gail (Luckydog on Ravelry)
Philly, PA

Sarah’s Shepherd Hoody

SarahVV's-Shepherd-4

I feel extremely privileged to have the opportunity to work with this yarn! My interest in learning more about different breeds of sheep and the wool they produce has stemmed completely from my experiences as a Juniper Moon shareholder over the last five years. When I read about this project, I was so excited!

SarahVV's-Shepherd-1

I think harder wearing wools often get short shrift among knitters (and even more so among less discerning wearers of wool who aren’t craftspeople). In my non-knitting life, I’m a historian, so it totally makes sense to me to create garments that will have a long life. As a knitter, I’m really enjoying working with this wool because it is so different from most of the wool I have access to: clearly connected to real sheep, farmers, shearers, and spinners. I would love to see more wool yarns like this one available to knitters! Supporting small farms and producers is also really important to me, and something which drew me to this project. I’m lucky to live in a place that has a pretty excellent wool and fiber producing culture nearby – Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

SarahVV's-Shepherd-2

Aside from how smitten I am with the yarn (which feels amazing, smells amazing, and is knitting up gorgeously), I’m head over heels for the pattern, too. I’m knitting the hoodie pattern, The Shepherd, and it’s totally perfect for me as a garment AND as a knitting experience. I love cardigans, and I really love cables, and these cables are so special and soothing! I’ll be sad when the knitting part is over, but excited to finally be able to wear it.

SarahVV's-Shepherd-3

My name is Sarah, I live in Victoria, BC (Canada), and I’m blogging about my Shepherd sweater over at Barf Green Is Best.

All the best, and thanks for making Wovember great!

I have cast on my own Shepherd Hoody, but have been a tad busy blogging for a little website about wool (you might have heard of it?) and thus don’t have any good photos of it yet! It is an amazing project and one which I am proud to be a part of; maybe I’ll share my own story of knitting fellow WOVEMBERIST Kate’s pattern with this special yarn next year in WOVEMBER? Thanks to Gail, Valerie and Sarah for sharing your progress so far, and READERS! Stay tuned for further adventures in WOOL for this evening, when we shall reveal some of the WAL projects that folk have been undertaking this WOVEMBER!

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