Baa-baa black sheep in the nursery rhyme would be pleased to know how much British wool is in demand these days. Weavers like Ackroyd & Dawson are making a splendid job of bringing back 100% British cloth, woven from home-sourced materials, whilst Sue Blacker at The Natural Fibre Company has gone a stage further and set up The Woolsack Project to provide athletes participating in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with cushions made from British wool.
The only ‘Woolsack’ most of us have heard of is in the House of Lords in London, and I didn’t know until recently there’s more than one Woolsack in the chamber. Sue Blacker’s Woolsack project is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and is being actively supported by members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Volunteers are being asked to produce a cushion, which is then taken or sent to a ‘Stuffing Station’ such as the one at Fibre-East last July, for finishing.
The Woolsack campaign is now entering its final few months, with the first batch of cushions aiming to be finished around the end of March. Woolsack has a page on Facebook and a Ravelry group so you can keep up with developments. If you haven’t made a cushion yet and want to do so, the Woolsack website has plenty of ideas and information. Rowan, as part of their promotion of British wool, have produced a number of different patterns from intricate swirls to a cushion that would double up for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Sourcing British wool is easy if you like using fleece: local farms and specialist sheep breeders have a good selection, even if some are not necessarily native breeds. Yet if you like spinning from tops (rovings), finding British Merino for example is rather more difficult. Suppliers like World Of Wool show the British Wool label for to identify of their offering, but maybe we as wool consumers should demand more than that.
Other industries have responsible sourcing and purchasing schemes covering all aspects of their raw material. British wool is great, but couldn’t we spinners and knitters campaign for some kind of label that would cover say animal welfare and carbon footprint from transport? That would start separating out the good from the environmentally and ethically irresponsible. Having taken a class in yarn sourcing at Knit Nation a couple of years ago, I now realise what’s involved in producing ‘bamboo’ yarns, to break down and soften the fibre. Unless it’s organic I wouldn’t want to have that responsibility on my conscience any more.
And then there’s the pollution from shipping – wool from Canada and Australia going to China for processing and coming back to the UK: that’s a lot of ‘wool miles’. I think I’d sleep easier at night if more people supported local farmers making a go of processing and selling their wool, or, like Shearer’s Girl Yarns, gathering in from very local sources, processing and dyeing materials naturally. ‘Wool miles’ should matter to everyone. But while that idea takes hold I want to wish good luck to The Woolsack knitters and stuffers in crafting 14,000 cushions from British Wool.