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  • Saj Collyer

Why Choose Wool?

Pic. Fernhill Fibre

At Stitch Fest we’re real wool fans in all its shapes and forms. Whether it’s fleeces, tops and batts, hand spun, naturally dyed, hand dyed, undyed or raw, we love it! It may be yarn for a garment, a felted bowl, woven wrap or blanket, fibre to spin or felt, there are sure to be lots of uses of this versatile and sustainable fibre at the show.

What is it about wool that makes it versatile?

The structure of wool, literally each fibre, is different from any other fibre type. Each strand has a length and thickness which varies from breed to breed and makes wool useful for so many different things. The longer and thinner the strand, the softer and silkier the wool will feel. Shorter, thicker fibres will feel slightly coarser but are also valuable for fibre crafters. There really is a purpose for all types of wool.

Wool, at a microscopic level, has scales on the outside of each fibre. This unique feature makes wool able to absorb dyes, and it also means, with heat and or friction, it can be felted as these scales ‘lock’ together. From there, the potentials are endless….

Wool is slightly stretchy, it has ‘memory’ meaning it can be twisted and manipulated into yarn and knitted or crocheted and still hold its shape. Alpaca and silk are also protein-based fibres, but they don’t have this ‘memory’ which makes yarn with these fibres soft and floppy with poor or no ‘hold’ of stitch patterns. Cotton and bamboo, both cellulose fibres, have no natural stretch, so the yarn will be firm and does not ‘give’ when you work with it. Wool’s stretchability also makes it comfortable to wear as a garment because it moves and adapts to body shape.

Wool is a natural fibre which makes it ‘breathable’; comfortable and warm in winter and cool in spring and autumn. Wool is also resistant to mould and moisture so provided you store it carefully away from pesky wool moths it will last for years without spoiling.

Wool as a sustainable fibre.

Wool is the ultimate eco-friendly fibre. The sheep graze and literally ‘lock’ atmospheric carbon (from acid rain) in the grass into their fleece making them more than carbon – neutral. They also must have a haircut at least once a year. It is cruel to not shear sheep because they don’t shed it like the sheep of old, and overgrown fleece can cause skin infections and pest infestation. So the wool ‘crop’ is repeated every year without any harm to the sheep making it very sustainable and renewable resource.

Wool processing involves few chemicals. The main need for chemicals (soaps) is to remove the waterproof lanolin layer on the fibre before it is carded and spun. The rest of the process is mechanical to draw the fibres into one direction, then spin them into strands which are then combined into the ply of yarn needed.

Wool waste can be used in the garden as compost and slug repellent. Some smaller mills sell the ‘dags’ (dirty bits) for this purpose and so that none of the fleece is wasted. Wool can also be used as insulation as it is naturally fire retardant and only burns under high temperatures, and then, very slowly.

Why is wool so expensive?

Compared to acrylic, wool is more expensive certainly. It takes longer to process than acrylic (which is essentially plastic fibre) and involves more steps to get the yarn to a form that we can use it for our crafts. The farmers don’t really make that much money per sheep for the fleeces, and that’s a whole other subject. The costs come in the processing.

Acrylic is cheap and easily available in bright colours, easy to use and wash for many projects. Wool is an investment in the future; the wool you make into a garment this autumn will last years longer than the acrylic alternative. It will hold its shape and look just as good in 10 years’ time, which the acrylic one probably won’t. so, for £ per wear, wool is a great long-term choice. If you are going to spend time knitting or crocheting something special you want it to last.

Pic. Naturally dyed yarns by Rebecca Connolly

Want to know more?

Ask the exhibitors at the show to tell you about their yarn and fibre, where they come from and how best to use them. There is sure to be something at the show that is ideal for your project and the exhibitors are always pleased to help and advise if they can.

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Oct 01, 2022

A really useful summary of the difference in fibre types. Thanks

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