Thursday, 14 October 2010

National Wool Week in the UK

Felted woolly sheep by NicsGifts

"An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep" Arabian Proverb

The first National Wool Week is underway in the UK from 11-17 October 2010, and started with a loud ba! On Monday, 11 October 2010, sheep took over Saville Row in London. It wasn't quite an army of sheep, but they certainly made a statement!

Wool Week is happening since wool prices are at an all-time low (because of the increase in synthetic fibre), and farmers are actually making a loss from selling fleece. So it's no wonder that fewer farmers are keeping sheep, and that means a loss of some beautiful rare breeds!

Locks from Gotland lambs by Woollygathering

The Campaign for Wool highlights the advantages of using wool in fashion, interiors and construction. It aims to show that wool is a fashionable, eco-friendly and durable alternative to synthetic fibres. Etsy is also supporting this very worthwhile campaign, and there is a beautiful article on the UK Etsy blog about the campaign, entitled "Give Fleece a Chance".

The Campaign for Wool will go global in 2011, and there has been quite some interest in it already in Ireland, because we are facing the same problems.

Since we in 'Norn Iron' are this crazy half-way house inbetween here and there, I felt inspired by the campaign across the water and decided to write a bit about wool while featuring some of the Etsy Ireland team's wool, fibre and yarns! Well, that's really not difficult for me!

I love real wool, and any natural fibre! Although I do have a shady past of owning acrylic jumpers and confess, I still wear one handknit Aran jumper that hasn't got a spec of natural fibre in it, I am now a wool snob, and spend my food money buying handspun and handdyed goodness. Well, one can live on beans alone when there is gorgeous wool to be had!

Handspun silk blend yarn by Redbranchyarns

The situation for wool farmers and sheep is serious. I have heard it frequently that here in the North a lot of farmers dump their fleece in the fields because they can't sell it, which is such a waste!

Belfast seems to be a particular acrylic-lovin' place, because when I spoke to a few wool-sellers, looking for 100% wool, I was told that nobody wants to spend the money on real wool, so they have to sell those nasty big balls of acrylic stuff. Gulp! Have people never felt the beauty of real handspun yarn? Since I discovered handspun, I find it hard to knit even with beautiful machine spun wool.

Handspun merino yarn by lindsaycrafts

It is quite frustrating that when I am selling my knitwear at markets, people tell me how wonderful my pieces are, but then want cheap and aren't interested in handmade and handspun. In our society of mass-produced goods, many people seem to have lost the sense and feel for good quality textiles and fibres. They also have no idea how long it takes to knit a piece. 'My Granny knits', they say with a slight disdain in their voice for the 'little old lady'. I bet they never ask their Granny how long it takes her to make something, how much she spent on the yarn, or if she would rather go on that fabulous cruise with her friends...

Organic merino by Gaietygirl

Of course, there are people who can't wear wool, but there are plenty of natural alternatives (organic cotton, linen, bamboo). Those who can, hug a sheep and invest in some real wool! You won't regret it.

For more information on wool, take a lookie at Woolipedia.


  1. Very interesting post. That's outragious that farmers had to dump unsold fleece in the field.

  2. I have recently moved to Belfast from the US and have been surprised at how hard I've found it to find quality natural wool. So glad to read this article and see that it's an issue that's being addressed! I would hope that we can find a way to connect the farmers who dump their wool with people like me who are desperate for it!

  3. Thanks for raising awareness for handspun wool. I must say I didn't know a thing about it even though I knit a little. I will definitely look into handmade yarn for my next scarf ^_^ Virginie

  4. oops I cant's 'outrageous'...

    by the way, I never heard of bamboo wool. Anyone know if that's something we make here in Ireland?

  5. Too, too true, Purls. If I had a penny for every time someone said to me "My Granny used to Crochet.." I'd be rich. There are bamboo yarns out there (including half bamboo and half cotton which is lovely and silky) but I dont think they are made in Ireland. I buy all my wool/cotton/natural yarns here: they have a great selection of 100% merino wool and yarn from all over the place.

  6. Welcome to Belfast, Rebekah! There aren't many yarn shops left in Northern Ireland - there is the Wool Shop in Bangor and the Wool Shop in Newtownards, but they only sell some natural fibres. The Patchwork Goose on the Antrim Road is a great shop for crafty bits and pieces, but has hardly any real wool.

    However, there is a girl selling knitted hats at the Fashion Souk Belfast ( and her partner spins natural fibre on a spinning wheel. I always buy some of their yarn and love working with it!

    You could also check with the Ulster Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Dyers:

    Anne-Marie, I haven't come across an Irish company for bamboo yarn (yet), but Craftspun Yarns have got an online shop now, so maybe they will stock it eventually:

    (I so want to visit that place, and have said so for years...they will be at the Knitting and Stitching show though)

    Just run a search on Etsy, but no Irish seller has bamboo yarn - and not many UK sellers either. The Americans are quite big on it!

  7. Geraldine, thanks for the info. There is also This is Knit in Dublin's Powerscourt:

    I can certainly never resist the pull of that shop when I am in Dublin...

  8. Thanks Purls for raising awareness. Yet another hot topic. I totally agree there is nothing like using real wool for hand knits as well as other organic fibres. We should keep this topic in mind for a future project/protest/issue from the team. Let the idea germinate.......
    Cheers Mo

  9. Great post - I also like the idea of using wool for a team challenge:) I've used babboo recently for a baby cardi - it's gorgeously soft to touch, and no nasty bobbly bits (like you get on acrylic yarn) after washing. Chris

  10. very interesting, I had no idea , thanks for sharing ;o)

  11. I am taking a trip to Ireland next week. Two nights in Dublin and 5 nights in Galway. Can anyone recommend any shops where I can find good, quality wool. I always like to buy something at a local shop whenever I travel.