Many of us are becoming more ethically and environmentally conscious of our choices when shopping for clothes. Also, more people are now eschewing man-made fibres for quality natural fibres such as wool. Not only do these keep us warm, but they are longer lasting and don’t release harmful microfibres when being laundered. But how are these items made?
Sheep are reared in some of the UK and Ireland’s most beautiful and rugged regions for the purpose of producing fine wool. Specialists such as Shop Aran and others can be found that have a strong cultural link between the wool produced in their regions and the products they produce, like fisherman sweaters and Scottish clan regalia.
At the end of winter, sheep are sheared using clippers in a painless process, ideally removing all of the wool in one piece. Sheep shearing is a real skill and shearers can travel all over to provide their services, even taking part in international competitions.
Cleaning and carding wool
Once the wool coat is off the sheep, it must be washed to remove dirt and to prepare it. Once clean, the wool fibres get pulled through large machines made of metal teeth that straighten the fibres and make them pliable. The fibres are then pulled into long single pieces that look like cotton wool. These are called ‘rovings’.
A spinning wheel will spin the strands of wool together to make strong string-like pieces known as yarn. Now the wool will start to resemble something you might recognise as wool clothing, but it still has a way to go before it looks anything like the gloves and fisherman sweater hanging in your wardrobe.
Next, the woollen yarn must be woven or knitted. Depending on the producer, the wool might be dyed at this stage or earlier in the process.
Weaving and knitting
Woollen yarn is used to make all kinds of fine items and clothing including blankets, scarves, jumpers and jackets. While manufacturers can use machines in an industrial process, hand-stitched items are rare and beautiful and in increasing demand.