It seems like only a short few months ago that I was cradling baby lambs down the borders of Scotland, and now I was on my way to Cumbria to see the process of sheep to shelf. In short, Lamby was all grown up, and she was getting sheared.
It seems bizarre that only a short few years ago the coats of sheep cost so much to clean after shearing it was more economical to burn or bury them. Happily, the British wool industry is ensuring fairer prices for farmers, happier lives for sheep and more uses for different types of tweed. From soft cashmeres to coarse tweeds, if it can be shaved, it's getting sheared. It's all about using our natural resources and creating beautiful and varied wool.
A city girl at heart, it was a real treat to visit the country and find out exactly where my clothes come from. Seeing how well the animals are treated (and how relieved they seem after a good shearing) just added to why I want to support the British wool industry. Some coats could weild up to 2kg of wool which was then sorted up for various quality. We were lead through the entire process by designer and shepherdess Alison O'Neil. From rearing to shearing to designing her garments, she truly is the finest example of from sheep to shop. Her designs are heavily influenced by the farmers and shepherds around her, made with a thick coarse tweed that endures even the roughest of British Summers (and Winters too.) Everything was produced within only a short few miles of each other with natural fabrics being washed and spun at the local mills before being sold on.
It's not all fashion design as local wool was also adapted into furniture, textile and arts and crafts. Local boutique "Herdy" has received global acclaim with their mix of super "kawaii" (they're big in Japan) designs. From their limited edition victorian teddy bears (constructed by the only handmade teddy bear factory left in the U.K) to crafting kits featuring British wool, it's never been a better time to be working with sheep in the U.K.
Wool Wander continues to explore the British Wool Industry, the design chain and how it's developing within the fashion industry. Our wee island is already putting out some of the finest laces and textiles, it should be no suprise that we're already caring out quite the niche for wool too.
Photos: Stew Bryden