British Wool, KnitBritish, wool, yarn
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Inflamed about wool?

I was both amused and frustrated to read the wonderful Louise Tilbrook’s latest blog post, On Wool – And Other Thoughts.

Louise is hosting a KAL, which is just one online, community event which is carrying forward the Wovember torch this year. You may have read that the Wovember blog is not continuing, but Team Wovember truly believe that #Wovember can continue on social media, and in the wool-loving community in the form of KALs and other events.

Louise’s #WinterWoolKAL is running for the month of November and as long as you are using 100% wool, you can join in and knit anything. Using 100% wool is totally alligned with the aims of Wovember, to promote and recognise wool, sheep and wool work and creatively pushing that the term “wool” is only applied to fibre from actual sheep. (all wool is yarn, but not all yarn is wool!) – WONDERFUL! YAY, LOUISE! Thank you!

My amusement and then frustration came when I read this paragraph in Louise’s blog.

“It was a bit of a surprise then to be greeted with, what a friend laughingly termed a ‘wool backlash’. I received a steady stream of emails, PMs and messages suggesting that my focus on 100% wool (the original Wovember principles) was somehow elitist and risked alienating a large number of knitters.”

(Perhaps a strong dose of the Wovember back catalogue is the best medicine for this malady?)

Alas! I am not surprised. I’ve also been criticised for talking about wool and that apparently talking about 100% wool, grown, spun or dyed locally is somehow (SOMEHOW) a bad thing.  I’ve been accused on social media of being a wool snob and I’ve been told that I’m part of a problem – being a podcast which seems to exclude a lot of people who don’t knit with wool. I guess, on the face of it, if you didn’t actually listen to my podcast, you could make that assumption, but knitting with British wool is what I do, so for the time-being its the name of my podcast and blog. However, content isn’t yarn-judgemental and there are no rules to exclude anyone from listening!

Now, I can only assume that the issue with elitism is largely down to the following misconception – wool is expensive and therefore wool is not accessible to everyone. Rubbish! Bollocks! Utter crapola!

The issue here is that either that the person/s who asserts this isn’t aware of the amazing world of wool out there, at a whole range of price tags, or…isn’t prepared to find out. If its the ignorance of the latter, then perhaps you cannot be helped and no amount of pointing you to info to the contrary will help. If its the former then step on in, new friend!

I’m overdue an update of my yarn-budget posts (I try to do this every couple of years and add a few more yarns and check links work), however the idea is not to spoon feed readers every single yarn Under a Fiver, Under a Tenner and For a Few Pennies More. It is a way to open up eyes to the range of 100% wool yarns out there in the UK and provide you with a jumping off point.*

A couple of other, older posts that you may find interesting here at KB are…

More Affordable British Wool Yarns and also What is your cost of making?

The latter was prompted by *another* comment that wool was too expensive to make garments with. This is a fight  an issue which I know I will have to keep on fighting enlightening people about and I’m fine with that!

If you are new to KnitBritish I hope these are helpful. We do have a great group on Ravelry and a smashing community over there. We’ve learned such a lot as a group over the last 5 years and there’s lots of great knowledge in there too, so do feel free to ask questions int there.

SO, do you still think wool is expensive and unattainable? If so, ask yourself the following questions…

Imagine your ideal cheap price for one ball of 100% wool.

To get your price tag, your going to have to see cuts across the process, from the field, to the mill, to the dyer, to the LYS, so where would you like standards, quality and ethical processes and practices to be cut to get your price tag?

With you slashing costs there will be issues with animal care and farming practices; fleeces could become poorer quality as a result to changes there, not to mention other issues with health and wellbeing of sheep (and farm workers!). Milling and skills in making yarn too – there may be less opportunity to train and expand skills with your intended cuts and standards will slide. What about yarn shops – are they going to survive all of this? And finally, probably your enjoyment of making with the end product too will be affected, cos – lets continue to be frank – it’s not going to be a particularly nice yarn after all that, is it?

What do you think your yarn should be worth now?

Ok – too hypothetical for a Friday night, perhaps,  but if you really are inflamed*** and cross about wool being elitist, maybe it is time think about it a wee bit differently and let it go. **

 

| Important Information

* Do remember that prices in the older posts may not be correct and I cannot guarantee availability

** Eternally grateful for Karie Westermann for bringing that video to my attention. 

*** Actually, wool is pretty inflammable. Fact

24 Comments

  1. Louise, please don’t every stop banging the drum on wool labelling/clarifying the difference between wool and yarn/celebrating the sheer amazingness that is wool!

    As a sewer (as well as a knitter) I have really had to bite my tongue repeatedly in the last few weeks about how fast and furious fabric retailers use the term wool (as well as other natural fibre labels). I could have raised the issue but held my counsel as it’s been a rough few weeks and lack of sleep has made me a tad irritable. What I’ve wanted to do though is shake the marketing department of such companies (large ones and independents) and scream “20% wool content is not a wool fabric, it is not even a wool blend” (just as 100% polyester with a linen look is not linen).

    I suspect many people think celebrating wool (or linen or organic cotton or any natural fibre) is elitist because even affordable versions of these will cost more than polyester/acrylic in the prevailing economic/regulatory climate. What people miss in this whole equation is: a/ these synthetic fibres will not keep us as warm as wool, so we will pay more indirectly in our heating bills; and b/ often people employed by retailers selling garments made in these synthetic fibres will not/barely be earning a living wage in which case their income is likely to be topped up with a state benefits. I have zero problem with vis-a-vis the individuals concerned but it effectively means that we the tax-payers are subsidising corporations that are driving all costs (from material to labour) down to beyond the minimum. When buying acrylic/polyester wool/fabric/garments, we may think we are getting a ‘bargain’ but we are paying indirectly for that cheap material. Sorry to stray into economics/politics on your blog but that is the reality of being touchy about paying a fair price for wool (whether a skein/fabric/garment). Ultimately we as a society pay, in one way or another.

    • Louise Scollay says

      I agree so hard. And don’t be sorry for going deeper – the issue and implications of cost cover so much that we could go on forever on this one.
      I shall never stop banging the drum!

    • Bronchitikat says

      And alongside the driving down of prices and quality comes the ‘exporting’ of manufacture to other countries where building regulations, labour laws and environmental protection laws are less stringent, or ignored.

      Thus in our ‘hunger’ for cheap, fast ‘fashion’ we perpetuate things like the Rana Plaza factory disaster, excessively long hours at pittance wages for foreign workers (and the closing down of UK factories with the resulting loss of jobs) and potentially toxic waste products being dumped in local environments, often the water courses where those who work in said factories have to source their water, etc, etc. Then there’s all the ‘carbon footprint’ of transporting this ‘cheap’ clothing to the UK.

      We only have the one planet after all.

    • Deborah Humphrey says

      Very pleased to read this. As a member of the group, you refer to, I was astonished at the backlash towards Louise, until that point I had found the group very supportive and friendly. I think that there are many ways to get real wool and the use of it is part of a bigger story. What ever we do, we have a responsibility to consider the origins of our products and the narrative of their production. Keep up the good work. Thank you.

  2. Heather says

    Wonderful post!! I kind of argue with my sister about this very thing–she is a crocheter and ALL her afghans are acrylic. I tell her it’s a petroleum byproduct, but she doesn’t care. It’s all price, price, price with her. I am a knitter and knit constantly for my sisters, children, and grandchildren, and for my mother, back when she was alive. I told my sister I am not going to spend a lot of time on a knitted object for someone I love and have them wear oil!!! And I don’t have lots of money, but it’s a question of priorities. I don’t think I’m an elitist, I just want to help clothe my family in something warm, soft and lovely, an something ulimately recyclable. Elizabeth Zimmerman says in one of her books that when a wool sweater wears out, beyond all hope of mending, it can be thrown on the compost pile wherre it will naturally decompose back into the earth. An oil byproduct will not do that.
    Sorry, I’m just ranting again, but I so agree with your blog post!!!

    • Louise Scollay says

      rants about extolling the values of wool are always welcome here!
      I do believe for those who like to knit with non-wool yarns there is sometimes a good reason, but not being willing to even see the benefit of using wool…?

  3. I only use natural fibres for my creations and am a supporter of The Campaign For Wool. They have something called ’10 wonderful reasons to love wool’. Something that a lot of knitters out there don’t realise is that acrylics etc are another form of plastic and are not biodegradable like wool is. So not good for the planet.

  4. Heather says

    Meg, loved your comment. I have tried to bring up all of those facts that you stated so well to various people and it amazes me how many people really don’t seem to care! It’s all just about the almighty dollar!! ( Yes, I’m a Yank!) but every point you mentioned is true. And it needs to be reiterated again and again that ONLY sheep produce wool. Other fiber producing animals grow lovely fiber, but it isn’t wool. Thank you for your comment.

    • Louise Scollay says

      Both of your comments are exactly why we all need to keep on enlightening. Writing to stores and manufacturers about labelling; producing wool for naysayers to feel and see and try…
      it all picks away at the bigger issues little by little

  5. Sigh… I remember when I was a mere kitten in the primary(junior) school we were taught that Downunder had the best wool in the world, that we lived off the sheep’s back. There was so much wool out there. My mother and most other female teachers did their playground duty walking around and knitting at the same time. Wool was an essential part of life. And then along came those “easy care” artificial fibres…brrr…not warm in winter.
    Good, affordable wool can be found. Make your own garments and they fit you or your loved ones. Well cared for they will last for many many years, The Senior Cat (aka my father) has a cardigan which is more than fifty years old – hand made with love by his mother. I have repaired the cuffs three times and patched the elbows but he sees no reason to give it up. It was (and therefore still is) good wool.
    Wool is an essential part of life = and should be respected as such!

    • Nikki says

      Absolutely! Woollen items will still be going strong long after acrylic jumpers have been discarded . Acrylic becomes misshapen and retains odours ( urgh!). I’m also from down under and we do have some marvellous wool that is wholly produced here for a very reasonable cost. Of course, we have the more expensive wools as well, but isn’t it wonderful that wool is a product that can cater to the pockets of everyone?

    • louise says

      hahaha! when i’m glum i watch it. It’s so uplifting (i love that their eyes get really wide on the high notes!)

  6. At the risk of being ostracised by the whole Knit British community I’m going to admit to knitting with absolutely anything. I knit, crochet, spin and weave. While I dearly love wool and all the other natural yarns I do also love a good old charity shop and just cannot leave any ‘yarn’ without giving it a good home. I have a stash of ‘yarn’ on cones that I feel I have been lucky enough to pick up at extremely reasonable prices and some actually of these do include natural fibres including some lovely mohair. I always feel there was a chance that if no-one else bought this yarn it may end up in landfill and surely it is better being used before that happens. I’m also of an age where both my grannies and my mum all pulled back garments when they were outgrown or out of fashion, regardless of what they were made of, and knitted them up into something else and this is something I still do today. Whatever yarn I may be using it will always have many lives before it is discarded in my house so please don’t judge me for recycling something that might otherwise just have gone to waste.

    • louise says

      There’s no yarn judgment or rules for listening.

      you can knit with whatever you can get your hands on here – but I won’t hold sway with notions of the nonsensical – prepare to learn with us or tell your story walking 😀

      • Hi Louise, I hope my notions weren’t entirely nonsensical and hope you weren’t offended by my comments. I may not have made it clear that, although I will knit with anything, the ‘other’ yarns I use are mostly for non-clothing items and for crochet, weaving and other arty endeavours that I just want to play about with. Sometimes quantity rather than quality is required for these projects. When actually knitting I would choose wool whenever possible and have been doing so for many years. I love your website and applaud your efforts to educate, all power to your elbow.

        • louise says

          no, not at all. You had said that you feared you may be ostracised for saying you knit with anything – I was just re-affirming what I was trying to say in the post that I don’t care what listeners/readers knit with. The nonsense was in reference to the notion that wool is elitist.

  7. OH my, how do I love this post/topic! First I say knit, create and enjoy whatever is your preferred medium in whatever fiber you love. Be a maker and enjoy your art!

    100% WOOL is just that and I say Knit On Louise! I am sure like the rest of the 100% WOOL fans we all applaud your efforts to educate, share and to support local wool, local farmers, and local producers of 100% WOOL!

    PS I live over 400 air miles (no roads at all) from the closest yarn shop and buying local isn’t even an option. I don’t feel put out at all by what Knit British stands for. I am thrilled Louise is willing to share with us all the wonderful woolliness of wool!

  8. Wise words indeed…. I’m on rather a limited budget but I would much rather spend my money on proper wool to knit with than anything else, and while some fancy all wool yarns can be a bit pricier, it’s generally because they are hand dyed (just because I can’t afford something does not mean it is expensive), but there are no end that are very affordable. Because of the Knit British podcast I have learnt to get on the computer and search out some local ish to me, single breed yarns. I don’t know whether the perceived “expensiveness” of wool for knitting clothes is because we have so lost all clues about the proper cost of clothes, something is certainly out of whack when clothing is cheaper now than it was when I was a teenager in the eighties… Also, I think there are a lot of people who don’t seem to bat an eyelid at paying £3 for a coffee or however much it costs to go to the pictures, but then begrudge a small extra a wool yarn might cost (and I say might but there are a lot of nice wools I knit with that really do not cost a lot of money, and which I would happily pay a bit for if the farmers needed more to cover their costs.)

    One of the all wool yarns local ish to me is the North Ronaldsay dk from Lauriston Farms…it’s a bio-dynamic run farm (think super organic, where animal welfare is defintitely a priority)… a 100g ball of yarn is £6. Now I’ve only knit a swatch with this so I’m guessing on quantities for a cardigan, lets say I’d need 6 balls for a cardigan…that’s £36 which I don’t think is dear by any means. I appreciate that it is maybe 2 or 3 times the price of a popular brand of acryllic yarn but I know I would not want to knit with that.

    I don’t know if that made sense xx

    • Heather says

      To Ericka Eckles,
      Wonderful, wise comment! An so agree that people will spend lots of $$$ for a coffee, movie, etc., but balk at quality clothes. Back in the day people did not own very many clothes, but they were of higher quality. I also wanted to add, that as a spinner I can buy local wool (I live in New Mexico which has a 400 year history of sheep raising) and spin it into yarn. Also, last month my family went up to the Taos Wool Market (in New Mexico), and I bought some local wool which I plan to dye myself at home, since one of my granddaughters wants a purple sweater. So we can create our own hand-dyed yarn, made from local products!
      I so love everything you do, Louise, you are one of the main reasons I try to source local yarns for my work. Thank you so much!!

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