Shetland Wool Week in pictures, part 2


Mel at Aithsetter


Mel and Hazel McKenzie, our Wool-Week landlady.




Sandra and Ella at J&S (if you are wondering about their cardigans, there’s a free pattern here)


Eric Stewart, showing us around the impressive textile facilitation unit at Shetland College


Knitters from six nations enjoying a trip to Unst (yoohoo ladies! It was lovely to meet you!)


Hazel Tindall, teaching Fair Isle


Gudrun, teaching lace


Susan, looking fabulous


Chris Harrison, Operations Director of Vi-Spring, receiving an award from Eric Wilson, past-master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, and one of the directors of the Campaign for Wool


Oliver Henry, telling us about the development of the new Shetland Heritage Yarn

(if you look at the window-reflections in the previous 2 photographs, you’ll see Misa and Deborah — the organisational geniuses behind Shetland Wool Week, to whom we are all incredibly grateful for this fantastic event! I think I can also spot Jane’s back in a rather pleasing cardigan . . .)


Me and Bess Jamieson – both wearing Fairisle – at the Shetland Textile Museum.

(Big thanks to Cathy Scott for permission to reproduce her photos of the Unst trip and Hazel’s workshop)

A grand day


(combed tops and yarn in the sample room. Wool heaven.)

Yesterday I had a grand day out. Martin and Janet Curtis kindly invited me to the opening of the new showroom at Haworth Scouring, the world’s largest commission scouring company, and an important hub of the British wool industry. The opening showcased many different elements of the industry — from processing right through to retail and distribution — and I was there to demonstrate hand-knitting and design. My sister, Helen, lives nearby, and it was great to bring her along as a spare pair of knitterly hands. Here she is working on a BMC, with some of the beautiful throws from the Real Shetland Company and my Rams and Yowes blanket behind her.

She couldn’t resist trying out one of the Real Shetland throws.

And here she is having a gander at Knit Real Shetland. (Note the obligatory Manu cardigan!)


The showroom had been fitted with a luxurious Shetland carpet, and there were other superb examples of British wool carpeting on display.


. . . as well as woven textiles . . .


(These samples are from Abraham Moon, another great Yorkshire company)

. . .knitting yarns . . .


(Jamieson & Smith’s amazing Shetland Heritage yarn, of which more another time).

. . . finished garments . . .

. . . and other innovative British wool products, such as these Shetland duvets, and a fabulous Vi-Spring Shetland mattress, of which I completely failed to take a photograph.

But my favourite thing, out of the many wonderful woolly things on display in the new showroom, was a piece by artist Angela Wright.

Angela’s wool installations take coned yarn (supplied by Martin Curtis), which is reworked and rewound into gigantic woolly hanks. These huge hanks, when arranged, suspended, and carefully laid down by Angela, have a profoundly transformative effect on the spaces in which they appear. I only had my macro lens with me yesterday, so was unable to take a picture capturing the full effect of Angela’s piece on the showroom space, but you get a good sense of her work from this earlier piece in Bradford Cathedral.


(“189 Miles” Wool Installation ver. 2, Bradford Cathedral, 2010. Photograph ©David Carr-Smith / Angela Wright)

I think it is quite rare to find textile art that manages to combine the spectacular with the contemplative, but Angela’s work is both. These installations are grand and public in scale, but there’s a quiet intimacy about them too, which arises from the woolly materials Angela is using, and (very clearly, I think) her own distinctive personal ‘feel’ for space and substance. Sited in Bradford, the historic home of the British wool industry, the installation seems celebratory and commemorative, both veil and shroud, a portal connecting past to future. There is a tremendous weight to Angela’s pieces — the wool threads hang, drape, and flow with a heaviness that is deeply emotional. Angela told me how some folk were moved to tears upon encountering the piece in Bradford Cathedral — I can well believe it.


(Wool Modern exhibition, Sydney, Australia, Apr/ May 2012, ©Angela Wright)

I recommend you go and have a look at these photographs which document the process of Angela’s wool installations from Yorkshire sheep to finished piece. Pretty amazing.

Here is Angela, discussing her installation with Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who came to open the showroom yesterday and who, like her brother in law, is firmly committed to the Campaign for Wool.

. . .Martin Curtis presented her with a very special woolly gift. . .

. . . a beautiful hand-knitted lace stole, created as part of the Shetland fine lace project.

It was a day in which, from start to finish, the best of British wool was celebrated. Helen and I felt honoured to have been a part of it and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thankyou, Janet, and Martin, for a truly grand day!

real shetland competition and offer

Happy Friday, everyone! After the release of the rams & yowes blanket, this week really has been all about Shetland sheep and wool for me. And today I have a bit of Shetand woolly news for you:

In support of the Campaign for Wool, my friends at the Real Shetland Company have organised a competition for a new slogan to promote British Wool. The winning slogan will be printed up on bumper stickers, and distributed and used all over the UK. The slogan can be serious, humorous, bold or brash – – the only important thing is that it is catchy and memorable.

It is not the first time such a competition has been organised – you may have read the Wovember post I wrote about the International Wool Secretariat’s popular “There is no Substitute for Wool” campaign in the 1950s. . .

I am very fond of the ‘no substitute’ verses, but they are very much of their time – plus, an 8-line poem will not fit on a bumper sticker, so. . .

British Wool now needs a slogan to take it through the next decade!

The rules are simple: you can hail from any part of the world to enter the competition; you can enter as many times as you like – just let your woolly imaginations run riot and have a go!

The writer of the winning slogan will be invited to visit the world famous Haworth Scouring and Combing Company , to receive an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of all the processes that transform raw sheepy fleece into glorious wool. (If you are from outside the UK, then you will have to make your own way to Yorkshire to take the tour!) The winner will also receive a beautiful Shetland wool throw in a design of their choice from the Real Shetland Company.

To enter the competition, just send your slogan, together with your name and contact details to adam@realshetland.com.

Or you can send your entry by post to:
The Real Shetland Company
Campaign for Wool Bumper Sticker Competition
Huby Court
Harrogate Road
Huby, Leeds,
LS17 OEG
UK

The closing date for entries is January 31st – so you have two weeks to enter. The winner will be announced on the Campaign for Wool and Real Shetland Comapany websites in early February.

I am the proud owner of two of these Real Shetland throws and I absolutely love them. They showcase the range of beautiful, natural Shetland sheepy shades and their subtle designs are inspired by those historically used by the famous Shetland weavers, Thomas Adie & Sons, whose sample books can be seen in the Shetland Museum.

Even if you aren’t interested in entering the competition, The Real Shetland Company is offering my readers a 10% discount on all of its Shetland wool rugs and throws until the competition ends on January 31st. Just use the code TEXTISLES when checking out to receive the discount.

Good luck to all competition entrants!

Woolly thinking: part 1

Wool snood at French Connection containing 0% wool and 100% Acrylic.

We’ve had some WOVEMBER feedback suggesting that we are being overly dogmatic in our insistence that the word wool should pertain to sheep’s wool only. These comments are useful to read, and very interesting since they suggest how wide the application and understanding of the word wool is today. The word wool is, it seems, itself rather woolly in definition. And, in fact, it is wool’s very breadth of meaning, diversity of application, and generic connotations that have produced a situation in which pretty much anything in the world of online retail can be described as wool, such as the 100% Acrylic snood from French Connection shown above, or this 100% cotton shirt from Urban Outfitters below.


Paul Smith flannel wool shirt at Urban Outfitters, 0% wool, 100% cotton.

Whatever our particular understanding is of the the word wool, I’m sure we’d all agree that these two products –one of which is manufactured entirely from plant, and the other from man-made fibres — do not contain any. And though, as we will see, the meanings of wool can be quite broad, the irony is that both of these completely non-wool items are drawing on the very specific associations of the word wool with what is cosy and Wintery in order to sell themselves.

These associations seem to carry particular weight in the marketing of children’s clothes. While UK family retailers such as Debenhams and BHS do reasonably well at describing the fabric content of adult garments accurately, their children’s department contain numerous examples of wool products that contain no wool at all.

British Home Stores 0% Wool girl’s “wool coat”


Debenhams 0% wool girl’s “wool coat”

The reason for this is obvious: for the parent-consumer, wool has powerful associations with what is warm and natural, and the idea that you should dress your child in a “wool coat” during the Winter months remains incredibly persuasive.

A similar situation exists in the world of women’s hosiery — which includes some of the worst examples I have found of 0% wool products adding value to themselves with misleading use of the word wool.


Manoush at ASOS: 0% wool tights


Miss Selfridge 0% wool tights


Orla Kiely 0% wool tights, described as ‘wool blend.’

The word wool when attached to the word tights, immediately suggests warmth, thickness, and quality: at least they do so to this consumer — and I freely confess to being misled myself by the final example. Since I know that the clothes in Orla Kiely’s ready-made collections use top-notch pure wool fabrics, I expected similar quality standards in her hosiery. I bought a pair of these ‘wool blend’ tights online, without examining the fabric composition, only to discover when they arrived that they contained no wool at all. (Orla, how could you? I think something inside of me died . . .) Anyway if I — whose obsession with what-is-wool and what-is-not approaches the pathological — can be hoodwinked by the words “wool blend tights”, then surely anybody can.

So if we are all agreed that acrylic, viscose, polyester, cotton, nylon, polyamide and elastane products are NOT wool and have nothing to do with wool, then what do we actually understand wool to be?

I’ve spent some time exploring the historical meanings and associations of wool this past week. It has made for interesting reading. The first definition given by the Oxford English Dictionary is as follows (the image will become readable if you click on it)

According to this definition, wool is the fleece of the sheep or other domesticated animals . But interestingly, the 20 instances of British usage from 725 to 1871 given by the OED in support of this definition, only refer to sheep.

As if to bear out the sheepy exclusivity suggested by the instances of given usage in the first definition, the OED’s second definition limits the application of the wool to sheep only.

While the third definition extends the meaning beyond fleece, to refer to the hair or pelts of other animals.

The dictionary goes on to illustrate how the word wool has later been applied to other materials that resemble the fleece of the sheep: cotton-wool, glass-wool, and so on. This may seem very confusing, but there is actually a simple rule of thumb at work here: the word wool when used on its own refers to the fleece of the sheep only but when used in a compound (camel-wool, cotton-wool) etc in can refer to the fibre produced by other animals, or indeed, to other fibrous substances not produced by animals at all.


Alpaca-wool? Or simply Alpaca?

But if wool is a word that clearly requires qualification with the use of a compound, why does the phrase “sheep-wool” or “sheep’s-wool” hardly ever appear in English usage from (according to my research) the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries? If the fleece of an alpaca or a rabbit can equally be referred to as “alpaca”, or “alpaca-wool” or “angora” or “angora-wool”, why is the sheep the only animal to whom this does not apply? Because — through centuries of common usage which themselves suggest the massive cultural and economic importance of this fibre — wool has principally meant sheep. In Western Europe at least, domesticated sheep were the first, and for a long time, the only wool-producing animals.


Do we refer to the fibre produced by this animal as Sheep-alpaca? Sheep-wool? Or is it just WOOL?

From a Western European perspective, and particularly in terms of the history of the English language, wool – the fibre of sheep – really is the UR TEXTILE. Over the thousand years prior to 1800 wool accounted for 70% or more of global textile production. From my own experience, this incredible figure is borne out by the swiftest of glances through any early modern trade sample book. The 1600s and 1700s saw a dizzying proliferation of different fabrics and fabric names, (most of which are completely lost to us today) and by far the majority of these fabrics are woollens and worsteds — cloths spun and woven from the fleece of sheep.


(A sheep waving the St George’s flag — suggesting the importance of wool to the national economy — appears on the gate of Halifax’s piece hall – the heart of Yorkshire’s West-Riding wool trade).

The rush to name different manufacturing processes and cloth-types during the rapidly industrialising 18th- and 19th centuries can make the understanding of historical textiles confusing for the layperson. My sense of things is that this proliferation of woolly names in itself accounts for some of the present-day confusion surrounding the sheepy associations of the word wool. (This will form the subject of another post). In any case, wool’s historic status over several centuries as the UR TEXTILE – the fibre to which all others were secondary – did not last much beyond 1800: by the mid 19th century, cotton was king, and accounted for more than 70% of global textile production.


(Lancashire cotton mill)

And by the early decades of the 20th century, wool again found itself under threat — this time from the new man-made fibres that sought not just to displace, but to imitate it.

So, to summarise: before 1800, wool so dominated world fabric production that it was the UR TEXTILE. While all other fibres required description with a qualifying compound that suggested their secondary status or likeness to the fleece of sheep (alpaca-wool, camel-wool, cotton-wool and so on) WOOL WAS WOOL and as such needed no explanation. But as different fibres came to dominate the increasingly complex world of global textile production; as fabric types and names proliferated; and as wool became increasingly marginalised, so its exclusive association with SHEEP was gradually lost. The general understanding of what wool really is is now so woolly that contemporary attempts at promotional branding have to reinforce the fibre’s sheepy connections.

In a world in which the fashion industry is so heavily focussed on the production of cheap, unsustainable fabrics ( viscose, modal, and Gok Wan’s favourite textile – pleather (shudder)), there is no doubt that wool is a marginal fibre. But the properties of real wool are so unique, and its reputation so very powerful, that products that that have no connection to sheep at all market themselves through purported – and entirely false – woolly connections.


(Dorothy Perkins wool dress composed of 0% wool and 100% polyester.)

The paradox of wool is that, precisely because of its historical dominance, it now lacks a definitive identity. While all other fibres once had to be defined in terms of their secondary status to wool, we now find ourselves in a world where fibres called alpaca or alpaca-wool could only come from one kind of animal, but wool – ie the wool-of-the-sheep – could apparently come from multiple different sources – some of which have nothing to do with animals at all.


Boohoo polyester coat, described with the mysterious and euphemistic term ‘poly wool’.

As we approach the middle of WOVEMBER, it strikes us that wool is at a crossroads. The word WOOL has to be properly reclaimed to suggest — as it once did — the fibre of sheep only. Otherwise wool production will be further damaged by its appropriation by, and association with, textiles to which it has no connection at all. And this is why a key claim of the WOVEMBER PETITION, is that “The word WOOL should refer to sheep’s wool only, and there should be a clarification of trading standards to distinguish between different animal fibres (angora, alpaca, cashmere, and so on) which also possess their own unique properties, qualities and cachet.”

More woolly thinking tomorrow.

Have you seen the WOVEMBER gallery recently? We think that the competition entries provide a beautiful woolly corrective to the 0% wool products in the HALL OF SHAME.

wool 0%

One of my personal bugbears is textile product description – particularly as concerns the word “wool.” Most of my clothes purchases are made online these days, and it really annoys me to be looking at what I assume to be a nice wool dress, only to discover that it is, in fact, 100% viscose. Take the shorts above as an example. They describe themselves as a “wool short” and were turned up in a product search for “wool shorts”, but they in fact contain no wool at all. Now, the consumer can easily apprise themselves of the 0% wool content of this purportedly woollen garment by looking at the useful ‘about me’ tab – but there is still much about the way that this garment is being marketed and sold that is profoundly misleading. Should retailers be allowed to describe products which contain no wool as wool, or have them turn up in a product search with the word “wool” in it? Personally, I think not.

On ASOS, the search terms “wool dress” turns up 88 items. The wool content of these garments ranges from 5% . . .


( is ‘angora wool’ even wool? see below)

. . .to 100%:

By far the majority of these 88 ‘wool dresses’ – more than two thirds, in fact – contained less than 50% wool.

Looking at the examples I’ve shown so far, you might think that price would be an immediate indicator of a garment’s non-wooliness — those River Island shorts are cheap, so what would you expect? Not a bit of it.

Cacharel’s £445 ‘plaid wool’ skirt contains a mighty 12% wool. I’m not sure if 12% even warrants the term ‘wool mix.’ Here, the word ‘wool’ seems to be there to add value to the garment’s generically “plaid” or “tartan” appearance. This is a common error of product description, as is the word “wool” when “yarn” is what is actually meant.

The words “lovely soft wool” in the description of this child’s sweater sold by Monsoon refer to the yarn from which this sweater is made – the actual wool content is virtually negligible at 5%.

UK trading standards are reasonably straightforward when it comes to textile labelling (“all items must carry a label indicating the fibre content either on the item or on the packaging”) but far less clear where product descriptions are involved. According to the documents I’ve looked at, the word ‘wool’ can be used as a descriptive term for the fibre of any animal – so the compound ‘angora wool’ is apparently fine. This merely muddies the waters further as far as I am concerned, and there are no guidelines at all about the percentage of real wool – ie actual wool from an actual sheep – that an item must contain before it can be described as ‘wool’.


(wool 100%)

Interestingly, Trading Standards does include specific guidelines for the descriptive use of the word ‘silk': “which cannot be used to describe the texture of any other fibre – for example “silk acetate” is not permitted.” If an acetate blouse cannot be described as silk, then why can polyester shorts be described as wool? Personally, I think trading standards need to be updated to reflect the world of online retailing, product descriptions, and keyword searches generally, and I feel this is particularly important where sheep’s wool – a wonderful, sustainable, high-quality fibre is concerned.

I feel that:
1. A garment should not be described as ‘wool’ or turn up with the search term ‘wool’, unless its sheep’s wool content is more than 50%
2. a garment with a sheep’s wool content of between 20% and 50% should only be described with the terms “wool mix”
3. a garment with a sheep’s wool content of 12% or under should not contain the word ‘wool’ in its product description at all.
4. The word ‘wool’ should refer to sheep’s wool only, and there should be a clarification of trading standards to distinguish between different animal fibres.
5. When a garment’s fabric is composed of mixed fibres with a sheep’s wool content of less than 50%, the word yarn should be used when describing its composition.

I intend to write formally to UK trading standards and the campaign for wool about the problem of Wool 0%. Before I do, I’d really appreciate any and all feedback you might have. Do you agree with me? Or not? Have you come across other good examples of wool 0%? Do you have other points to add to my initial 5? How do the trading standards of other countries deal with this and similar issues? Can you direct me to any useful resources about standards of product description in online retailing? And finally, would those of you in the UK be interested in signing an online petition about this issue?

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