skirting

#1year1outfit: a wool trade

Last week I walked down to see our neighbouring farmer, naively underestimating the sheer volume of what I’d need to transport back:

whatsinthebag

Baa Baa Black Sheep did give me some wool… and Jacob Sheep, and Suffolk Sheep – but just one (very large) bag full… for now.

I’m particularly enjoying the ‘British Wool Marketing Board’ sack (which is on temporary loan). Usually Andrew, the farmer, transports 6 sacks like this (but packed totally full) yearly to the Wool Marketing Board depot. Most of it, he says, will then be exported, much of it to China… So I can’t help feeling just a little satisfied that through our small trade, Andrew and I have diverted the potential voyage of the contents of this particular sack to a destination within eyeshot of the sheep who produced them…

When I asked Andrew how much I should pay him for his wool, he wasn’t quite sure. It costs him about £1 to shear each fleece and he will get £2 to £3 per fleece from the ‘Wool Board’… but this depends on the market in the coming year: He only gets paid 20% up front and will receive the remaining 80% next year depending on how wool sells in the international market. Not much of a reliable profit margin there then… so understandably, Andrew, and most of his contemporaries locally, farm predominantly for meat.  On a national scale, this predicament affects the diversity of sheep breeds being raised and the quality of wool available. Given that wool was once considered the primary source of Britain’s wealth this seems a sad state of affairs and I’ve been keen to understand how it might be turned around.  I’d already heard of the Campaign for Wool, but more locally I was heartened to find OrganicWoolWales already making inroads into promoting Welsh organic wool and investigating the issues around British wool marketing more generally. In 2013 they obtained funding to undertake research and put together an excellent and informative paper, Shear Waste . If you have an interest in this area and haven’t come across this paper already, I highly recommend a read.

Luckily for me, despite farming mainly for meat, Andrew has a keen interest in keeping a variety of breeds on his farm. As well as his large flock of Welsh Mountain, which produce kempy, coarse wool unsuitable for garments, he keeps, Suffolks, Jacobs, Texels… all of which are reputed to be good for hand-spinning fibre. From my rather amateur inspection and fibre strength tests, his fleeces seemed good: strong fibres, not cotted (matted) and fairly clear of vegetable matter, but it was clear from his intrigue in my inspection methods that he hadn’t encountered this way of assessing the value of his fleeces. From what I’ve read, not many farmers feel a pressing need get into this level of detail. Like other farmers, Andrew will benefit from one of the services the ‘Wool Board’ offers: the annual Grading Advice, which reports back to producers with a categorisation of the quality of their fleece, giving an understanding of the farm clip as a whole. This provides a rationale for the price of each year’s clip and is enough for most farmers. My motivations are different however, so I hope my beginner’s fleece assessment proves accurate. I’m booked to attend an Open Meeting of the Montgomeryshire Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers this weekend, so I shall see what their expert eyes make of Andrew’s fleeces…

 

 

  • Such a lovely story and I am so impressed with how quickly you are getting along!

    • zoequick

      thanks! it feels like sort of slow and quick progress at the moment – SO so much to learn, but all so fascinating. I’d love to find more time in my days/weeks to devote to all the intriguing details but most importantly I’m trying to curb my perfectionism, experiment as much as possible, enjoy the process and not attach myself too much to the end product…

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