How British is British Wool?

When I stopped working full time I wrote on my blog that from now on I was “most likely to be found growing veg on my allotment or knitting with British Wool”. I’m proud that I support British and Independent yarn producers, spinners and dyers, but just lately it seems to have got harder, not easier to find wool that is truly British (by which I mean, reared, spun and dyed here in the UK).  Most knitters think the Woolmark is a good indication that they’re buying British, but take a closer look at the label.

In the past week, three knitters have asked me to suggest British Wool suitable for knitting cushions for the Woolsack Project, which aims to send every Paralympian and Olympian competitor home with a hand knitted cushion afer the Olympics in September. I wondered, is a wool carrying the British Wool Trademark good enough to qualify and what about wools that don’t carry the label?

In order  to use the British Wool trademarks a wool product only has to be “at least 50% British”. Yes, that’s right. Up to 50% of the wool in your “British Wool” may have come from abroad or contain non wool fibres. I did discover a new label was launched in 2010 – the Wool Platinum mark for 100% British Wool, but I’ve yet to see it on a ball of wool, at the moment it seems to apply only to wool products. Conversely, just because a wool doesn’t carry the label doesn’t mean it comes from outside the UK. Confused? I was. I’m sure I’m not the only knitter who doesn’t really understand who or what the Wool Mark is for.

I started looking through my stash, seeking out wool I know or think is British.I found some real gems in there (the beauty of stash diving – it reminds you exactly what you have – and what you need to stock up on). I found half a ball of a beautiful British Mohair from Yorkshire. White Rose Mohair is reared in Yorkshire, processed in Bradford and sold as a standard DK weight. I can vouch for the softness and lovely stitch definition, it’s also great value at less than £4.00 per 50g ball (100m).

I also found a few left overs of Troon Tweed, a gorgeous oiled Aran  from Scotland, which I used to make my felted crochet bag and several pairs of Duffers. It’s a great yarn, definitely up there with the best “value” ranges and a proper “workhorse” yarn ideal for jumpers, felting or for tea cosies. There was also a ball of Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran (not strictly British as it’s spun in Ireland, but that’s close enough for me!)

I also found some gorgeous Natural Dye Studio yarn  (Dazzle, Blue Faced Leicester) carrying the British Wool Trademark, a hank of Erika Knight’s gorgeous Maxi Wool, a new range which is 100% British Wool,  spun in Yorkshire by Laxtons. There is a great DK weight in the range too and the colours are lovely. Of course there’s plenty of Rowan’s Fine Tweed in this house too, bought for the Dales Blanket. Again, 100% British Wool, processed and packaged  here in the UK.

Now, it’s not just the “big names” who are selling 100% British Wool, you can also shop local and independent buying direct from yarn producers. A few of my favourites are listed below, do click on the links and take a look at some of the yarns on offer.

I’m also  looking forward to getting my hands on some British linen soon. You didn’t know flax grew in the UK? Neither did I, but it turns out to right on my door step, growing in North Manchester as part of a community project called Sow Sew. That really will bring down my “yarn miles”!

In future I won’t just be looking for the British Wool Trademarks, I’ll be thinking about the environmental impact of my wool. Where was my wool grown, combed, scoured and spun, dyed and packaged.(You’d be amazed how much British Wool finds its way to Europe to be processed and transported back to be sold here). And, just because an independent supplier isn’t using the Woolmark label I won’t assume their wool isn’t British.

Finally, if you’re interest in the journey from sheep to skein, you might like to read this blog post by Kate Davies.

Independent Spinners and Dyers and Retailers Using British Yarns:

Blacker Yarns

New Lanark

Little Houndales

June Onigbanjo

Wensleydale Long Wool Sheep Shop

Texere yarns

Laxtons

Oh – and  don’t forget the British Sheep Breed Societies -the Jacob Sheep Society is just one of many that has been very helpful to me in sourcing British Wool.

If you have time  take a look at Wovember’s Hall of Shame for wool products that aren’t wool at all :(

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9 Comments

  1. As I was reading, I was thinking about Kate’s post, then found you had a link to it! Glad to see that you included New Lanark – I knitted a lovely jumper for Malcolm in their aran …… then accidently felted it when I forgot to change the washing machine setting to wool wash(oops!)

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  2. huh, that’s interesting. Very interested to hear about the flax project – of course, it is fair to say that linen has traditionally been produced in Northern Ireland too, where there are still some fairly large producers.

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  3. Tracey Todhunter

     /  February 8, 2012

    You’re right about the linen in NI Joe, I’m hopin to write about non wool yarns in the warmer weather

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  4. This is really interesting Tracey, thanks for sharing. I’ve been thinking about my ‘yarn miles’ too and using British yarns, so this information is helpful xx

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  5. Tim Booth

     /  February 10, 2012

    Hi Tracey, the British Wool trademark does allow 50% or more British Wool in the wool portion but the wool portion has to be 80% of the total fibre composition. This was initiated originally because most British Wool (70%) goes into carpet and as you will be aware most carpet in the UK is 100% or a blend of 80% Wool / 20% Nylon. I would say that most knitting yarn that carries the ‘Crookmark’ would be 100% British or very close to this level. The Platinum logo has been released but the criteria in using this slightly different to the main logo. Please get in touch if you require further info I would be happy to help.
    Hope this is helpful

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  6. Not sure about anyone else, but Tim’s comment made me more confused rather than less. I think he just said that “British Wool” can contain as little as 40% British Wool.

    I think it may be true that there is a lack of wool-from-British-sheep-herded-in-Britain which is suitable for knitting, given I think most is used in carpet.

    And saying “most knitting yarn that carries the ‘Crookmark’ would be 100% British or very close to this level” doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence either.

    I suspect the best option is always going to be purchasing from someone who knew the sheep from which the wool originated, rather than trusting any of these marks.

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  7. Tim Booth

     /  February 13, 2012

    Joe, sorry if I have made things more confusing it was never my intention. I was just trying to inform how and why the ‘Crookmark’ is used. If I can be of further assistance and as I said to Tracey please get in touch and I will try and clarify something that should not be that complicated.

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  8. devonfinefibres

     /  March 1, 2012

    The answer is simple – if buying British wool is important and the label confuses you then ASK the retailer. Big or small they ought to know where their wool comes from/how and where it’s processed. If they cannot tell you then go elsewhere. Buying direct is certainly a good alternative if you can. Small producers ought to be able to tell you what the sheep had for breakfast!!
    http://www.wooldirectory.org is one good place to start. This now also contains Alpaca fibre so make sure you look carefully if it’s wool you want!
    Please do continue to probe, ask questions and above all, support wool. It’s the most fantastic fibre on the planet and the animals are pretty good for the world too!

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  9. Tracey Todhunter

     /  March 1, 2012

    Thamks esp for link to the wool directory which I missed of my post.
    Tracey x

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