During production, our wool goes through various different steps to become finished yarn that you can buy in a ball or skein. Whilst the machinery used today is modern, efficient equipment, the principles and overall process has remained remarkably unchanged for centuries.
All our wool comes from certified organic British breeds of sheep, from farms in the UK. Let’s break down what exactly that means:
Every step in the production process has to be certified organic. This means that an independent organisation, such as The Soil Association, has inspected annually and certified that the licensee adheres to strict organic standards.
For farms, animal welfare is at the very heart of organic systems. Organic sheep are reared, fed, sheltered and transported with consideration for their well being. Organic animals are reared on organic feed and grazed on organic land, and are free to pursue their natural behaviour with plenty of space outside and a free range life.
Drugs, fertilisers, treatments and other chemicals are strictly controlled under organic farming standards. Most conventional fertilisers are banned, along with harmful treatments – harmful to the environment or the animal.
Animals are not routinely treated with antibiotics, wormers or pesticides – but of course, if animal welfare is at risk, any necessary treatment is administered. It is a common misconception that “organic farms don’t allow medicines”, but in fact, organic farms only use medicines when animals need them, just as we do with human health.
All our wool shorn from traditional British breeds of sheep – of which there are some 70 breeds. Every breed has unique characteristics, and is a part of a specific environment.
The diversity of British breeds allow us to offer a vast range of wools that are all special in their own way, without unnecessary treatments, dyeing or blending with artificial fibres.
All our yarns are completely undyed, and are a product of the spectacular colours of our breeds of sheep. Occasionally, we may blend different fleece colours or breeds to produce different shades, or create marled yarn by twisting together different coloured plies.
All our wool is 100% sheep wool. We don’t sell alpaca, acrylic, mohair or any other natural or synthetic fibre.
None of our yarns are blended with other fibres during production either.
Farms in the UK
Every step of our production process takes place in the UK, which includes the farming. We get all our raw fleece directly from the farm, which allows us to trace back exactly where every single ball of wool we sell has been farmed and manufactured. We meet the farmers, see the sheep and their conditions, and inspect the raw fleeces to ensure they’re up to standard.
We believe that the very best way to get a quality final product is to start with the very best raw materials, and we work with our excellent farmers to ensure we get off to a great start in production. Some of the Shetland and Ryeland yarns available on our site come from our very own flock too, so we understand the care and the work that goes into rearing happy, healthy sheep with excellent fleeces.
Shearing takes place in early summer, and is an essential step in the welfare of the sheep.
A skilful trained shearer will expertly remove the fleece from a sheep in one piece, so that it can be rolled and stored before the next step in production.
Shearing is completely painless for sheep, it’s just like getting a haircut. It also helps to prevent overheating during the summer months, which can cause serious health problems to for the animals.
At this stage, fleeces are stored by breed and colour.
Grading & Sorting
Once we collect the fleeces from the farmers, we grade and sort the raw fibres by colour, breed, quality and fineness. At this stage we’ll also remove any vegetable matter, unsuitable fleeces or any other debris that can get caught up in the fleece.
We choose individual fleeces from batches for spinning, which means we have close control over exactly how the finished product will turn out.
Any colour blends will be created at this point, where we’ll spin together a very small quantity of several fleeces to determine finished colours.
Scouring & Drying
Once the raw fleeces have been dropped off at the mill, their first step is scouring. This is a washing process that uses gentle, biodegradable, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified detergent to remove dirt, grease, some short fibres and any remaining vegetation.
For non-organic fleeces, this is usually the harshest process in wool production. Acids and harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde are used to burn away vegetable matter and short fibres. Naturally, it is impossible to remove all traces of these acids and chemicals, so it’s likely you’ll end up with an irritable, non-environmentally friendly finished product.
After scouring, the fleeces are gently dried before the next step.
Before carding, some water and spinning oil is added to the fleeces, and any colour blending takes place, by using individual fleeces of different colours to produce unique finished shades.
Carding is a process that combs the fibres together to produce a light, fluffy mat of wool by running the fibres through toothed drums that rub against each other.
Spinning involves twisting the individual fibres to produce a single strand (ply) of yarn, and are spun onto a spindle for further processing.
Fibres are spun into single-ply yarn initially, and can then be twisted together to produce thicker finished yarns, or in the case of our laceweight yarns, left as a single ply.
Yarns are wound either into 50g balls or 100g skeins at the mill, packaged into 1kg bags, and shipped back to us at Garthenor.
Once we have the yarns back here, we apply ball bands or any other packaging necessary, and wind some of the yarn into 10g and 20g balls. It’s now ready to be shipped to you or your local wool store!