……was something I over heard on my morning walk to work today. I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation but it occurred to me that, and ‘it’s common sense’, are things we say to re-enforce a statement of something that is true to us.
‘Everybody knows wool is itchy’ is something I hear regularly and ………. if the customer wasn’t always right I would challenge more often. Wool has many iterations and variants, from the source breed of sheep to the quality of the fleece it produces, the processing it receives, to the type of spin all influence the final product. There are probably as many wool types in the shop as the surprising number of meanings for the word ‘wool’ in common use (not including wool meaning a ball of yarn to knit with!). I can’t stock the number of real varieties of wool yarn to knit with that there are however much I tried. I think the spinners of wool often surprise themselves with the yarn they produce. Each one has its own characteristics and practical use.
‘ oh Everybody knows wool is itchy’ – which wool? what you make? where you wear it? the weather conditions and how much you wear. The items you are making and why you are making it and of course the wool you use…..
Last week we had a jolly jaunt to Huddersfield, well Slaithwaite (or Slawit if you’re Yorkshire!) actually. To visit the mill home of Spectrum Yarns AKA Stylecraft, for their first Retailers Event – a good time was had and I hope they put the event on again. (No photos sorry, camera malfunction!). It included a preview launching of new winter yarns —- (watch this space and we have some new yarns in the shop see above)….
It is always interesting to visit other businesses see how they work and what they tell you is important to them. We have stocked a lot of Stylecraft since we opened. It has a quality feel and is good value for money. The yarns have durability and feel good to work with and a growing reputation. The visit confirmed my suspicions the owner is very interested in yarn spinning and quality. They are also knitwear manufacturers and test their new yarn choices with the same rigour they apply to yarns for knitwear. It shows.
They knit samples and some poor lady in the height of summer, test wears samples of winter yarn garments. Then they are washed more than once and scored on aspects of this. Knitting experience – comfort – piling – sagging – holding together – dye run. If the yarn fails at any point, however nice it looks it is OUT. This means that yarns getting to the design stage are of a good quality and I imagine cost-effective the make. They yarns are tested when they come in to ensure the quality is maintained even down to a very low tolerance on dye variation. Quality assurance built-in …. know we know why we like Stylecraft yarns.
I learnt that the UK has not produced Acrylic yarns since the 1980’s everything is spun over seas, in Stylecraft’s case in Italy or Turkey. They do still spin merino yarns for knitwear and the Yarn Stories range (hence it’s inclusion in RedApple – merino sheep are sun lovers and do not live in the UK so the wool isn’t UK but I let it in cause it is lovely and soft, spun to the same rigorous quality standards and in the UK (this can not be said of some other brands).
But I also heard the “everybody knows …..UK wool won’t make knitting yarns” ……..I can’t say I challenged this – I had a mouthful of sandwich at the time and I wasn’t sure if it was another retailer (in which case … their loss) or an employee. It is something I have heard before from yarn manufacturers, particularly those who spin for commercial knitwear manufacturing and is an unfair generalisation in my view. Their criteria for yarn production is large-scale, economical high quality, very fine yarn for fine machine-made knitwear. Wool produced in the UK does not spin very very fine, but for handknitting is over looked in this assessment. But anything said too often can stick, so I will say UK wool produces some fantastic handknit yarns and if you hear/read a comment like this check what ‘knitting’ they are referring too!!!!
There are yarns I wouldn’t use for a vest (I’m not sensitive to wool) – a Shetland wool vest in the height of summer (or a centrally heated winter) would be a torture item. Big Brit feels like sandpaper in the balls. But it makes a great Rabbit and the lace shawl is drapey and soft.
Wool has heat balancing properties that nylon and acrylic don’t, making it easier to wear for very small babies, but most people wouldn’t buy ‘wool’ because it isn’t washable and new Mum’s need easy care products. Bo Peep from WYSpinners is an example of a modern ‘wool’ Soft UK merino from the Falklands (52% wool 48% nylon) washable at 40C. It is soft not itchy, bouncy and nice to knit with and I might even knit myself a vest from this sometime?!
‘Everybody should know’ that some wool is itchy to wear but: you need to choose the right wool for your purpose, understand that raw wool is 100% natural, it has breathability and bounce and spring that give knitting added wear comfort; wool does require a little more care when washing in some cases you can by super washable wool and wool does not need to be washed after every wear; if you buy British you are supporting manufacture and processing in the UK and UK’s farmers (if only in a small way); modern wool is chosen and processed to limit the itch factor; Allergic reactions to wool are very rare (sensitivity to lanolin is much more common and that mostly gets washed out) ; if you knit with wool – blocking or washing after knitting will soften the item further;
Everybody knows ‘wool is expensive’ and ‘farmers get nothing for it’……….Oh boy ..Oh boy…… wool as a raw material is a commodity traded on the ‘world markets’ and that particular gambling den has a major influence on the price paid to farmers for their wool. The price paid for raw fleece is governed by the quality of the wool and that is affected by the sheep, the breed, the livestock husbandry and the cleanliness of the fleeces. There is a glut of Merino wool (the highest quality ) on the ‘world market’ due to over production is some parts of the world but merino sheep do not live happily in the Uk climate.
And I also know farmers who won’t buy wool because it is too expensive!
Everyone should know – Wool requires around 8 or 9 different processes (washing and combing, dying and spinning each adding to the cost of production) before knitters (or crochetters) can use it. There are cheaper yarn products. Manmade fibres were invented to be cheaper alternatives to natural products largely because they need less processing. Wool costs more to make therefore is more expensive. There are cheaper wool products and there are more expensive wool products available. There are cheaper manmade yarns and more expensive ones available. They are always cheaper for a combination of several reasons: the origin or quality of the wool; its age and how it has been treated affect the wool price but it is the costs of production, designing and marketing which really effect the value
Merino produces a fine high quality wool. But “Merino isn’t wool” and I quote a customer!! it is. There is a glut of merino wool on the world markets economics says merino wool items should be cheaper as a result but the brand image would be damaged it would not be a premium product – the retail price of ready-made items made of merino wool stays high.
There are expensive branded items that do not deliver higher quality wool because they spend on marketing and branding. There is really cheap yarn made to a low price which rarely lives long enough to have a second wash. Yarn products that look good and fail to deliver are common.
As a knitter (or crochet maker) your time is the most expensive element of what you are doing. What are you doing this for? I assume that you are making for pleasure (if you want cheap garments …… the fast fashion industry produces them in high volumes at low-cost) – so enjoy the yarn you work with. always use the best quality yarn you can afford and knowing what you want to make will help. A hand knitted jumper can take 70 hours of work to complete; which at minimum wage is more than £350. The 500g yarn is not the biggest cost input even at £6, £8 or £12.50 per 100g (£30, £40, £62.50). What you want is for it to be worth that time investment don’t you??
Red Apple doesn’t stock cheap yarns we stock good quality yarns you can trust. When that also means we can put something back into our community however small we buy UK produced products.