Our Australian Wool Industry
Australia Day is this weekend so I thought it was a timely opportunity to write about something that I have been wanting to and meaning to for ages.
When we first started out on our yarn dyeing journey, I learned a lot about different sheep breeds and the best uses of their wool. I discovered what a micron was and what the term 'nm' meant, where wool was grown and where it went to be processed. I also learned of the different practices and processes that went along with producing yarn. Some good and some not so good.
The more I researched the more I found that it was extremely difficult to find what I was looking for that supported the ethos for our business.
We had a few goals in mind when we were deciding on which undyed yarns we would use; We wanted to support our Australian farmers and wool industry so we preferred most of our fibres to be wholly Australian grown and produced and of a high quality. It was also important that the growers considered their animals welfare and the environmental impact on the land as much as possible.
The above photos were taken at the 2019 Australian Sheep and Wool Show held in Bendigo, NSW.
Australia has some of the best sheep and alpaca farms in the world but the manufacturing side has not been well supported. One of the biggest problems our wool growers face is the lack of mills left in Australia to process their fleeces and therefore the bulk of wool grown in Australia is sent offshore. Some of the processed fibre then comes back to our larger Australian mills for spinning but again, the bulk is dyed and spun overseas. China is the main wool market for Australia although other countries such as Italy, India and Japan are also important in our wool production industry. New Zealand also has woolen mills and some of our farmers choose to send their fleeces there.
In recent times we have seen a resurgence in small boutique mills opening up. Ancient mill machinery is being sought out, restored and put to use again. At the time of writing this blog post I don't think there are any who produce superwash wool or yarn in Australia which means that most if not all the superwash yarn you see and buy in your local yarn shop, online shops and the bigger department stores is all processed overseas. This means that to buy 100% Australian grown and processed yarn you can only get non superwash, which I find frustrating as 90% of our customers prefer a superwash yarn.
My dilemma was to find a 100% Australian grown and processed superwash undyed yarn that I would then dye with heave metal free dyes, we use Greener Shades dyes, in an environmentally friendly manner. Unfortunately this has proven impossible at this time.
The manufacturing process of superwash wool is through the use of harsh chemical baths which in turn causes a significant pollution load on the surrounding environment. There is an excellent article to read more on this here. This is why you will only find non superwash yarns that are wholly grown and produced here in Australia.
Monthly Yarn Tasting
This year our popular monthly yarn tastings are focusing on sustainable Australian grown and processed wool and yarn. Through our blog you will get to meet the farmer, the sheep and learn more about farm life, where the wool is grown or the boutique mill where it is produced. Obviously all this yarn will be non superwash but all of it will be lovely and you are buying and supporting our hard working Aussie farmers. We may include a few that are spun in New Zealand, our lovely close woolly neighbours.
As usual our yarn tasting has a very limited number of skeins each month, mostly 4ply or 8 ply yarn and lovingly hand dyed by us. Keep an eye on our social media for blog updates which will advertise the post about each months yarn, sheep and farm or mill. If you are a farmer and would like to be featured one month please send us an email.
The first monthly yarn tasting will be in February and is featuring gorgeous 4 ply wool from the Cloverleaf Corriedale Stud in Barangarook, Victoria. We will announce on our Instagram and Facebook feeds and also in our newsletter when this gorgeous yarn is ready for purchase. You can subscribe to our newsletter in the footer section of our website.
Looking to the future
The future of Australian wool growing is looking promising with more and more farmers taking on sustainable practices and environmental considerations. Just recently I saw this article outlining the starting of a Steering Committee on building a sustainable framework for sheep and wool growing. (You can read the article here)
Then just last year we saw the start of the Australian Fibre Collective.
Description taken from their website:
"A not for profit Association, formed with the aim of increasing awareness of the Australian Fibre and Textile Industry whilst eliminating some of the confusion in the market place regarding Australian made Fibre and Textile products. Licensees who use our Registered Trade Mark, have been carefully audited by Australian Fibre Collective Inc. representatives, to ensure that the products displaying the Trade Mark are indeed 100% Australian grown, manufactured and or crafted products."
The future of our wool industry looks bright but it is the boots on the ground, local people like us who keep the industry rolling over. They need our support so when you see the above symbol you know that you are buying 100% Australian. If you need superwash yarn then look for one that uses Australian grown wool and the least amount of processing and that is dyed with eco friendly dyes.
Our superwash yarns are mostly Australian Merino (DK, Aran, Lux Sock, Merino Singles) with some South American Merino (NFA Merino Sock) bamboo and yak. Despite a small amount of our yarn bases coming from South America we have still researched the farming and milling of these fibres to ensure they are ethically sourced, the farmers are treated respectfully and they consider the well-being of their flocks.