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Fleece to fibre

My fleeces remain in South West England as they are transformed into the luxury, chunky yarns I use for my garments and homewares.

Once my sheep have been sheared, which happens in early July, the fleece is sent to a woollen mill in Cornwall where I have it spun into yarn. When the wool arrives at the mill it is sorted and graded – this is when dirt, short fibre and dust is removed from the fleece. Once this has been done, it is then ready to begin its journey at the mill to become yarn.

1. Scouring

Wool straight off a sheep contains a high level of valuable lanolin, as well as dead skin, sweat residue and vegetable matter. Before the wool can be used for spinning, it must be scoured, a process of cleaning the greasy wool. After scouring, the fleeces are spun and then tumble dried  - the fleece is now basically a big pile of slightly damp, very slightly oiled fluff.

3. Spinning

After the fleece has been carded it is held together by the natural hooks that exist on the surface of the wool fibres. Spinning pulls and twists the fibres together to form a continuous thread, turning the soft rolls into strong woollen yarn.

2. Carding or Scribbling

Carding is a process that disentangles and intermixes the wool fibres to produce a continuous web suitable for spinning. It is achieved by passing the fibres between moving surfaces that break up locks and unorganised clumps of fibre and then aligns the individual fibres to be parallel with each other. Carding produces fully disentangled, soft rolls of wool ready for spinning into yarn.

4. Dyeing

My ecru yarn is the natural colour produced by my Portland sheep and the mocha is from the fleece of my Castlemilk Moorit sheep. My vibrant colours are created using GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic, low-impact dyes. For a dye to achieve their standard, all the ingredients are assessed and must meet requirements for toxicity, biodegradability and eliminability, as well as stringent limits regarding unwanted residues. The use of toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents and genetically modified organisms (GMO) is banned. They don’t include azo-dyes, a family of dye groups that contain toxic compounds ranging from chlorine bleach to known carcinogens, as well as prohibiting the use of a very long list of other chemicals. GOTS dyes are substantially better for the environment than conventional dyes and there is a rigorous certification body responsible for standardising the process.