Time to Big Up British Wool

“We built this city on Work and Wool”. No not Jonathan Ross on a karaoke night out, but the true history of Norwich and many other English cities. It’s hard to believe nowadays just what an important resource British wool used to be. Norwich in the Middle Ages was second only to London due to wealth created from wool exports, and to this day politicians have a constant reminder of this when the Lord Speaker rises from the Woolsack, a stuffed bale placed in the House of Lords by Edward III in the mid 14th century.

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Britain has over 60 native breeds of sheep, more than any other country and the wool from these most useful beasts was highly sought after especially in Flanders where the best weavers worked. A large focus of the Hundred Year War with France was to protect this trade and when conditions became intolerable many Flemish wool workers decided to come here and set up their looms around Norfolk, Suffolk and the Yorkshire Dales.

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The weaving industry started to flourish with help from the government who passed laws including one in the 1570’s which insisted all Englishmen had to wear a woollen cap to church on Sundays. A law which should again be enforced for people going to yoga classes I feel. The influential Campaign for Wool started towards this with their Woolly Hat Day event and more importantly the patron Prince Charles gathered leading members of the industry a couple of years ago to Dumfries House for the signing of a declaration to help the wool beleaguered industry. The annual Wool Week event is also growing awareness since its inception in 2015 when flocks grazed on the freshly turfed Savile Row.

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The good news is that British wool is now starting to become more sought after. Only a few years ago wool from our native sheep had so little value that a whole fleece fetched under one pound at auction, less than the cost of shearing and transport, encouraging farmers just to burn it. The floccinaucinihilipilification of wool has been due in no small part to the creation of synthetic fabrics made from plastics and crude oils. Now at last we are learning that the environmental costs of these cheap clothes is huge, new research shows that even microfibres from synthetics washed at home are entering the food chain, impacting on the welfare of the whole planet.

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Wool is a natural renewable resource and the original cloth of the British Isles but our sheep do tend to have thicker fibres compared with fine Merino yarns coming from Australia. This has led to it’s use in carpets, rugs and even loft insulation. However, with cross breeding and ameliorating climate breeds such as the Bluefaced Leicester and Wensleydale are producing exquisite lustre yarns for suitings and tweeds. A while back we wove a lovely collection with Romney Marsh Wools and soon we will be exploring the use of rare breed sheep for exquisite modern tweed collections. Hopefully soon customers after picking up their morning single estate Guatemalan lattes and Venezuelan Criollo chocolate bars will come in asking for a Jacob Wool jacket and a Clun Forest cap.

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If you have any questions or would like to book a Made to Measure appointment to add a dash of British wool to your wardrobe, please visit us on 47 Dorset Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 7ND or drop us an email on: holly@dashingtweeds.co.uk

All the very best,

The Dashing Team