After the first step of washing and carding discarded sheep’s wool in my neighbourhood in small amounts, I am now entering a new phase. Will I succeed in washing and carding the wool of an entire flock of sheep? The long road to putting sheep’s wool back into use.
Good sheep’s wool discarded as rubbish
Sheep’s wool is a fantastic material, it is durable, very comfortable and a natural material that does not contribute to the plastic soup. But there is also a lot of criticism, and rightly so, because of the environmental burden and animal suffering. That is why it bothers me so much that we import sheep’s wool from the other side of the world, while the sheep’s wool nearby is literally discarded as rubbish.
The textile and wool industries were once very large in Spain. The merino sheep, with which Australians do good business today, originated in Spain. Until 1800 almost a hundred wool laundries flourished as key points in the country’s economic geography. Says a Spanish study Lana sucia, lana lavada
When shearing a sheep became more expensive than the wool itself
But somewhere things went very wrong. In 2004, the price of a kilo of Spanish merino wool dropped from 70 cents to 42 cents. This made the shearing of a sheep more expensive than the wool.
In 2016-2017, the top wool producers were Australia, China, the United States, and New Zealand.
The shepherds in my neighbourhood are not raising sheep for wool. It is mostly for the meat. In my opinion these sheep have a much better life than animals in the bio-industry. They graze outside every day. And the wool from these sheep could sometimes replace wool from far away from sheep that live in poorer conditions.
So how to put the sheep’s wool back into use?
When I washed, carded and felted this wool myself, it turned out to be very good felting wool. It felts better and easier than the best merino wool, I noticed. And the wool is very soft. I have made several slippers from it and they are worn with pleasure.
But washing and carding the wool myself is not really an option. It is impossible to wash the wool of a flock of sheep myself.
There is almost nothing left of the once hundred wool laundries
For more then a year, I searched for a wool laundrie that would wash the wool of 600 sheep. In vain, because the few laundries that still exist only do bulk washing. Finally I found a laundry that is willing to wash smaller batches of wool from time to time.
My contact at the wool laundry has a wonderful ambition. To be able to compete with Australian and New Zealand sheep wool again, sheep farmers need to be motivated to take better care of the sheeps for better wool he says. And I would like to add: a better life for the sheep, less pollution when washing the wool and also less distant transports and less waste.
My goal is to have the wool washed
My goal is to have the wool washed. So now I am looking into shearing the wool in such a way that it stays clean, transporting it which is difficult because of regulations and the storage and processing of the wool. And how the wool can be dyed naturally. Because chemical dyeing of wool and textiles is extremely polluting. I don’t know if it will work. But I am going to try. I will keep you posted.