The merino issue

I bristle at the mention of the “M” word. I have nothing against the sheep or the use of their wool in the country where they are farmed. What irks me, in fact, infuriates me beyond words, is that people have been brainwashed into believing that it’s the only desirable wool worth wearing, mainly due to the powerful marketing of large high street retailers.

Merino is not a breed commonly  found in Britain and for good reason. Our climate and topography are unsuitable. In some countries of the world, such as in Australia, the breed is subjected to mulesing, which has long been banned in other countries. Google it, look at the pictures, and make up your own minds as to whether this causes the sheep to suffer.

Sheep welfare aside I simply cannot understand how we can live in a country where sheep are ubiquitous to our landscape and yet we eschew the wool and have steadily devalued it. And yet King Edward lll commanded that the Lord Speaker in the Houses of Lords sit on a wool bale known as the Woolsack as a symbol of the importance of the wool trade to the economy of the land. This tradition continued until 2006. Such was the value of wool that locally it was known as Leominster Ore.

We have all been seduced by  clothes made from synthetic fibres and this has affected the market value of wool.

I do have a Merino wool in the shop. It is produced by Manos de Del Uruguay which was created in 1968 to help women in Uruguay’s countryside to generate income. It is a non for profit organisation owned by rural women and all the sheep are shepherded using traditional methods. It is a Fair Trade organisation. I buy into that package.

But my real desires lie with the yarns produced from British sheep. I have just finished a “forever” sweater using Shetland wool and am now eying up the Cambrian range spun from Welsh sheep fleece and dyed to replicate the colours of the Welsh landscape. The sweater I know I will have for decades and I’m glad because an oversized garment is a real labour of love and I buy into the concept of heirloom knits. I had a jumper of my Fathers when he died and it is far more than an item of clothing to keep me warm; it is a woolly memory.

I could be torn between West Yorkshire Spinner’s Blue Faced Leicester skeins, Blackers  North Ronaldsay or Whistlebare’s wonderful yarns which come from animals pastured on fields planted with herbs. But which ever I finally choose the  yarn will contain echoes of our wool history, our landscape, our shepherds and their flocks and the present day people who are committed to keeping our wool heritage alive and using the local products of our landscape.



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