The Wool Revival (first published in West Sussex County Times)

SheepDon’t we all love to see spring lambs in wildflower meadows, and sheep in green fields?

In total contrast, who wants to see a factory producing acrylic?  A synthetic produced mainly in India and China, it’s made from chemicals so dangerous that special regulations have had to be made to prevent explosions at the factories manufacturing it.

Acrylic seems to have replaced real wool in much of our clothing.  However it is not biodegradeable so minute harmful particles of it are becoming increasingly present in our oceans, in foodstuffs and in human and animal bodies. There is now even some suspicion that there may be carcinogenic risks associated with wearing acrylic next to our skin.

If we wear an acrylic sweater in the rain we ending up cold and dripping, while if we wear lanolin-rich woollen jumper, that repels the rain to a great extent and keeps us warm and cosy…just as it does for the sheep.

The price paid for a shorn fleece barely covers the cost of shearing, yet the fleece can benefit our minds as well as our bodies!  The beneficial effect on co-ordination of hand, eye and foot of using a spinning wheel also extends to a beneficial effect on our brains as we learn new motor skills – our brains love it!

Therapeutic effects of participating in a local art and craft group doing spinning, knitting, weaving or dying are huge. Knitting has actually been prescribed on the NHS in the Bristol area for many years now for pain relief, but unlike the big pharmaceutical companies, there is no big money available to promote it to those in pain or to doctors.

Many craft groups produce high quality items which don’t involve costly miles of transportation or harsh chemicals and the satisfaction of making something yourself is huge, as programs like The Sewing Bee show.  You too can spin wool and can use it for tapestries, garments, rug and carpet making, stuffing cushions or even soil improvement!  Alternative uses for wool such as insulation for the home (it is fire-retardant), felted hats, pet baskets or even pure white angelic-looking coffins are creative ideas for wool. And as Prince Charles has pointed out, if we want to continue to see sheep in our fields, we need to embrace new ideas.

Wool can also provide a gateway into the realms of experimenting with all manner of animal, vegetable and mineral products for dyeing. Dying to get creative? Local groups might become a hub for the sharing of many cottage type skills where groups of all ages produce and promote home crafted versions of local history such as might be seen at Amberley or Singleton Museums.

We are hoping that the Wealden Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers will be demonstrating spinning at Brinsbury College Craft and Design Show 19-21 August, spinning wool with a traditional wooden spinning wheel alongside the Sussex Green Living stand. We look forward to seeing you there.

by Morag Warrack and Sean Scully