Your woolly jumper starts its life as a nice and cosy fleece for a sheep, but by mid-May to mid-July as the weather starts to warm up, this fleece gets too thick and uncomfortable for the sheep so the farmers have to shear them.
Next, the farmer will gather up all of this wool and take it to one of the British Wool Marketing Board’s depots across the UK. We visited the one in Bradford.
Once at the British Wool Marketing Board, expert sorters in the depot will go through the fleeces and grade them according to their qualities rather than by breed (although some particularly unique breeds like the Bluefaced Leicester are kept separately). The qualities which this wool will be judged upon include colour and the length of the staple.
A sample is taken from the core of each bale and sent to a specialist facility to be tested for its qualities even more accurately than the experts at the depot can judge it. Results will come back with the wool’s precise colour, vegetable matter and micron measurement (or thickness of the staple to you and me). It’s an exact science!
This wool will then be sold at one of British Wool’s silent auctions. Buyers are sent the details of every lot of wool in advance of the auction, so they’ll already have an idea of which wool they want and how much they’re willing to pay for it. Gone are the days of screaming, shouting and buying willy-nilly at auctions.
If you got your wool at this stage, you’d not be very happy as you’d have a greasy, dirty, smelly jumper. First then, it’s got to go through a wool scouring plant.
To start with, the wool gets shredded up to make it more manageable going through all the pipes and machinery; think shower clogged by hair but on an industrial scale. It’s not pretty.
After being shredded, the wool is pulled through many different compartments to remove its dirt, oil and impurities, each compartment with a differing amount of water and detergent. Finally, the wool is thrown into a drum drier to come out clean and fluffy at the end.
The impurities removed at this stage include lanolin oil which is then sold on for all sorts of purposes, from being mixed into moisturisers to feeding prawns in the Middle East! Even the dust removed from the sheepskin can be reused, as it’s a great fertiliser for farmers, meaning there’s little to no waste in this process.
The next stage for your wool is to go through carding machines. Carding basically pulls the wool into one long fibre rather than little individual bits of wool. Picture it this way: rather than being short and fluffy like a sheep’s fleece, the wool becomes long and thin like a rope.
Combing and gilling compliments the carding, as it puts lots of these long fibres together thousands of times over, whilst also straightening the fibres and removing any remaining bits of dirt or short, broken hairs. By the end of the process, you’ve got a strong and durable wool top.
This wool top may then be taken to be dyed in any colour imaginable, although at Glencroft we tend to stick to either the wool’s natural colour or muted country colours.
A spinner will then get the wool tops and spin it into yarn. This is done by condensing the woollen fibres even further from quite fluffy ropes into the yarn that you or I might see rolled up in craft or knitting shops.
We then take this yarn to our manufacturers who employ skilled workers to cut, sew and knit the yarn into one of our jumpers.
Finally, with a click of a mouse, you buy one of our British Wool jumpers and it begins a new journey with you!
Watch our video of the scouring process from our trip to the Haworth Scouring plant.