Part 1 – Clapdale Wool: Making jumpers from our local Yorkshire sheep

Using 100% British Wool yarn and tweed has been an important part of our business since we began 35 years ago and we’re proud to manufacture all our jumpers right here in Britain.

However we’ve always wanted to go that step further, and so in 2021 following a grant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park we launched our Clapdale Wool Project. This innovative project will use wool sourced within 5 miles of Glencroft’s warehouse, paying farmers more for their fleeces than they currently get. We’ll use all the breeds on these fields – Dalesbred, Teeswater, Texel and Blue Faced Leicester – to produce a wool that directly relates to the local area. We also hope to kickstart a circular economy for wool, with 10% of profits fed directly back to local farmers.

Read the press release here – Glencroft Launches Unique Yorkshire Dales Wool Project With Local Farmers.

Starting the project

While we’ve always wanted to source local wool we’ve never quite figured out how to make it viable as the processing costs and minimums were always too high for us. A meeting discussing yarn options for our 2022 knitwear range with knitwear designers ‘Knitlab North’ in July 2021 led to them mentioning ‘The Flock’ and the things they were doing with traceable British Wool.

We got in touch and learned all about how they had managed to use Herdwick wool from James Rebanks farm in the Lake District – which had little to no value or use in recent years – and turned it into yarn and a range of products. It was also fully traceable back to the sheep, we liked the sound of that (find out more about their yarn ‘Shear Delight’). They would help us get from farm to yarn. Now we needed to cost up the project, look for funding, decide on our blend and find the raw fleece.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Sustainable Development FundWe were very excited to find and speak to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Sustainable Development Fund, we worked with them to put together a realistic sustainable proposition that would enhance our local community and lead to opportunities in the future for our local community and economy. We had backing to start our project!

The name – Clapdale

Glencroft is based in the Yorkshire Dales village of Clapham, we’re surrounded by fields full of sheep and are at the base of Ingleborough, one of the Yorkshire Dales Three Peaks.

The Yorkshire Dales is so called because it’s consists of many ‘dales’. A dale is a Northern word for a valley, often flanked by fells or mountains, something particularly common to this part of the world. Often the word ‘Dale’ is preceeded by the name of the river that runs through it such as Ribblesdale, Wharfedale and Airedale although some take their names from towns or villages, such as Wensleydale (famous for cheese) and Clapdale – named after our village of Clapham and Clapham beck (or river) that runs through it.

The wool we are using for this project is coming from local sheep based in our local valley or ‘dale’ – Clapdale.

Clapham village aerial shot
Clapham village, Yorkshire Dales

The wool blend

While most yarn is created from a carefully selected mix of breeds, wool grades and qualities (soft, coarse, curly, long etc), for our pilot project we went about it ‘rump about teat’ (backwards in other words). We (perhaps foolishly) decided we’d focus on creating a yarn that reflected what was local to us regardless of what that was.

This included ‘Dalesbred’, THE ultimate hill sheep of our area (and also Swaledale from the other side of the mountain), bred for the hills of Ingleborough; ‘Texel’, the modern practical sheep breed common to many farms around us and other more specialist breeds that were crossed with local breeds, including Blue Faced Leicester and Teeswater.

We didn’t ignore the wool qualities entirely, we knew that for this first year, 100% Dalesbred would produce a yarn too coarse for use as a knitwear yarn – we may make a 100% Dalesbred tweed in future years – but it was important Dalesbred was an element of the mix. Blue Faced Leicester meanwhile produces the very softest British yarn, but although those sheep live on our local fields, that on it’s own wouldn’t represent our little part of the Yorkshire Dales enough.

How much?

The more wool you can process at one time the cheaper the various stages in the manufacture of the finished yarn. From scouring (cleaning) to carding, combing, spinning and even knitting of jumpers and accessories.

But we also had to store this wool in our own barn and transport it from local farms to the scouring plant. We settled on just over 500kg, half a ton of raw wool. It was enough to get costs down a little, while also being small enough for us to cope with. In future years we hope to increase the volume to achieve economies of scale. We will need to find more storage, a forklift, a better weighing scale, tough storage bags and a bigger van though!

The wool breakdown for this pilot project (pre scoured weight):

Breed Quantity (KGs)
Teeswater 46.65
Dalesbred 74.8
Blue Faced Leicester 47.7
Texel / Mule (BFL-Swale) 402.05
Total 571.2

Finding the farmers and getting the fleeces

With an idea of the blend we were after we then approached local farmers. Our local knowledge helped in this regard as we knew most of them already, Edward had been to the local school with some, and Glencroft employee Rose’s family farm is a mile down the road.

However it was now September 2021 and sheep are usually sheared in late Spring from May to June so many of the farmers had already sent their clip (the name for all the fleeces sheared) away. Some had also already found ways to increase the price they received for their fleeces, such as selling to local people for gardening as rich compost and bedding insulation, or exporting to Ireland or further afield.

All farmers we spoke to were very keen to work with us, if not this year then in the future, they were all excited by the idea that it would be used locally and sustainably, and while an increased price per KG was also much appreciated, they were so used to their wool not being of value that this factor was only secondary to the opportunity to do something practical with it.

In the end we found two farms to work with this first year.

JW Dawson & Son of Bleak Bank who have a flock of the hardy local Dalesbred sheep and a handful of Teeswaters. They were able to give us Dalesbred ‘first clip’, the wool from the youngest animals in the flock as this is the softest Dalesbred fleece, best for knitwear. Teeswater meanwhile has a long, curly fleece which we hope will add a bit of lustre to the blend.

We picked up 100kg of their wool in two trips with Richard’s trusty Volvo. John and William were also very kind to let us come back up and disrupt their day jobs a few weeks later for our PR shots you’ll see in this post and alongside the project. It’s safe to say the Teeswater sheep took a bit of gentle persuading by sheepdog and people to look into the camera.

Our second farm was our employee Rose’s farm, JW Whitaker of Bowsber Farm. They have a large flock of Texels, Swaledale, Blue Faced Leicester and ‘mules’ (Swaledale and Blue Face Leicester cross breeds). Due to the low wool prices during the pandemic they had kept not only the 2021 clip, but also 2020’s, hoping that by holding onto it they may get a better price this year.

They helped us pick out a mixture of Texel and mule fleeces, as well as all the Blue Faced Leicester and we transported it to our storage barn via a few trips on a JCB bucket and a sturdy UTV (utility task vehicle).

Storing and preparing the wool for scouring

The 100% British Wool yarn we’ve used for the past 30 years in our jumpers is made from a blend of wool from across the country. It’s sorted by expert graders in British Wool’s Bradford depot into various qualities. But up until recently* it wasn’t fully traceable.

As we are focusing on origin and traceability above all for our pilot project, we haven’t graded our wool by quality. We are using everything we have collected, relying on the mixture of breeds to create what we hope will be a suitable yarn. This also helps us keep the costs down.

(*In 2021 British Wool announced fully traceable wool for carpets, we hope to work with them in future years to grade and sort our Clapdale wool. It will help us to be both traceable and more accurately create blends of differing quality.)

The wool supplied to us by the farmers was in British Wool ‘sheets’ – large plastic bags – which they needed returned to them as they were the property of British Wool and each one was subject to a small refundable deposit. We therefore transferred the wool from these sheets into our own plastic ‘sheets’ that our sheepskin rugs are delivered in. Reusing one of our waste products and sewing each one up by hand with tough gardening string.

We also purchased a butcher’s style weighing scale hook that we hung from the roof and weighed the wool we had received. We could then tell each farmer exactly how much we had taken from them and pay them directly.

Weighing wool on weighing hook
Weighing the wool on our new hanging scale

The price of wool

We want the Clapdale wool project to be commercial and profitable in order to enable us to do it every year rather than as a one off project. But we also want this traceable wool to be worthwhile for the farmers and so we are paying a decent rate for the fleeces up front. We paid £1 a kg for the coarser wool (normally they would receive 35p a KG) and £3.50 for the more unique Blue Faced Leicester and Teeswater. We will also pay 10% of the profits from the project back to the farmers.

Both these initiatives will hopefully make the project sustainable and kickstart a circular wool economy. The profit share will involve farmers in the full project from farm to yarn, while the initial payment will help cover the shearing costs and possibly their annual rent too as it once did many years ago.

Next steps

Follow the journey across our series of blog posts about this unique traceable wool project, from the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.


Part 1 – Clapdale Wool: Making jumpers from our local Yorkshire sheep