Campaign for Wool: What's it all about?

The Campaign for Wool is a global endeavour initiated by its Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, to raise awareness amongst consumers about the unique benefits offered by wool and call attention to the ecological advantages it delivers. The Campaign was launched by the Patron in January 2010 and has been celebrated in key international markets, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, South Africa, Canada, United States of America, New Zealand, Italy, Japan and China.

As part of this endeavour, The Campaign for Wool has drawn up The Dumfries House Wool Declaration which details the key attributes of this amazing natural resource. The Declaration is reproduced below from the Campaign for Wool website:

The Dumfries House Wool Declaration

The Dumfries House Conference 9 September 2016

The versatility of the Wool fibre has been appreciated by man since the stone ages and to this day keeps the modern consumer cool when they are active and protects the wearer from severe weather elements. Moisture on the skin is wicked away and no man-made fibre has the ability to regulate the body's temperature in all weather conditions like Wool does naturally.

With this Declaration we commit our efforts, time and talents to promote, educate and enforce the wonderful natural attributes of the Wool fibre, listed here below:

1. Wool is 100% natural:

A natural protein fibre that is similar to human hair. Wool grows naturally on sheep.

2. Wool is a renewable resource:

Consuming a simple blend of water, air, sunshine and grass, sheep produce a new fleece every year without depleting finite natural resources.

3. Wool forms part of a natural carbon cycle:

Sheep consume organic carbon by eating plants, and store this in their fleece. Fifty percent of a fleece's weight is pure organic carbon stored in a durable, wearable form.

4. Wool is a natural alternative to wasteful consumer practices:

Research shows that the average life of a Wool garment is 2-10 years, compared to 2-3 years for garments made from other fibres.

5. Wool was made for recycling:

Wool fibres are high quality and durable, capable of re-use and recycling, ultimately reducing land fill disposal. Wool is routinely upcycled into woollen-spun knitwear, insulation and geotextiles – all of which contribute to a circular economy.

6. Wool is biodegradable:

Wool decomposes in a matter of years, releasing valuable nitrogen-based nutrients back into the soil.

7. Wool is naturally odour resistant:

By absorbing moisture vapour, Wool garments leave less perspiration on the skin, reducing odour-causing bacteria. Easily refreshed by airing, Wool garments can be worn longer between washes due to Wool's natural ability to shed dirt and bacteria.

8. Wool is fire resistant & fire retardant:

Naturally high in nitrogen and water content, Wool's unique cell structure requires high levels of oxygen in order to burn, and forms an insulating layer when heated that prevents the spread of flames. Wool does not melt, drip or to stick to the skin when subject to extreme heat and produces less smoke and toxic fumes during combustion.

9. Wool improves indoor air quality:

When used in interior textiles such as carpets and upholstery, Wool absorbs and locks away pollutants such as volatile organic carbons (VOCs) from the air more rapidly than other fibres.

10. Wool is welfare assured:

The major woolgrowing countries namely Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay, all support the IWTO (International Wool Textile Organisation) and Campaign for Wool and conform to the strictest standards of animal welfare as embodied in the IWTO Specifications for Wool Sheep Welfare. The IWTO Specifications are premised on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare as set forth by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE): freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, the freedom to express normal behaviour, and freedom from fear and distress. The Five Freedoms also form the basis of strictly enforced national animal welfare legislation in each of these wool-growing countries.

About IWTO
With a worldwide membership encompassing the Wool pipeline from sheep to shop, the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) represents the interests of the global Wool trade. By facilitating research and development and maintaining textile industry standards, IWTO ensures a sustainable future for Wool. To learn more about IWTO and its activities, visit

Judith Goodfellow
New Year Reflections

Over Christmas I've had a little time to reflect about Fine Fettle Fibres and how I want the business to move forward in 2018. It's been a joy to see it grow and take shape over the past year and this seasonal break to normal routine has seemed like a good time to take stock of all that the business means to me and the ways in which I hope it can continue to flourish.

Fine Fettle Fibres is more to me than just a shop and I hope that it means more than that to my customers, also. I have come up with a short statement of why I run my business (over and above just keeping the wolf from the door...) which I'm happy to share in the hope that it might promote some conversation and interesting ideas. So, here's why Fine Fettle Fibres is what it is: 

  • To promote creativity through provision of the best materials available, and through sharing knowledge, inspiration and encouragement.
  • To offer a place where community can develop around a shared passion for yarn and knitting.
  • To make mutually helpful, instructive and stimulating connections with other woolly professionals.
  • To raise the profile of British wool as a superb, renewable, natural resource that deserves to be better appreciated and valued.

Getting these thoughts down has given me a foundation as I think about how to plan for 2018, and a touchstone to test my future plans against: will an idea promote creativity, community and connections or run counter to them?

Most plans for 2018 are still a work in progress – watch out for more news – but one of my first decisions of 2018 was to sign up to The Dumfries House Wool Declaration. Not sure what has taken me so long to get round to this but it feels like an excellent way to start the New Year! Not heard of the Declaration ... read on in my next post!

Judith Goodfellow
Skybluepink Designs: an interview with Jennie Howes

This month the supplier I am delighted to be talking to is hand spinner and dyer Jennie Howes of Skybluepink designs. Jennie supplies me with beautiful hanks of hand spun yarn and a delicious selection of her hand spun supercoil necklaces, all produced at her home in the Scottish Borders.

So Jennie, how did you first get into working with wool?  

Once upon a time, I can just about remember when I didn't have yarn in my hands - but it was a very long time ago! Grannies on both sides were complicit in enchanting me into wool world at a very young age, with a knitting dolly made from a cotton reel and four nails and making hundreds of yards (pre-metric) of i-cord – I wonder where that went? 

I then progressed onto a crochet hook to learn about tension and finally to knitting.

I started more serious knitting whilst still at school; we had at least four Local Yarn Shops in town and my sister and I used to go to the French wool shop to read the pattern books, select balls of yarn from the bargain bin and go home, knit what we'd read, then back again next night after school to read the next bit of the pattern. We figured this way, we could spend more on yarn and make more stuff! We quickly learnt how to construct our own patterns with this method!

How many woolly miles do you do in a year and where do they take you?  

We do at least one big woolly show per month between April and November, so we cover a fair few miles - north to Dornoch in chilly but bright March for the Dornoch Fibre Fest, then a couple of miles down the road to the St Abb's in Eyemouth Wool Festival in April. May sees us heading south one weekend to Stocksfield for the Spinners Gathering then a week later back up north again to Dingwall for the Highland Wool Festival. 

June is the trip across from East to West to Woolfest Cockermouth, July is south again to the British Wool Show, this year at the auction mart at Thirsk in North Yorkshire. In August we have two events on the same day(!) so Steve will be taking fibres and such to the Broughton Gathering – organised by the Edinburgh Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers – just south of Edinburgh, whilst I will be taking my handspun yarns and other beautiful things to the first Selvedge Fair at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh (very very exciting!!!). 

Then there's the Glendale Show at Wooler at the end of August – fairly local and a fabulous day out; in September we drive south to Skipton for Yarndale - are you tired yet....!   October sees us heading south west for the Kendal Wool Gathering, November back to Eyemouth for the autumn St Abb's in Eyemouth Wool Festival and finally (so far) the Melrose Crafters fair in Kelso for the last event of the year! Sounds like a lot, but so not as many as some folk do! That's about 2,500 miles or so...

What is important for you about British wool?

The variety of breeds available in the UK – and the difference in textures of fleeces and the uses they can be put to, feels limitless. There is something wonderful about sinking your hand deep into a raw fleece, the smell, the texture and how the locks of wool close over your fingers, imagining to what use you could put it and how it will feel to spin.

 How connected do you feel to our nation's woolly heritage?  

I think it's in the blood and bones! My father's family were silk weavers and his mum (my granny) worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire.

My mum's uncle had a drapers/tailors in Wigan and her mum was a great knitter.

Who are your woolly heroes?

My mum and grannies for getting me started.

Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

What is your most rewarding woolly activity? 

When I'm spinning, obviously I love spinning, then if I've got some needles in my hand, you can't beat knitting; a hook - crocheting is wonderful and so flexible, do you get the idea? I love it all!

An iris in the garden becomes ...

An iris in the garden becomes ...

Where do you get your inspiration from for your colours/yarn names/designs?  

My colours come from being outside and surrounded by an always harmonious mother nature. 

... The Iris - merino and silk blend fibre ready for spinning.

... The Iris - merino and silk blend fibre ready for spinning.

The names come sometimes from the places I've seen the colours (Milldown Rocks, The Silvery Sea, The Sea is Green) sometimes whimsy (Fade to blue, Blue for Ewe), other times after people who I've designed the colour ways for (Jean B, Michelle's Apples).Designing is a more fluid and intuitive process which I like to think of as sculpting – my yarns really do know what they want to be, so help me along the design path!

The green sea ...

The green sea ...

... becomes ...

... becomes ...

... The Sea is Green  Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

... The Sea is Green

Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

Photos: Skybluepink designs unless otherwise stated.

Judith Goodfellow
Deneburn Meadow – an interview with Fransje Sansom

I'm very fortunate at Fine Fettle Fibres to have some wonderful local yarn suppliers producing high quality yarns with something different to offer. Each of them uses British wool in different ways - using premium raw materials and spinning or dyeing them to create yarns that are a joy to knit with and which showcase the skill and diversity of the woolly folk of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

So I have decided to publish a series of blog posts in which I ask my suppliers to talk about their relationship with wool and the ways in which they use it. First up is Fransje Sansom of Deneburn Meadows near Wark in North Northumberland.

So Fransje, how did you first get into working with wool?

I studied Occupational Therapy in my early twenties. The course included art and craft subjects. One of these was textiles. I was intrigued by wool processing then, bought my first spinning wheel and got a fleece from a local farmer.

  • How many woolly miles do you do in a year and where do they take you?
Some of the beautiful colours Fransje achieves with natural dyes

Some of the beautiful colours Fransje achieves with natural dyes

I travel locally mainly. I have visited Woolfest and different agricultural shows in the borders and the north east, or when on holiday further afield. I sell my wool products at local wool events such as North Pennines Wool Fair, Wool on the Wall, Horsley Wool Fair, Hexham Farmers' Market and Tynedale Guild Gathering. My wool is also stocked in a few local wool shops and studios. We only have a small flock and wool stock is never high so I don’t go very far!

  • What is important for you about British wool?

Britain has such a great variety of sheep breeds and every wool type has its own merits. Wool is not only used in the clothing or furnishing industry but also in building and for other practical applications. We need to recognise it more, wear it more and use it more. I value sustainability and if you can produce or purchase something local, that is important to me. It is an environmentally friendly product and can be grown again and again.

Shearing time!

Shearing time!

  • Who are your woolly heroes?

The sheep for growing wool on their backs! I don’t really have a hero but learned to felt from Ellie Langley, who is amazingly skilled. She taught me about British wool breeds and how to felt. I also value the support I get from Shetland sheep breeders, many of them breed for wool and have a wealth of knowledge. For me wool and sheep are one entity.

One of Fransje's beautiful felted bowls made with fleece from her flock

One of Fransje's beautiful felted bowls made with fleece from her flock

  • Where do you get your inspiration from for your colours/yarn names/designs?

My local environment provides me with a pallet of colours. I use natural powder dyes and like warm, bold colours. Meadow, flower, heather, tree, sky, there are plenty to choose from. Our breeding ewes have wild flower names as well!

Fransje's flock near Wark in North Northumberland

Fransje's flock near Wark in North Northumberland

  • How connected do you feel to our nation's woolly heritage?

When travelling I will always find out if there are local mills, historic buildings, heritage centres or wool crafters to visit. I like reading and gathering books about wool and sheep. Having our own flock and working with local shepherds, I hear many stories – old and new – through hanging around the sheep pens! In medieval times wool was a money maker and until quite recently in history, the clip would pay for a farmer’s rent. Prices have been really low in modern times and most farmers breed for meat more than for wool.

It is great to be part of a world where people are promoting British wool and share the many ways of working with it, celebrating its heritage.

Locks from one of Fransje's flock

Locks from one of Fransje's flock

  • What is your most rewarding woolly activity?

Spinning gives me most satisfaction. I love quietly perfecting the skill. Feeling the wool slide through my hands. Appreciating different textures and colours. It is such a mesmerising and therapeutic activity. Once the bobbin comes off the wheel and the yarn is plied, washed and set, there is great pride in an even spin and balanced yarn.

  • Without giving away any closely guarded secrets, what new woolly ventures do you have in mind?

Being a keeper and breeder of sheep, my mind is always on the next generation of lambs and what wool they are going to grow. Though the majority of our flock are Shetlands, I have a Bluefaced Leicester ewe and some cross breeds. Both breeds produce a premium, fine wool. By interbreeding I hope to create the best of both worlds in their fleeces and thus the yarn. I try to build up stock of natural colours in the yarn and carded wool for traditional Fair Isle knitting. With a good quantity of white yarn, experimenting with new colour dyes is always on the horizon.

There are always too many projects on the list. Such are the possibilities with wool. Most of all; I’m still learning and I never know what will tickle my fancy next!

Judith Goodfellow
Cambrian Mountains Wool

I am absolutely delighted to be able to say that I am now a stockist of Cambrian Mountains Wool! This wonderful yarn is spun from 100% Finest Welsh Mule. The Welsh Mule is a cross between a Welsh Mountain or Beulah or Welsh Hill Speckled ewe and a Bluefaced Leicester sire. The wool is soft and lustrous, and is worsted spun to retain these qualities.

Cambrian Mountain Wool DK and 4ply

Cambrian Mountain Wool DK and 4ply

DK swatch

DK swatch

Cambrian Mountains Wool is a Community Interest Company.  A CIC is a limited company with some differences which ensure a fairer way of doing business, such as a greater proportion of net profit being retained for projects beneficial to the community. Cambrian Mountains Wool was set-up following much work with – and the support of – the Cambrian Mountains Initiative. This is one of the rural Initiatives founded by HRH Prince of Wales to help support and develop upland hill farming regions.

An opportunity was presented in 2014 to carry out a Feasibility Study to look at the possibilities (if any) of bringing wool, produced in the region, back into Wales as yarns for knitting and weaving in commercial and repeatable (and traceable) quantities. With the co-operation of the British Wool Marketing Board and Curtis Wools Direct, the  study was launched with the 2015 International Design and Make Challenge which gave designers the opportunity to find ways to use the tops, yarns and fabrics that were being trialled. The resulting collection was toured as an exhibition to gauge interest, with much success.

Which is how I first encountered Cambrian Mountains Wool! I saw the exhibition when it was displayed at the Hay Literary Festival in 2015 and was greatly impressed by the quality of the wool and its versatility.  Depending on their craft the designers could use either 1kg of wool tops, 1kg yarn, or up to 3 meters of fabric of a plain woven structure (or a mixture of the three) to create a unique textile work – whether functional or purely decorative.

I remember the exhibition clearly as the results were stunning: soft furnishings, wall art, garments, bags and more. In particular I remember a delightful wool sculpture of a knitter and her sheep by North Wales artist Ceri Williams that I couldn't resist photographing, and a knitted jacket with Elizabethan overtones by Sue James from Llynfi Textiles.


Above: Wool Sculpture by Ceri Williams on display at the Hay Festival 2015 – so endearing!

Right: Jacket by Sue James of Llynfi Textiles 

It was this same jacket that caught my eye at this year's Edinburgh Yarn Festival where I met up again with Sue and began the process of becoming the first stockist of Cambrian Mountains Wool outside Wales! 

The yarn is available in DK and 4ply in a wonderful range of colours, all inspired by the landscapes and life of the rugged west of Wales:

Hafan: 'haven' or 'home'. And the name of an old mine yielding a beautiful blue mineral.

Welsh Red: a mix of oxide red and rusty old madder, with a dollop of mystical rowan berry. Not too red, not too rusty – Cottage doors and flannel petticoats.

Mineral Yellow: a deep sort of yellow, not acid or bright. The yellow of the earth and the mines rather than the hedgerows.

Ironstone: warm and cheery orange, not glowing. The slightly rusty orange that colours the local stone.

Slate: that greyish, dusty purple – it’s all in the name.

Shale: the darkest grey, softer than black – the abandoned spoils of the mine darkened by rain.

Arian: in English -silver!

Cegin: kitchen, homeplace; smokey warm, limestone and hooded fireplace.

I'm just back from the Hay Festival, where this journey started, and delighted to receive my first supplies of Cambrian Mountains Wool project. I'm eager to get my first project on the needles but there will still be plenty left in the shop for you to come and squish ... I can't recommend it highly enough so do come and see for yourself!

Judith Goodfellow
Walcot Yarns

Edinburgh Yarn Festival is a very dangerous place for a yarn-aholic and 2017 was no exception! Already laden with bags of unresisted temptation, I stumbled across Walcot Yarns. I think the stylish labelling on the subtle natural grey and white shades of their Opus 4ply first caught my eye, but it was the feel of this soft and lofty yarn that sold it to me: one squish and I was lost. One sight of the swatch of coloured shades (at that time yet to come) only made matters worse...

It was only later that I learnt a little of the story of the development of this yarn – a wonderfully soft blend of 70% Falklands Merino and 30% Baby Alpaca spun into a 4 ply yarn and available in 9 colours and 2 natural shades. It is the first yarn from a new collaboration between Sharon Spencer of Great British Yarns and Carmen Schmidt of A Yarn Story who, at the time, both had yarn shops in Bath.

Sharon told me:

'We both really wanted to have our own yarn and after lots of discussion came up with the Opus blend. It took a while to find a mill that could make something as lovely as we wanted and we were very lucky to find a British mill that could do everything from sourcing the fibre to spinning the yarn.'

The yarn is then sent to be dyed by a UK company which usually dyes cashmere and so is used to handling luxury yarns. Sharon and Carmen have come up with a striking palette of rich, subtle and saturated colours that blend well with each other and with the natural grey and white shades. It's then returned to the mill to be hanked and packaged.

Sharon and Carmen have also put together a stylish collection of patterns including accessories – both knitted and crocheted – and garments, that complement Opus.

Sharon told me:

'We felt strongly that the yarn had to have really strong patterns that show it off beautifully and again, we were lucky to find designers such as Amanda, Rachel and Jo who have produced gorgeous patterns.'

Sharon told me:

'Our future plans are very exciting. We are planning a new collection and a few new shades for autumn and then we hope to launch another yarn next spring.'  

I am delighted that Sharon and Carmen have agreed to take me on as their first stockist of Opus (apart from themselves, of course!). As a firm believer in – and supporter of – independent yarn producers, I really applaud their initiative in taking the risk and putting in the sheer hard work involved in creating their own yarn. It can't have been easy to do that but the results are stunning and show what can be done by individuals who are passionate about yarn and can see the potential of their ideas.

With so many large, commercial yarn producers dominating the yarn market, it is really encouraging to see what can be done by two women with enthusiasm, determination and vision. Serious knitters have always valued the diversity and individuality of small scale, independently produced yarns and Opus 4ply is a worthy addition to their options.

My first project in Opus 4 ply is already on the needles beside me as I write and will be on display in the studio as soon as it is complete. Given how successful Opus 4ply has been, I await with great interest the next yarn from Walcot Yarns and confidently expect you will be finding it on the shelves of Fine Fettle Fibres in due course.

Judith Goodfellow