I've been undergoing much research during the past few years into the best types of Welsh and British wool, their uses, the processing journey and costs. I have a passion for sheep and wool which probably started when I was younger, helping on the farm during lambing and shearing, and also going on the lorry collecting wool from farms all over Mid Wales with my Dad, who used to drive for the Wool Producers of Wales (part of the British Wool Marketing Board). I finally decided to go to university to fullfill my dreams and express my passion for wool and realise it's potential, especially of that produced in Wales; I already enjoyed felting, and at Carmarthen School of Art I have been learning how to weave. I'm now going into my 3rd and final year of study, specialising in weave. I invested in small table loom last December, and have recently bought myself a peg loom.
Our sheep were shorn by my husband and brother on May bank holiday, fleeces sorted and rolled by me and my father-in-law. I picked out the best ones to take forward to use for yarn, so along with a few from last year (some of which are from other Welsh farms too), I now have enough wool to send to be commercially spun. My only problem is the processing costs, which is upwards of £1500.
I've decided that I will wash the fleeces and remove any vegetable matter myself, and I will also be in control of grading , instead of relying on the mill to do these processes; but if I can card it myself too, then this would lessen the overall cost further (to approximately £800) as it wouldn't take so long for the wool to be processed into roving, so it may be spun into yarn. Not only would it reduce the cost of this annual labour intensive process but it would also mean I own the carder, so it would keep the cost down every year.
Owning the carder will also allow me process small batches of fleece (single fleeces, various coloured breeds, longwools, processing a single fleece especially for somebody) myself ready for felting or hand-spinning, and also teach others, do demonstrations, etc. It would enable more of my ideas come to life and expand my products, as I could process harsher wools to make rugs with my peg loom, and maybe sell coloured/breed specific batts to dyers, spinners and felters. I would be in more control of the 'waste'- what is classed as 'waste' fibre to a mill, I could actually use it to make a rug, and therefore keeping to a zero waste ethic. I'm also trying to keep to a low CO2/environmental impact ethic, using hand powered equipment instead of electrical, so the more I do by hand, less gets done at the mill, which is run by electricity.
In turn, all this would continue to help me promote Welsh and British wool even more, promote sheep farming in Wales and throughout Britain, and also give farmers a better price for their wool, as I purchase fleeces from other Welsh farmers aswell as using our own.