Excuse the corny headline. My 13 yr old caught sight of my blog title as I was typing this post today (otherwise named “Why I like New Zealand wool”) and said “So… you’re writing an essay now are you?” I replied that most of my blog posts were pretty much essays. To which he said “No wonder you don’t get too many readers! Why don’t you go the full hog and start with an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion!?” (Immediately puncturing my pride that I was achieving hits of 70 readers on some days…). Teenagers can be so harsh.
However, undeterred, I shall now be geeky and go ahead with my essay on New Zealand wool!
I love yarn. As you’ll know by now. And I have an especial weakness for New Zealand wool. You’ll have guessed that part of the reason is because I live in New Zealand. But, there are other reasons too, which I’m going to attempt to list and not write a long pointy-headed post on the subject:
1. New Zealand sheep have the highest fleece weights in the world at 4.5 – 5kg clean. The global average is 1.2kg. (This refers to the useability of the fleece and lack of vegetable and black matter in the wool). So there’s less waste, for a start.
2. New Zealand wool is, by reason of our wonderful climate and uncrowded living environment, a reasonably eco yarn to start with. Our sheep are grass-fed (supplemented by hay and other crops in winter) and are not mulesced.
3. New Zealand’s history with sheep dates as far back as this country’s first British settlers. Although early attempts to introduce sheep met with unfortunate endings, sheep meat and wool ultimately became the economic backbone of this country for a good long while – and still are part of it, although various other offerings from the primary industry are now added to the mix. I think it’s very important that sheep continue to have a good presence in this country (all the more to contain the rampant growth of that footprint unfriendly dairy industry here). In order to make that happen, it needs to continue to be profitable for farmers, so I use it.
4. Because wool has been so important to New Zealand’s economy, a lot of scientific research has gone into developing sheep that have the right qualities in their wool. In knitting terms, this means that as a result, our yarn is very comfortable and nice to wear once knitted.
Why I like wool in general:
1. I enjoy using a fibre that has been an important part of human history for thousands of years. The world history of sheep and their development into the animals that we know today is fascinating.
2. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water vapour without feeling damp; under normal conditions wool contains about 15% water. Heat is produced when wool absorbs moisture from the air. This contributes warmth to the wearer, in addition to its insulating properties. That is very good for the wet New Zealand winters, where most of our homes lack the central heating benefits of other Western countries.
3. Wool is stretchy – it is very comfortable to knit with, and wear.
4. Not all wool is the same. It’s fascinating to learn about all the different breeds that produce wool, and their various qualities! To knit with the different wool is also an excellent lesson in diversity.
5. If you’ve ever fed a pet lamb, or been around sheep for long, you’ll ending up loving their personalities. Loving their fibre is a natural extension.
A bit about NZ wool and sheep:
Wool is classed commercially according to its mean fibre diameter, measured in microns. One micron is approximately one millionth of a meter. Today, New Zealand wool can be roundly classed into three main categories:
Fine, or superfine (15 – 18 microns) and fine (18 – 23 microns). This wool comes from the New Zealand merino breed. To the average person, this micron count means the wool is so soft that rubbed against the cheek, you only feel softness, and no scratch. The individual fibres are so fine that you actually cannot make them out with the naked eye. Microfibre – eat my wool!
Medium (mid-micron) (23 – 30 microns) and (30 – 34 microns). This wool is generally produced by Corriedale and Halfbred sheep, and although slightly coarser than fine, it is still well within next-to-the-skin wearability and feels soft to the touch. Those with very sensitive skin may still complain about scratch for some of this wool. (I understand that the scientific ‘scratch threshold’ is 30 microns).
Coarse (strong) (34 – 40 microns). This wool mainly comes from Romney, Coopworth and Perendale breeds. It is most commonly made into carpets, bedding and insulation.
In addition to the breeds mentioned above, there approximately 20 other registered breeds in New Zealand, not all suitable for knitting yarn usage. At least one, scandalously, does not have any wool at all! A worrying trend in the economics of shearing sheep.
New Zealand is still the second-largest exporter of wool, next to Australia. How much of that is for knitting yarn, I’m not sure. Statistics do not paint an accurate picture, although one statistic by Agresearch Ltd indicates that 25% of our wool is used for hand knitting yarn.
Conclusion (get it?)
Natural fibres have unfortunately been cast aside by many in their love of petrochemical-based “technically advanced” materials, misinformedly believing them as somehow ‘superior’. What they do not know is that these ‘technical advancements’ essentially mimic natural fibre qualities in any event. Now that oil is becoming an expensive resource, it will be interesting to see how much longer the perceived cost advantages of a synthetic material continue to outweight natural fibres.
Using a natural fibre like wool allows us to retain our links to our history, and, if not doused with too many chemicals (pesticides, fire-retardants and the like) or miles in their processing travels, are a very eco-friendly.
Above all, wool today is not how some people remember it. Today’s combination of the beauty of a natural fibre, along with the developed breeds of warmer and less scratchy wool (and the ability to blend it with other fibres such as alpaca and possum), opens the door to a whole new generation of wearers who will remember it as warm, cuddly and comfortable, and not the scratchy, windproofless version of the past.
Wool rules! 😉
Acknowledgment of information sources:
– Agresearch Ltd (Everything you need to know about New Zealand wool!) (www.agresearch.co.nz)
– A short history of Sheep in New Zealand, Richard Wolfe, 2006
– Meat & Wool New Zealand website (www.meatnz.co.nz)
– Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry (www.maf.govt.nz)
– New Zealand Sheep Breeders Association (www.nzsheep.co.nz)