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Who grew your jumper?

This Christmas, why not give your loved one a warm, natural, sustainable jumper? You might fancy one yourself. So, something made of wool, grown and made in the UK. We have 33 million sheep here and a tradition of spinning and knitting. So it can’t be that difficult. Or can it?

First, a quick reminder why sheep’s wool is brilliant. It is natural, renewable, welfare-bringing, temperature-regulating, moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic, elastic and fully biodegradable. And British wool is now traceable to the sheep which thrive on our native hillsides and valleys in a climate ideally suited to them. Whereas fast fashion, with its synthetic fibres, is the second-biggest polluter on the plant.

Yet we no longer value our wool. The prices in this once wool-proud land are scandalously low. A hill farmer friend recently received £311 for his (2022) 1,500kg fleece crop. It doesn’t cover the cost of shearing. Will wearing British wool help farmers? Can we kit out to help out?

The quest for wool

Finding any wool content is the first challenge, especially on the high street. By my count, only about 12% of the women’s jumpers on the current M&S website contain any wool. Boden lists 262 items under women’s jumpers and cardigans, but search for wool and just nine items appear, none with more than 45% wool.

The next question is, which wool? Soft and smooth merino is popular but the vast majority will have started life in Australia or New Zealand: an average of 18,000 wool miles per jumper. Dodging merino isn’t easy. Even specialist knitwear brands which trade on being British, such as or Peregrine, can’t resist merino for much of their collections.

What should I look for?

A British Wool shepherds crook logo confirms a garment is made with genuine British wool grown by British sheep farmers. For wool that is both soft and British, look out for garments made from the Bluefaced Leicester breed, often billed as our merino alternative. Or seek out ‘Supersoft’ lambswool and Shetland where the fibre has been given an extra softening treatment.

But if you want British-made, you still need to examine the labels to see where it has been knitted, even with natural fibre specialists. Toast sells over 60 knits on its website. Only one is truly UK grown and made. The others are made in countries including China, Italy, Portugal and Turkey. Its Donegal jumper is spun in Eire but knitted in Romania.  

Why is this? Although there are still some family-run spinners in the UK, the knitting industry, on any scale, has drained away. When Rosemary Eribé set up her knitwear company in the Scottish Borders in 1986, there were 250 luxury textile manufacturers in the area. Now there are fewer than 10. As her business grew, she had to outsource the knitting of her intricate Fairisle garments to a family-run business in Poland, because they had the skills and the machinery.

How to get that warm feeling

Fairilse pattern

Below are some examples of jumpers that are fully grown and made here. Yes, some are expensive, but that is the price to be paid for quality, traceability, and for non-mass-produced things. Just factor in longevity, cost per wear, a warm feeling from buying sustainably and supporting British traditional industries, and the natural beauty of a well-made woollen jumper. If that’s not enough, remember that wool jumpers need little washing.

Ten truly traceable British jumpers (price ascending)

1.      The Wool Company Womens:Guernsey Sweater 100% British wool, crafted in England. £108

2.      Glencroft Countrywear Womens:Limestone Pavement Jumper  Manufactured in the UK entirely from the wool of British sheep. £109.95. Mens: Beck British Wool Nordic Jumper

3.      Celtic Womens:British wool Pointelle Jumper 100% British Wool. Made in Britain. £135. Mens: Men’s Waffle Stitch Crew;   Cardigan

4.      Eribé Womens: Westray Vest Supersoft Shetland. Wool spun in Yorkshire, knitted in Scotland. £142. Mens: Brodie Sweater | Fairisle Sweater Bruar Sweater  

5.      Toast Womens: Marled British Wool Seamless Sweater Crafted from British wool, grown, scoured, spun, and knitted by family-run Manufacturers, including Lightowlers spinners near Huddersfield). £175. British Wool Cable Knit Sweater ;Crew Neck British Wool Seamless Sweater ; Crew Neck British Wool Seamless Sweater)  

6.      Yan Tan Womens:Haldi Neutral Stripe 100% Brtiish Wool. £175 Mens: Hugh

7.      Navygrey

Womens: Field Crew jumper.  Made from wool sourced exclusively from British farms, 145 miles from fibre to jumper. £245. XS -XL. Five colours.

8.      Herdwear

Womens: Ingleton Jumper Made from fully traceable Bluefaced Leicester sheep wool, processed within 150 miles of the farms and knitted in England. Natural shades or plant-dyed.£245.

9.      Charl Knitwear Womens: Craske jumper Crafted in Nottinghamshire from 100% certified British wool; fleece to finished jumper in under 125 miles. £285. (Mens: Harrison Jumper )

10.  Folk Clothing Womens: Cawley – Amelia Pullover Made In Scotland using 100% British lambswool. £375.

Other options for men: Pioneer British Wool Cardigan Grey ( Neck Submariner (C382) – Richmond;  Waffle Shawl Cardigan – Peregrine

Finally, there is an alternative – knit your own! You can find plenty of British yarn from native breeds in local fibre shops and online.

Rare breed yarn at Fibreworks, Chipping Norton

© Laura Parker

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Sheep, Sustainability, Wool

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