Wool conference

A while ago I attended a two-day wool conference for wool entrepreneurs. The conference was very popular and I was flattered just to be invited. All kinds of businesses were represented, from one-woman companies like mine to world-wide selling brands like Fjällräven. In today’s blog post I summarize some of the lectures.

Swedish wool for a sustainable future

The theme of the conference was Swedish wool for a sustainable future. I/5 of Swedish wool is used while the rest (around 1400 tons) is burnt, destroyed or otherwise wasted. At the same time we import 300 tons of wool, preferably from New Zealand.

The wool conference was crowded with wool enthusiasts on the edges of their seats to take part of the scrumptious program. There were lots of lecturers, all of which we greeted with a Jyväskylä applause. In a Jyväslylä applause the audience gives the new speaker a standing ovation when they go on stage. All the lecturers felt very welcomed!

You can see the slides from most of the presentations here. Some of them are in English.

The conference also included workshops about how to improve the value chain of Swedish wool. We also workshopped around the possibility of a national wool event. Many ideas were outlined and I look forward to the proceedings of these ideas.

Let’s stop wasting Swedish wool

The Innovation manager at Fjällräven (who make the popular Kånken backpack) talked under the headline “Let’s stop wasting Swedish wool now” about how they had started to use Swedish wool in their products. It turned out that many customers are afraid of itching material if the label says anything else than merino. So they started using Swedish wool for purposes not next-to-skin, like filling in down-like jackets and pressed together to form the back plate of backpacks.

Fjällräven also started a cooperation with Swedish sheep farms with Jämtland sheep. The Jämtland sheep is our newest breed, a cross between Swedish meat breeds and merino which gives a very fine wool with elasticity and shine. The compant made a small-scale edition of sweaters and showed that it really works to produce garments in Swedish wool.

Long locks of very fine wool and lots of crimp.
Jämtland wool has the crimpiest crimp.

The innovation manager at Fjällräven saw my embroidery on my Fjällräven wool backpack. He snapped a picture of it and sent it to the designer who loved my embroidered pimping!

A dark grey woolen backpack with a flower embroidery on the flap.
My Fjällräven backpack is made of wool. The embroidery is my own.

Circular wool clothes

The Swedish sheep breeders’ association talked about the project Circular wool clothes. In the project they network, invent and collects knowledge about the whole circular value chain from shearing, through use and recycling and eventually composting. The goal is to economize all the parts of the chain and find use in every fiber including residue and bi-products. The project is a cooperation between The Swedish Sheep breeders’ association, the Swedish farmers’ association, the University of Borås and the Swedish brands Filippa K and Röjk.

Alice Lund handwoven textiles

Alice Lund textiles is a handweaving company specializing in textiles for both private public spaces. Many of their textiles can be seen in churches in the county of Dalarna or in lobbies around the U.S. and Japan. Through their products but also through research and lectures they spread knowledge about handweaving as well as the immaterial cultural heritage.

Functional products from Swedish wool

CC wool has found a way to use crossbred wool of uneven quality, wool that many sheep farmers have had trouble finding use for. They collect wool from local sheep farmers, educate them on wool quality and shearing conditions to make sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives for animal owners. The company makes non woven horse and dog blankets from the wool they collect.

A basket with rolled-up wool blankets.
CC wool makes dog and horse blankets out of uneven crossbred wool

Scouring wool

Ullkontoret is a Swedish scouring mill for wool. They started to investigate how to use the vast amounts of Swedish wool that was wasted. Regardless of the ideas they came up with, there was always the same obstacle: The wool needed to be washed. So they bought a wool laundry from Spain and started Sweden’s first wool laundry in a larger scale. They use rain-water only and very little detergent. The waste water is used on their own fields.

Ullkontoret make needle punched felt products of some of the wool they wash.

A lot of the washed wool is used to make needle punched felt. I buy it regularly and use it to maka spindle cases for my spinning courses.

Three tubes made in felted wool.
I make spindle cases from needle punched felt from Ullkontoret. Photo by Dan Waltin

Norway and wool

One problem for the Swedish wool industry is that there is no classification system of Swedish wool. Norway has a long and strong tradition of sheep farming and wool use. Two representatives from the Norwegian company Norilia talked at the wool conference about Norwegian wool and how it is being taken care of. Norwegian sheep farmers receive subsidies to make sure the goals for sheep industries are reached and to improve the quality of Norwegian wool.

Wool from Norwegian pelssau

No waste

Norway produces over 4000 tons of wool every year. 75% of this wool is being exported. The remaining 25 % goes to Norwegian woolen mills. Nothing is wasted. Even the thigh and belly wool is saved and made into rugs. This can be compared to Swedish wool – we burn (oh, the irony), destroy or otherwise waste 80 % of our wool. This figure used to be a lot higher, though and the larger interest in taking care of Swedish wool is a proof that we are better at using this wonderful resource. It is also the reason I started spinning. I wanted to do what I could to use Swedish wool to its best potential.

A classifying system

Norway also has a system of classifying wool, something that Sweden lacks. There are 16 categories of wool in the Norwegian classifying system, sorting after when the wool was shorn (whole-year, spring shearing or autumn shearing), breed type and if the wool is very coarse, has vegetable matter or has otherwise a lower quality. 3800 tons of raw Norwegian wool is classified at one of the eight wool stations every year.

The Swedish wool agency

One initiative that has been taken lately is the Swedish wool agency – a digital marketplace for Swedish wool. It has been born out of the fact that so much Swedish wool goes to waste. Fia Söderberg has developed the digital marketplace where buyers can find the wool they are interested in and sheep owners can find use for their wool and get paid. The wool agency also strives to increase the general knowledge about Swedish wool and to make it more easily available to buyers.

When you visit the wool agency you will see ads that can contain information of sheep breed, when the wool was shorn, if the sheep was sheared by a professional shearer, staple length, degree of vegetable matter and other useful information. The agency also provides guides for buyers and sellers that list important things to think about when shearing and what potential buyers may be interested in.

A happy sheep

Shepherdess, agronomist and lamb advisor Titti Strömne has been around sheep for the past 41 years. She calls her business Glada Fåret, the happy sheep. Through this time she has experienced 16 generations of Swedish finewool sheep. At the conference she talked about wool quality. Swedish finewool sheep is one of three Swedish sheep breeds that is bred for the wool quality, alongside Jämtland sheep and Rya sheep.

Wool quality can come from both genetic and environmental factors.

Genetics

To be able to breed for wool quality the wool needs to be measured and registered. Aspects that are measured are staple length, homogeneity, shine, density and quality. The results are transformed to breeding values to help the sheep farmer decide which animals to use for breeding.

A fleece with short and crimpy staples
I always come back to Swedish finewool.

In Sweden around 3 % of all sheep are measured and registered for wool quality. This can be compared to 30% being measured and inspected for fur quality (to make pretty skins).

Environmental factors

Nutrition and stress can influence the quality of the wool. The summer of 2018 was a very dry one. Many sheep farmers had trouble finding pastures and some had to slaughter their animals. The sheep farmer’s care for the animals will have an impact on the quality of the wool through the whole length of the staple. A happy sheep will produce higher quality wool.

Happy is the new black

One of the most interesting lectures for me was about trends. A Swedish trend scout started by saying that consumption is so old and out. In 2020 people won’t want to consume stuff anymore – lots of stores run out of business. The customers want to live more sustainable lives. He said that in 2020 people will be interested in products that

  • have a story
  • are genuine
  • are locally produced
  • are made in sustainable materials.

His conclusion was that people don’t want more stuff. Instead they want experiences that give them joy – Happy is the new black.

With these words I feel that the services I provide – blog posts, videos, webinars and courses in spinning and wool – are right on track. I have said it before and I will say it again. And again:

Happy spinning!


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