Wool – Fact & Fiction

FeaturedWool – Fact & Fiction

A guest blog by Martin Curtis, Chairman of the Wool Carpet Focus Group.  Originally written for the SMG Group, as featured in SMG News – Spring 2018 (issue 187, published 1st March 2018) hosted on ISSUU.com

MMC @ Haworth Scouring
Martin Curtis, Chairman of the Wool Carpet Focus Group

Some people are surprised that I am still involved in the wool industry – some, indeed, might be disappointed that I am!  On the other hand, a lot of people understand my reasons and perhaps appreciate them.

My father married my mother immediately after the Second World War.  She came from Yorkshire and in those days the wool industry was a thriving part of the economy. Bradford, once the capital of the wool world, still had a rich wool heritage and there were many wool merchants, scouring and combing companies and a whole army of linked trades that supported it.

Haworth Scouring Scour
Haworth Scouring Ltd, Bradford

Bradford was blessed with naturally soft water, essential for washing wool and had local manufacturers of textile machinery and customers like spinners, weavers and tailors. Unfortunately, in the 1950’s and 60’s the wool industry met with increasing competition from synthetic fibres and all sorts of petrochemical products were developed and flooded the market.

In actual fact, there was absolutely nothing wrong with wool; it was just a massive advertising campaign by the synthetic fibre conglomerates that overwhelmed it.  We were told that synthetics were the future, oil was plentiful and cheap and in actual fact people exaggerated hugely about the benefits that some synthetic fibres were supposed to have.  I remember being told by a senior manager of one company that they used to heat wool carpet in an oven to dry it to the bone so that it would burn for the demonstration they were giving!

I hate false advertising!  I am not keen on those snake-oil salesmen who come out with false claims like a carpet is bleach cleanable!  Bleach is not a cleaning agent, it is a strong and effective disinfectant.  Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in micro-organisms and is therefore effective in killing bacteria, fungus and viruses.  So use it in your lavatories, kitchens and drains but don’t put it on your carpets because if you do and you don’t neutralise it it will stay there and can be harmful to children and pets.  So the next time a salesperson says this carpet is bleach cleanable you should smile and ask them if they pour bleach on their carpets?  In actual fact most carpet people I speak to all prefer wool carpets and they clean very well and very easily!

Drying out wool carpets in an oven to make them burn is quite a hideous thing to do.  Can you imagine?  The fact is that wool needs more oxygen than exists in our atmosphere in order to burn.

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Dr Mike Madden of Enco Global Testing Services Ltd, performing a fire test demonstration on a wool carpet

Everything can be made to burn but that is not the point.  Wool will self extinguish itself if a candle, or a match or a cigarette or a burning ember from the fire lands on it.  Perhaps there is an electrical fault?  It will char, singe and it will form a barrier which stops the flame from spreading and from going through the carpet into the underlay.  It can slow the spread of a fire in your home, hotel, block of flats or wherever it is fitted.  I think we all recognise the singeing smell of wool, it isn’t the same as the black acrid toxic fumes that come from oil based synthetics!  Synthetics melt and if you are wearing something plastic and it catches fire heaven help you!  Wool won’t melt and stick to your skin…..

So, put to one side the throw away comments made by the synthetic fibre people, take a closer look and see what other benefits we seem to have forgotten about that wool has in bundles!

We have called these special attributes Woolabilities!  We wanted to be able to describe them in memorable terms and hopefully in a single word with a simple but honest meaning – I confess we did invent one or two of them ourselves!

The first was that wool has Bouncebackability!  Wool has natural crimp, curls along its length just like a spring.  When wool is pressed down it has the ability to bounce back to its original shape.  This leads to the carpet looking better for longer.

We invented the word Unflammability!  Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing which we felt was a little confusing so we made it perfectly clear ~ wool has natural resistance to fire which makes me feel safer for one.

Talking about being safe, I think we are beginning to learn more and more about the air we breath and the environment in which we live.  One of wool’s least know properties is that it is able to filter Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) from the air we breathe and lock them safely and permanently into its core.  We call this Breathability and it also describes how wool actually absorbs and releases moisture which makes it more comfortable to wear, sleep on or under and live with.

Following from the environmental benefits above we have to mention the much underrated sheep itself.  I coined the phrase that sheep are “the original free range animal”.  They are able to graze the hills and dales and keep the countryside neat and tidy.  They fertilise the land, naturally.  They grow a fleece during the spring and summer that protects them from the autumn and winter weather.  They produce lambs, another fleece and the cycle continues.  They provide us with protein and in some countries they are milked.  We really should appreciate these wonderful animals more as we should their wool!  We have called this natural cycle Sustainability.

One leading industry expert has told me that wool carpets actually clean better and look better after cleaning than synthetics and without the use of harmful chemicals.  I have personally seen him demonstrate the removal of a whole spilled glass of red wine from a light beige carpet and it never left a trace.  Without more of a do we call this Cleanability.

If we were to bundle all the benefits of owning and living with a wool carpet or rug we would use the word Wearability.  It says it all.  Wool wears better, it is better for you, it looks better, feels better and by golly it is better!

I have rambled on a bit but I hope some honest truths will get home the message that wool is the best fibre for your carpets and rugs and many many other products too for that matter.  I am delighted to say that Dr Mike Madden of ENco would be happy to discuss all the above with you and verify that there is true science behind the woolly stories.

Perhaps this is what keeps me interested and enthused about this wonderful wool industry and why I am still hanging around….

Martin Curtis


Wool Carpet Focus Group




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‘Know Real Shetland’ by the Real Shetland Company

Featured‘Know Real Shetland’ by the Real Shetland Company

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of The Real Shetland Company and we have come a very long way since we first started trading.

The Real Shetland CompanyThe company was originally formed to create, market and promote a distinguishable brand for wool sourced exclusively from Shetland, Real Shetland Wool (RSW).  At the time, there were many impostor products that used the term ‘Shetland’ in goods that mostly contained cheap foreign wools or synthetic fibres.


Over the following 10 years, working closely with our partners on Shetland, Jamieson and Smith (J&S, the home of RSW) and their parent company, Curtis Wool, we succeeded in defining our brand which is now recognised and highly sought after, all over the world.

It is with great sadness that now in 2018, we see a re-emergence of those imposter products, desperate to latch onto the heritage and quality of genuine RSW.

The Shetland ‘Type’

Unbeknown to many, there is a technical loophole that exists from a time when ‘Shetland’ referred to a quality of yarn or finished product.  This term is now outdated and mostly unused bar for a select few manufacturers who seek to exploit it.

Shetland Definition - Trading Standards
Shetland Definition courtesy of Trading Standards (UK)

In our opinion, the correct description of a non-Shetland wool product choosing to use the Shetland name should be clearly marked as ‘Shetland Type’ but for malicious purposes, these ‘type’ products are often simply marketed as ‘Shetland’.

We cannot mention any specific manufacturers, suppliers or retailers but we can inform and educate our customers as to the difference between our products as well as share a little of the Shetland Story behind our brand.

The simple truth is that even these ‘type’ products must properly describe their wool content so we ask that whenever seeking a genuine RSW throw, cushion, carpet or similar, you take a moment to check the wool content.  Most ‘Shetland Type’ goods are made using Australian Merino or NZ lambs wool.

The manufacturers who use this loophole are actively harming the Shetland crofting community who we have tried so hard to support.

The Shetland Story

The heritage of Real Shetland Wool dates back to the Vikings, who are believed to have brought Norwegian sheep to the Islands which were then bred with local sheep.  The Shetland Islands were the ideal landing point for early Viking settlers and a perfect environment for raising sheep, who thrive on the land.

Shetland Sheep
Sheep enjoying the luscious Shetland countryside

With grassy hills, kelp laden beaches and a contrasting climate specific to Shetland, the sheep living here grow a unique fleece, both springy and crinkly.  Today, the eco-system is much the same but the Viking farmers have descended into who we now refer to as crofters.  The Shetland crofting community continue to care for their sheep in much a similar manner but with the added benefit of modern day animal husbandry techniques to maintain their health.

Given the unique characteristics of Real Shetland Wool, demand for the fibre remained constant until imposter products started to flood the market.

Through J&S, Curtis Wool sought to support this important crofting community by offering a stable and generous price for their wool, shortly after, the RSC was formed.

J&S buy the vast majority of all wool grown in Shetland and deal direct with over 700 Shetland crofters, maintaining the commitment to buy wool at a price well above that of their mainland counterparts.

With there only being a relatively small amount of wool produced on Shetland, the balance of the annual Shetland wool clip tends to remain on the Islands.  The RSC and our partners are the only businesses with access to enough RSW with which to offer a diverse range of genuine RSW products.  Buying RSW products, helps our network support the Shetland wool industry.

The Future for Real Shetland Wool

Here at the RSC, we feel that the argument for the ‘Shetland Type’ terminology is a dishonest and misleading tactic that damages the good reputation we have forged for wool sourced from Shetland.  Unfortunately, as long as this loophole exists, there is little we can do about it other than educate the public.

Sadly, even some customers of the manufacturers exploiting this loophole believe their products to be RSW when in fact it is not.  Whether this is them turning a blind eye or that they’ve been purposely mislead by their supplier, we can’t be sure.

We see the future in a positive light, providing we can continue to get this message across.  With there now being a ‘origin’ wool test that can identify the origins of a fibre, we hope that we can challenge the imposters and once again defend RSW.

All we can ask of you is to seek out Real Shetland Wool and enjoy all the benefits of our fibre that these impostors are trying so hard to imitate.  Remember, RSW is easily identified by the Three Sheep logo; if you don’t see the Three Sheep, it probably isn’t Real Shetland Wool.

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The Three Sheep logo – used by suppliers of genuine RSW

Friends of Real Shetland Wool

The Real Shetland Company is not the only manufacturer of genuine RSW products.  We do have the most varied range of RSW goods, ranging from throws, bedding, carpets and more (now available through www.adamcurtisonline.co.uk) but it would be wrong not to mention some of our fellow supporters and their high-quality products.

Jamieson and Smith are the home of Real Shetland Wool and have a stunning array of hand knitting yarns, wool top, garments and more.  Located in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, J&S is where Martin Curtis set the foundations for Shetland Wool Week.  We are proud to have worked with them for so many years.

Oliver Henry of Jamieson and Smith during Shetland Wool Week
Oliver Henry at Jamieson and Smith giving one of very popular wool talks about Real Shetland Wool and what he looks for in a good fleece

Vispring are one of the UK’s most prestigious bed manufacturers and huge supporters of the Shetland wool industry.  Their commitment to the RSW brand has been paramount in enabling our partners maintain fair prices for the Shetland wool clip.

Vispring Shetland Superb
Shetland Superb mattress by Vispring – made with Platinum Certified RSW

Dries Van Noten, the acclaimed fashion designer has taken a special interest in RSW and used it alongside the J&S branding in a range of clothing seen on catwalks and in the music world.

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Thank You

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support.  The last 10 years have been filled with ups and downs but we would never have made it this far without our wonderful customers who have helped us conduct our business and develop our brand.  We look forward to serving you and defending RSW long into the future.

ACO Note:

For those of you who are unaware, The Real Shetland Company Ltd and Adam Curtis Online are part of the same family business network.  Together we strive to support British textiles and promote eco-friendly wool products.

ACO 2018

The Real Shetland Company