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.

Fire 03
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

Chairman

Wool Carpet Focus Group

Woolcarpetsnaturally.org

Curtthesheep@gmail.com

 

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Best of British Wool Throws

Best of British Wool Throws

Adam Curtis Online are proud to launch our brand-new range of 100% British wool, British made throws… The Best of British Collection.  Now available in three attractive, undyed designs from the Adam Curtis Online website at £65.00 inc. UK P&P.

The Best of British Throw Collection

The Best of British Collection is a collaboration between ourselves and our American sister company, Curtis, Curtis & Sons.  CC&S are British owned and run by our wool specialist, Martin Curtis.  Together, we chose specific British fibres which we combined to produce our new collection, a combination unique to our product range.

The Best of British Throw Collection

The production of our new throw range began at the industry leading Haworth Scouring and Combing facilities in Yorkshire.  As with our other wool throws, the Best of British Collection is Enco Certified, your guarantee that our wool has been handled to the highest quality and cleanliness standards.

The Best of British Throw Collection

Our yarns were spun in Yorkshire and all weaving, finishing and packing of the range were handled with specially selected partners, based in the UK.  We chose only the very best partners to produce the collection, noted for their high standards of quality and loyalty to the industry.

The Best of British Throw Collection

Looking at the finished product, the super-soft loftiness of the yarns and resilient worsted weave result in a throw that is not just attractive but very practical which looks and feels suitable for any occasion or setting.

Best of British Throw Collection

 

Of course, we would shout out praise for our own throws but we believe we have made a collection which truly represents the Best of British textiles.

For more information please feel free to contact us directly, either through the web form on our blog (here) or by the contact details on the ACO website (here).

Alternatively, you may email us direct at adamcurtisonline@gmail.com

 

Unflammability; be safe with Wool!

Unflammability; be safe with Wool!

A guest blog by Martin Curtis, Chairman of the Wool Carpet Focus Group.

I asked Dr Mike Madden to demonstrate the natural Unflammability of wool carpets and rugs in order to explain why all homes, hotels, cruise ships, planes and cars should consider them as the best choice.

We at the Wool Carpet Focus Group are fully aware of the benefits of wool and these can be seen on the woolcarpetsnaturally.org website.  Seeing is believing and we will produce a video of Dr Mike’s demonstration but on a larger scale!

Fire 01
Dr Mike builds a small bonfire on a piece of wool carpet.
Fire 02
You can see that Dr Mike won his bonfire building badge at Scouts!
Fire 03
A simple fire but with sufficient heat and flame 🔥 to cause a nasty fire on the wrong surface!
Fire 04

Well alight, the paper and wood burn at very high temperatures.  Dr Mike is in his laboratory so do not try this at home, you never know you might not have a wool carpet!  Looks carefully, very little smoke, no melting plastic or toxic black fumes.
Fire 05
You can see the singed and charred carpet, with virtually no spread of fire.  This charring protects the lower wool, pile from the flames and also the underlay and floorboards.
Fire 06
Enter a Dr Mike is scraping away the charred part with a coin.
Fire 07
Of course there is a bit of singing but the point is there is no spread of fire and it self-extinguished. Wool doesn’t burn in our normal atmosphere! It is naturally Umflammable.

 

We are not claiming the impossible with wool but just ask you to give it some thought.  If there is an accident in your home we think you would be naturally safer with wool carpets, rugs, bedding and upholstery.

Common sense backed scientifically by Dr Mike of ENco Ltd, Global Testing Servicesmike@encoblobal.com

This message has been approved by the Chairman of the Wool Carpet Focus Group.
wcfg@woolcarpetsnaturally.org

Real Shetland Cushions

Real Shetland Cushions

Part of the ‘Natural Collection’ by The Real Shetland Company, the ‘Natural Cushion’ range replicated three of our best-selling throw designs in cushion form; Kingland, Hoga and Eswick.  Available now at £24.99 inc P&P (UK only) from www.adamcurtisonline.co.uk

 

Shetland Cushion by Real Shetland
Real Shetland Wool Cushions.  From left to right; Hoga, Eswick & Kingland sat upon RS Sheepskins and throws.

 

Each of the cushions are approximately 14” from corner to corner, with an outer case woollen woven in a substantial Real Shetland Wool 2ply yarn for a rugged, practical handle.  Real Shetland Wool being wool sourced exclusively from the Shetland Islands.

 

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Inside the cushion there is a 100% fire-rated cotton inner pad which contains a generous amount of pure Real Shetland Wool cushion filling.

 

2014 Throws trio
Real Shetland’s cushion range compliments their Natural Throw range perfectly.  From left to right; Kingland, Eswick and Mousa.

The Natural Cushion range compliments the other products in the Natural Collection, woven using undyed Real Shetland Wool yarn (see the throw collection here).

 

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The range has been woven, hand stitched and filled entirely in the UK – as with all Real Shetland Company products, nothing is sent outside of the UK for production or packing.

Real Shetland Wool 3 Sheep logo

If you would like to know more about the cushion range, please contact Adam directly via the contact form, The Real Shetland Company website or via Adam Curtis Online.

Real Shetland Wool Heritage Throws

J&S Heritage Boat photo crop 01

Early Spring 2016 Adam Curtis Online, The Real Shetland Company and Jamieson & Smith proudly launched a range of stunning dyed throws made using the lovely Heritage Collection of Real Shetland Wool yarns.

If you would like to see the full collection or even buy one of them, please click here to see them.

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To explain in more detail about what went into making this special throw range, our very own Martin Curtis explains…

It all starts with the wool,  grown exclusively in the Shetland Islands by crofters and sheep farmers. Every individual fleece is graded and sorted for quality by Jamieson and Smith a.k.a ‘The Woolbrokers’. They buy the vast majority of wool that is grown in the Shetland Islands and pay the growers a proper price for it in record time. Fast pay makes friends fast in our world!

The sorted wool goes to our scouring plant in Bradford, Haworth Scouring Ltd, which washes the wool and removes dirt, grease and other unmentionables from the fleeces. Haworth is the most environmentally friendly scour of its type in the world and has more certificates and badges than the Chief Scout!

Haworth Scouring Scour
The scour baths at Haworth Scouring.

Once scoured the wool goes to our combing department where it is carded and combed into a continuous sliver, called a top, which then goes to the spinner. This is called the worsted route – if you miss out the combing it is the woollen route – the difference is that by combing the wool all the fibres are made parallel and are smoother to the touch. The easiest example is if one compares a Harris Tweed cloth to a fine smooth suiting cloth, the Harris Tweed is woollen and the smooth suiting cloth is worsted. Both processes have their merits and much depends on what sort of a product you want to make as to which one is best. Up to now, our Real Shetland wool throws have been woollen spun but for this brand new bespoke designer range we decided to go the more expensive worsted route.

MMC @ Haworth Scouring
Martin Curtis inspecting some lovely wool top at Haworth Scouring

The spinner will take the combed top and rework it so it is suitable for their plant. The yarn for this range is a 2 ply which means two finer yarns are spun individually and then are twisted together to make a single thicker but strong yarn. The yarn then goes to the dyer and for this range it is dyed to 12 different shades. The thickness of the yarn and the shades it is being dyed to are subject to much discussion and thought and designers have a great deal of input here. We chose to work with the same shades as were developed for the Jamieson and Smith Heritage collection of hand knitting yarns – for 3 primary reasons – they coordinate, the shades look wonderful and it makes it more economical. We love them!

So, at this stage we have yarn on cone in a dozen different shades and we need to get it woven into cloth. However, before we can start weaving we have to know what cloth designs we want and then get those designs translated into a form the weaver can work with. This is where we asked a team of highly talented designers for their help. They had the shades to work with and a blank canvas to create something rather special and befitting of the Heritage of Real Shetland wool! They work for some of the top designer labels in the world (I don’t think I can mention their names here but think of the highest high end names and they have probably worked with them!) and we couldn’t wait to see their designs. They drew the designs and coloured them in the chosen shades and showed us what they had come up with. I am going to frame the hand painted designs and hang them in my office.

We were not disappointed and the collection is unique and rather fantastic…but I would say that wouldn`t I? I have a couple of favourites but Adam has different ones and the team at Jamieson and Smith have theirs also. I believe we have a wonderful range of throws that will look good in the back of your car, draped over your bed or settee or favourite comfy chair, for taking to the ball game, the 5 star hotel or the log cabin. Our aim was to make a product that we could all be proud of and is also excellent value for money. I believe we have done that and  I  will let you know how the launch goes in due course. The cost of developing this range runs into many thousands of pounds and is a risk – but what better way to start 2016 than with something fresh and new and rather exciting for the Spring…

PS: Please remember, if something calls itself Shetland wool it probably isn’t genuine unless it has the registered trade mark, the 3 Sheep logo on it.

Real Shetland Wool 3 Sheep logo
The Real Shetland Wool ‘3 Sheep’ logo.

If you would like to follow Martin Curtis’ blogs, you can find him over on the NFU Countryside website or go direct to his blog page, here.

Please follow our blog page to see the second half of our Real Shetland Heritage Throw story.