a catalogue of textile work by Claire Crompton
Article written for The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers – issue Spring 2011
Give Fleece A Chance
connecting wool producers to wool users, one sheep at a time
By Claire Crompton
‘Give Fleece A Chance’ is a collaborative knitting project using wool sourced from the South West of England, especially Dartmoor and Devon. I am recruiting knitters and spinners to help me make a flock of small knitted sheep in as many varieties of local wool as we can find. Each knitted sheep has a number; this helps identify the type of wool used and where it came from. For example, sheep number 107 is made from Zwartbles yarn sourced from Middle Campscott Farm near Ilfracombe,Devon. Sheep number 87 is made in a handspun yarn from Dorset Down fleece from Kingsbridge,South Devon.
My background is as a knitted textiles designer; I design and sell knitting patterns and write books on hand knitting. After many years using commercially available yarns, I have recently become interested in using British wool as part of my design work. I also hand spin, sourcing wool and other fibres on the internet; wool fromYorkshireand handpainted tops from textile artisans. It all arrives washed, carded and ready to use, and the yarns I make from it are as predictable as machine spun ones. The yarns appear to be disconnected from the fleece, having none of the different characteristics of each type of fleece. I began to realise that for me hand spinning yarns as uniform as machine spun ones was not an engaging creative process.
My ready to spin fibres were also anonymous; I didn’t know where they had come from. Were they from Britain and if so, what part? The Slow Food movement has evolved in recent years because people want traceability for their food. Where has it come from, how has it been grown? People are now more connected with the source of their food. The Slow Fashion movement is just beginning to ask the same questions. The problems generated by the fast-fashion cycles in high street stores have been well documented; exploitation of workers, environmental cost of producing fibres, and the de-valuing of textiles as a throw-away commodity. Would people be so accepting of these issues if they were more connected with the individuals who have touched the garment on its way from fibre to hanger?
Part of the ethos behind my project is this same traceability; where does the wool come from, who has produced it and are they getting a fair price? It’s very easy to buy yarn now; new yarn shops and online shops are stocking more and more exotic yarns from South America, Australia, New Zealand; yak or possum wool anyone? But what about the fibre that’s growing not ten miles from me on Dartmoor or that from the Blackdown Hills or from the far west of Cornwall? I have been asking myself if it isn’t more sustainable to use what is near to me than use imported fibre from the other side of the world. Buying local fibre also means that my money stays in my community, supporting local wool producers.
Needing to find local suppliers of fleece and yarn to explore this idea further, I came up with this project that would at the same time publicise and promote South West wool and connect other knitters and spinners to what is available in their own community. I lay no claim to the name of the project, ‘Give Fleece A Chance’. It was a comment made at the launch of The Campaign for Wool in January 2010. This five year campaign has already had a positive impact on the wool industry with prices for wool rising and a growing interest from consumers for wool products. As ‘Give Fleece A Chance’ goes on, the flock growing in number, I hope it will inspire more use of local wool and also be part of something bigger that regenerates the British wool industry.
I now have over 130 knitted sheep, using local fleeces from breeds such as Grey-Faced and White-Faced Dartmoor, Bowmont, Cotswold Down and North Ronaldsay. As well as pedigree breeds I have been able to source many crosses and so have come to the conclusion that there could be a huge number of fleece types still to find. The intention is to exhibit the flock throughout Devon and Cornwall to showcase this wonderful, sustainable fibre, and also to encourage spinners and knitters around Britain to start their own flocks using wool sourced from their local wool producers.
If you would like to know more about the project and to download the sheep pattern, please have a look at the project’s blog http://givefleeceachance.com