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British Wool: it’s not just all about carpets and tweed

British Wool Sheep

British sheep breeds: The Lincoln-Longwool, Poll-Dorset & Zartbles

Last week I had the chance to chat at length to Irfan Khan from the British Wool Marketing Board about all of the wonderful things he is doing to shake off the traditional image of this amazing home grown fibre. I also learnt a thing or two about the British Wool industry, such as…

  • The UK is home to over 60 pure breeds of sheep.
  • Wool from a British sheep is much thicker and stronger than that from its Merino cousins in New Zealand due to the better diet and colder weather that our sheep get here.
  • In the majority of cases income from wool is secondary to that of meat forvBritish Sheep farmers.
  • A product can only display the British Wool crook mark if the fabric or yarn that they are using contains at least 50% British Wool and is licensed by British Wool

Although today British wool is traditionally thought of as only suitable for carpets, or coarser clothing fabrics such as tweed, many years ago it was a different story and it was used for all types of apparel fabric. Sadly British Wool lost favour with our clothing industry over the years because softer yarns made with imported cashmere and merino have flooded the market and won favour with those that make cloth in the UK. Hence home-grown and home-spun yarns for making clothing have all but disappeared from the British Isles.

But Irfan, and his colleague Richard Poole at the British Wool Marketing Board are passionate about changing that perception. Working with Britain’s best spinners, weavers and finishers they have developed a new fabric from British Wool with a superb handle and drape that makes it much more suitable for clothing. To prove it they recently invited Patrick Grant of Norton & Son’s to tailor it into suits for both men and women and the results were a great success.

The aim of the British Wool team is to now continue their work and win the interest and approval of those that still manufacture woollen fabric and clothing in Britain. If more of this wonderful fibre can be used for a larger variety of cloth this increased usage will in turn filter back to British farmers. Leaving Britain’s many breeds of sheep to continue to graze on hill and dale, giving us British wool for generations to come.

Photos courtesy British Wool



  1. Shireen on November 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    After much detective work, tracking down suppliers, I have recently launched a new children’s knitwear business that uses British farmed Merino & Alpaca, that has been spun and hand dyed using Soil Association approved dyes at one of the few remaining mills in Cornwall. All our items are designed and hand made in the UK.

    • Jeremy Dent on January 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      What is the business, Shireen?

  2. Amelia Kiernan on November 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Ifran,

    I am currently in my final year of university studying Fashion Marketing. I am also really inspired by British wool and will be making my final collection out of it to generate awareness. If you are able to send me any samples or point me in the right direction of where to go it will be much appreciated.

    Kind Regards

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