Sunday, March 3, 2024

Wool snap leads to business venture

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An exciting new farm business venture stemming from a post on social media is transforming wool direct from the farm gate into a knitting yarn in an all New Zealand wool story.
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The farm to needles project grew from a photo shared on Instagram by Otematata Station farmer Philippa Cameron.

“We were shearing and I posted a pic from the woolshed on Instagram, a woman responded asking, ‘do you want me to dye some wool from your farm to knit a jumper?’” Cameron said.

“It was such a great suggestion, I thought ‘yes, let’s do this’.”

Rebecca from Wellington-based Good Wool was the dyer behind the offer.

Passionate about creating sustainable, purposeful products, especially boasting a NZ farmed story behind the yarn dyed from natural resources, Good Wool made a good hit with Cameron.

“She was thinking maybe grandma could knit a jumper; my children wear a range of delightful jumpers from my grandma,” she said.

“She was talking about one jumper, but I was thinking about a jumper for everybody, that was a bit of hoot.”

But the yarn started to spin and following some convincing of her farming partners, husband Joe and father-in-law Hugh Cameron, a bale of wool was saved for the farm to needles project.

Otematata Station in South Canterbury has been farmed by the Cameron family since 1892 and there was no doubt the genetics behind the 36,000 Merinos on the station would make a “damn good yarn.”

“The wethers are my favourite; we have a large flock, about 12,000 of them and they live life like little hermits,” Cameron said.

“This is the life of Larry, a story about sustainable fibre from a lamb that roams the high country with very little human contact, and that comes in once in 12 months for shearing.

“These are the stories we love to tell from the farm gate.”

Wool from the high country farm gate to the local wool scour to Wild Earth Yarns in Christchurch, where the wool is being spun, then on to Good Wool to be dyed and back to grandma to knit jumpers for everyone – this is an all NZ wool story, Cameron says.

“The wether wool with 12 months growth will be a good length and at 17.7 micron, will be a jolly good knitting yarn,” she said.

The one bale of wool has scoured out to 80 kilograms of wool.

“That’s a lot of 100gram skeins,” she said.

“I was only allowed one bale this year until it’s proven its worth.

“I’m very keen to do five or six bales next year.”

The wool will be spun in February and go down the market road ready for knitting in autumn.

“We will do a few demo jumpers to get the ball rolling,” she said.

Half the 80kgs will be dyed in colours inspired by the high country, while half will be left in blank (natural) skeins.

Both 4-ply and 8-ply yarn will be spun.

“It’s all very exciting now that we are on the way with it and hopefully it will meet the aim of creating value to our own homegrown wool in an all NZ wool story,” she said.

NZ Woolscouring chief executive Nigel Hales says there are many new wool initiatives happening since the covid-19 lockdown.

“Since lockdown we have had farmers come to us looking for ways to support them to help add value to their own wool here in NZ,” he said.

The Camerons’ wool was scoured at NZ Woolscouring in Washdyke, near Timaru.

“We are so pleased and happy to be involved where we can, the Camerons’ wool is an exciting venture,” he said.

“It’s great to see added value coming from the farm gate and happening here in NZ. 

“We believe there is potential for a lot more here in NZ and we are happy to speak to anyone who would like to add value to their Merino wool here.

“It can be done in NZ and that means the value stays here in NZ.”

Hales says new initiatives include blankets, homecrafts, luxury brand carpets and insulation.

“I think everyone had time to sit down, take a break and do some thinking during lockdown,” he said. 

“We are taking wool direct from the farm (and producing) insulation and carpet products.

“There’s a whole bunch of really good things happening, I just wish we could speed up the process of getting more value back to the growers.”

Hales is confident the industry will come back.

“We are fully supportive of the strong wool initiative with the Strong Wool Action Group (SWAG),” he said.

“As a business we can add value to wool here in NZ, we compete well on the international stage.

“We need to do more here in NZ to roll the industry onwards.”

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