Wool is a super beautiful and versatile material, which makes it very valuable.
A little explanation beforehand
Does wool itch and what is micronage?
The softness of wool is determined by the thickness of the wool fibers; the hairs. The thinner the fiber, the softer the wool. Thin fibers bend when they come into contact with the skin, thicker fibers do not bend and that can cause itching. We express this in microns. Wool with a micron lower than 26 is considered very soft and wearable against the skin. From 30 microns it is seen as coarse wool, but that certainly does not mean that the quality is lower or that it cannot be used for clothing. In Scandinavia it is very common to use coarse wool for sweaters.
Wool naturally has fantastic properties that distinguish it from synthetic materials. It is self-cleaning, fire-resistant, moisture-regulating and 100% biodegradable. Wool cools in summer and warms in winter.
The Merino sheep is the largest breed of sheep in the world. The wool fibers of the merino sheep grow about 10 times closer together than other sheep and the wool is also super soft! The fiber thickness of merino is between 17 and 23 microns. No wonder it is the most used wool in the world.
The origin of the Merino sheep is found in Morocco, where the local sheep at some unknown point in the past were crossed with a breed from Spain. This became the Merino sheep. Later, these sheep were exported all over the world and can now be found mainly in Australia and South America.
Our merino sheep
We have about 50 merinos walking around on our farm. Per sheep, they deliver about 3 kg of wool per year. In addition to our own wool, we also buy it from fellow breeders. Of course we do not use the mulesing method. We check every day and shave the 'backs' of our sheep as soon as we have evidence of blowflies or when the weather is extremely hot and humid for prevention. Naturally, the wool we buy is from colleagues who are also non-mulesing.
Mulesing is the cutting of the skin around the rear of a sheep. This is done to ensure that no excrement remains in the wool that attracts flies. The green blowfly is mainly found in Australia (unfortunately also in the Netherlands), the largest wool producer in the world. The flies lay eggs in the skin folds of the sheep and as soon as they hatch they eat their way inside. That's extremely unpleasant for the sheep and can even be fatal. To prevent this, pieces of skin are cut away, often without anesthesia. An alternative to this is medication, which is a lot more expensive, or harrowing the wool, which is not permanent. Mulesing is a big problem, farmers can hardly check 40,000 sheep every day and the sheep often stay in the wild for months. A lot of research is being done to find solutions for this. As a consumer you now often have the choice to buy 'non-mulesing' or 'mulesing' wool. If your garment has a Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) or Gots certificate, it is good and animal-friendly wool. It's also smart to check out the website of the brand you're buying. There you can often find information about the wool and where it comes from.
Mohair articles are beautifully hairy and have a chic, but also playful appearance. The wool is shiny, super soft and light. This wool has a high thermoregulatory capacity and is biodegradable.
Mohair is the wool of an angora goat. Angora goats not only look very charming with their beautiful, white, curly fur, but also produce one of the most beautiful wools! The wool fibers are very long and thin, making the yarn very soft and smooth. In addition, it is shiny like silk and the wool does not felt, so that it retains its hairiness. As icing on the cake, mohair has very good color retention, so that dyed colors last longer.
Angora goats travelled a long way before they were found in Europe. They originate
from Tibet, in East Asia. Later they ended up in the Angora valley in Turkey. This is also where they got their name. Now they are mainly found in South Africa, North America and Europe, although we don't have that many in Europe. France has the most goats in Europe and there is a national breeding association to maintain the quality of the mohair.
In the Netherlands there are a number of angora goat breeders, of which we are one! The Knitwit Stable was created after the arrival of Billy & Betsie. Now we have about 25 goats walking around. The mohair we use for the sweaters and cardigans is mainly that of young goats. The first two shaves produce the softest mohair, because the wool fibers are the thinnest. After that, the fibers become thicker and also known as adult mohair. We have now made plaids from this in collaboration with the French farmers! Read more about the collaboration with French farmers here.
We combine the mohair with merino and nylon to ensure that the yarn becomes more stable, firmer and does not brea
Our sweaters and cardigans made of alpaca wool are incredibly soft and have a luxurious appearance due to the soft shine. Alpaca has a great moisture and thermoregulatory capacity. In addition, it is resistant to bacteria, is fire-resistant, hypoallergenic and biodegradable.
Alpaca wool, just like sheep's wool, can be felted well and is also a good insulator. It retains heat even better than sheep's wool, namely 3 to 5 times! Perfect for winter. In addition, it is also super soft, because it has a micron of 18-25!
Alpacas originally come from South America, but we buy alpaca wool that we use for our products from various breeders in the Netherlands.
Wool from Dutch sheep has a tough appearance due to the coarser wool fibers. We combine it in our products with, among other things, alpaca wool. This is a perfect match, because the alpaca wool is light, super soft and strong. Wool fibers are very elastic and have a moisture-regulating capacity. It cools in summer and warms in winter, is highly resistant to bacteria and fire resistant. In addition, it grows back every year and is biodegradable.
The Dutch sheep
The fact that we use Dutch wool from real Dutch sheep for clothing is quite special. The micron is higher and is often seen as “of lower quality”, which is not the case! In the Netherlands we are not used to using coarse wool, but in Scandinavia that is much more normal. It's also a good thing that we use the wool, because we have about 800,000 sheep in the Netherlands that grow new wool every year!
Our Dutch Wool
The yarn is a mix of different types of Dutch sheep, such as the Flevolander and the Texel farmers. We look for varieties with a lower itch factor and carefully sort the wool. For the best end result and to combine the best properties, we mix the Dutch wool with a merino and alpaca. However, the vast majority (60%) consists of Dutch wool.
Kempian heath sheep wool
Did you know that Kempische Heideschapen originated because local sheep in Kempen were crossed with Spanish merinos around 1800? As a result, their wool is softer than that of other moor sheep. Unfortunately, there was a time when the breed was endangered, but fortunately there is now an association that takes care of the conservation and well-being of the breed. The Kempen heath sheep is mainly used for natural grazing.
Thanks to the collaboration with grazing company De Wassum, which has been very important in rediscovering the quality of Kempische Heideschapen, we have been able to improve the quality even more. Read more about De Wassem here.
Recycled Nylon & Elastane
Nylon gives strength to yarn in, for example, the heels and toes of socks. Elastane gives elasticity to the collars of sweaters, for example. Unfortunately, nylon and elastane are not biodegradable. When recycling our products, we cut them out of our products.
Nylon and elastane are synthetic materials, which are made from petroleum. Unfortunately, we sometimes cannot avoid using this because of the strength of the yarn, for example with the mohair yarn (we have now reduced to 2%). We also use recycled nylon in our heels and toes in our socks. We use 1 thread of elastane in the cuffs to maintain elasticity.
The biology behind wool
We already knew that wool is a beautiful material with many qualities, but why is that so? Wool is distinguished from hair. Wool, like human hair, is made up of protein, but the important difference is that wool has scales and many bends; also called barbs and frizz. This allows the wool to hook and twist together, allowing it to be spun and felted.
There are only a few types of animals that have wool. For example, sheep, some goats and alpacas have wool, but also angora rabbits, for example. The angora goats give mohair which is actually not wool but hair.
Breeding for wool
The quality of wool depends on the length, crimp, luster, and most importantly, the thickness of the fibre. This quality is tested every year in a wool test center.
This is important for breeders, because we want the quality of the wool to increase every year. The quality of the wool is not only related to the selective breeding of an entire herd, but also to the nutrition, living environment and care. In short: the health of the animal is reflected in the quality of the wool.
Our sheep and goats have enough space on our farm in our meadows to graze, exercise and of course to be loved by The Knitwit Team.
Cees and Reina know exactly what the sheep and goats need to ensure that we can make beautiful products of high quality wool in our mini knitting factory.