There's been some headology going on under Granny's bonnet. She has
been thinking a lot lately about our environment and our impact on it...
East Anglia was once at the epicentre of the wool trade of the Middle
Ages and was the second City of any great importance after London
mainly because of thousands of flocks of sheep providing food, hides
and of course wool. Shearing, cleaning, spinning and weaving were
huge local industries that provided incomes for many families.
Worsted was one of several towns that made cloth that was much
sought after. Its speciality was wool that was not carded and spun
on a wheel but combed and spun on the distaff resulting in a finer,
smoother yarn which was woven and pressed into a fine glossy cloth.
One of the few to be exported, it was light-weight and more handsome
than the coarser more common broadcloth. Not much good for clothing in our cold climate vast quantities of Worsted were sent to the continent, particularly France, Spain and Portugal. At home it was used for fine clothing, hangings, curtains and coverlets.
This trade continued well into the twentieth century until the advent of man-made fibres such as nylon, terylene and later, polyester. The raw material for synthetic fleece is polyester which is made from two petroleum products: terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. Some or all of the polyester yarn may also be recycled from plastic bottles. Various dyes also make up the raw materials, as well as other chemicals such as Teflon for waterproofing.
Fleeces have undoubtedly transformed our way of life. Cheap, warm clothing, rugs and blankets are available in every hue known to man. Unfortunately, what man didn't immediately realise was the damage the new industry would present. Apart from decimating the wool industry to the point where the carefully husbanded fleece of a Norfolk sheep now fetches in the region of 60p, scientists have recently come to understand that each time we launder synthetic fleece it releases millions of tiny microfibres into the Eco-system where it makes its way into the food chain and ultimately us!
Time then surely for us to spend a little more on supporting a sustainable wool industry that will not damage our planet. It's a way of life that shaped the Norfolk landscape and funded many beautiful estates, buildings and churches. We're veering away from petro-chemicals in the car industry because of pollution, let's do the same for man-made clothes and furnishings and return to the soft, natural comfort of wool!