I have a passion for the properties of natural fibres, in particular, wool. During my time in industry, I have worked with many mills, mostly from Italy. Whilst they produce beautiful quality yarns, from my experience it was always a struggle to accurately trace the source of the wool content. Concerns over animal welfare, particularly with fibres such as merino, have over the last years driven me to research in more depth the wool available from within the UK. There are more breeds of sheep in Britain than any other country in the world (more than 60 breeds, 25 of which are considered rare breeds) and producing almost 22,000 tonnes of wool a year, Britain is one of the largest wool producers in the world.
Last year, I first travelled to West Yorkshire to visit Laxtons, a wool spinners founded in 1907. Having temporarily moved their spinning to Spain and Romania, Laxtons made the decision within the last 20 years to re-shore all of their manufacturing back to the UK, to their mill in Guiseley. Laxtons buy only wool of true British origin from auction in Bradford, from which they spin wool to order, mostly for weaving and hand-knitting for customers such as Rowan, Abraham Moon and John Lewis.
As well as producing 100% British wool yarns, Laxtons also occasionally blend with mohair, alpaca, silk, linen and flax depending on the requirements of the customer. They can produce very chunky to mid gauge counts, worsted spun, and fancy yarns including boucle. A typical minimum order quantity for custom spun yarns is 50kg, with a lead-time of between 6-10 weeks and an average price of £40-£50 per kg (dependant on fibre content.)
Last year, Laxtons launched their first stock-supported machine knitting yarn – a blend of Bluefaced Leicester and Masham wools. The yarn is a soft yet authentically British yarn in 5 natural shades suitable for 3-8gg machines. Whilst the British Wool Marketing Board’s crook mark signifies yarns that have at least 50% British wool content, Laxtons’ ‘Sheep Soft’ wool is certified with the board’s Platinum crook mark, which confirms that 100% of the fibre is fully-traceable British wool. This month, Laxtons have also launched their first dyed collection of nine new shades in the Sheepsoft yarn for their AW18 collection, which so far, is receiving positive feedback from UK-based premium retailers.
This is Laxtons’ first step to supplying stock-supported machine knitting wool, which comes from a demand from the UK’s premium fashion brands and designers. Sales Director, Alan Thornber explained that whilst Laxtons have recently moved to their new mill, which is around three times the size of their previous site in Guiseley, where they have invested in new machinery to increase their production capacity and give the capability to produce finer count yarns, they will always remain a niche spinner, committed to supplying high quality yarn for the premium market. The very nature of the yarn that Laxtons produces, from selecting high grade British fleeces through carefully-controlled spinning and finishing processes, puts the wool in a high price range with limited quantities and a relatively longer lead-time. But the time, effort and attention to detail put into producing this yarn is plain to see, and feel, and the ability to fully trace the yarn from sheep to cone allows an open and honest story that will appeal to the consumer who seeks provenance in their wardrobe.