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Looking for waste wool knitwear

Finding Recycled Wool Knitwear – it’s easier said than done!

Recycling Textiles

Recycling Textiles

If we’ve not met before, let me introduce myself. I’m The Woolly Pedlar, upcycler of waste wool knitwear. I run a small business from my home in Northumberland, recycling wool textiles into new clothing, soft furnishings and accessories. My quest for recycled wool knitwear has taken many twists and turns over the last six years, but recently I have started to despair.

The Woolly Pedlar, upcycler of waste wool knitwear

The Woolly Pedlar, upcycler of waste wool knitwear

I’m coming up against many brick walls when it comes to buying recycled wool knitwear in bulk.
The statistics say that you could fill Wembley stadium with the amount of recycled textiles we throw away every year in the UK, but getting my mitts on it is easier said than done.
It would appear the vast majority of our recycled clothing is now shipped abroad for second hand clothing markets in East Africa and Eastern Europe. The Textile Recycling Association informs me that very few of the recycled textile companies are grading in the UK. It is more cost effective just to ship everything abroad, where our second hand cast offs are piled high in the market places of developing countries. This has huge knock on effects for the traditional textiles of those countries, and for the cotton farmers. It also means I cannot get my woollies.

Wool jumpers waiting to be upcycled

Wool jumpers waiting to be upcycled in happier times

My upcycling business has two main sources of recycled wool knitwear – one is the second hand clothing market, and another, knitwear manufacturers who produce waste. Indeed, I used to buy a lot of waste wool knitwear from Hawick Knitwear factory, up in the Borders of Scotland. However, Hawick Knitwear closed in 2016. You can read more about this in ‘The Sad Demise of Hawick Knitwear‘. I was gutted when this source of beautiful lambswool and cashmere dried up. The only UK manufacturer of knitwear I am currently buying from is The House of Cheviot. I use their waste wool sock tops to make my ‘Thinking Hats’ and ‘Coffee Cup Cosies’. If any other knitwear manufacturers are reading this, and generate waste, then please get in touch.

Recycled Sock Tops from House of Cheviot

Recycled Sock Tops from House of Cheviot

This leaves the second hand clothing industry and charity shops. My home town of Hexham has six charity shops, and four out of the six save waste wool knitwear for me. You see, even if a jumper has a hole in it, I can cut out the good bits, and use them to make ponchos, bedspreads, bags and baby blankets. You know the saying, waste not want not!

 Patchwork style poncho using waste wool knitwear

Patchwork style poncho using waste wool knitwear

However, this can be patchy, and relies on the volunteers in the shops remembering to put knitwear to one side for me.

Scope have stepped up to the plate and have gone one stage further. They are attempting to collect regionally for me, and this, I think might be the way forward.

I contacted Kate Holbrook from Turtle Doves to see if she could help. Kate, like me, recycles knitwear, but specialises. Kate has put me in touch with The Together Plan, a small charity in London supporting communities from Belarus. I am delighted to say they are happy to supply me with a small amount of recycled wool knitwear. It’s also great that two ethical businesess such as Turtles Doves and The Woolly Pedlar have been able to work together.

If we could find a way to collect the waste wool before it goes to the big textile recyclers, then maybe, we can keep more of it in UK and the local economy, and I’ll be able to carry on making lots of lovely upcycled woolly goodies.

I’m off to get in touch with other area managers. If you are reading this and can help me in my quest, then please get in touch. I am after medium weight wool knitwear, (no chunky, hand knits or acrylic).

Looking for waste wool knitwear

Looking for waste wool knitwear

If you have been having a clear out at home and have any woollies you’d like to send, then please also get in touch. I’d be happy to pay postage and can offer a discount code for the website for your trouble.

Your Hopefully,

The Woolly Pedlar

Upcycled Coatigan from Recycled Knitwear

Upcycled Coatigan from Recycled Knitwear

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Take Two Boring Blue Jumpers … Ecofashion!

I love a felted wool jumper! When I’m on a jumper gathering mission, and a shrunken jumper turns up, it means another sweatercoat could be in the making. I find my shrunken jumpers in the rag bags destined for waste by the charity shops in my home town of Hexham, and rescue them for upcycling. You see, a good, strong jumper can form the bodice and starting point of my sweatercoats, and are a very welcome find indeed.  The other week these two rather boring felted jumpers showed up, and I’d like to show you what I did with them in this week’s blog.

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After giving them a good wash to check for further shrinkage and to get rid of the eau de charity shop that sometimes pervades, the first task is to place them on a suitably sized mannequin to see where the waist lies.  I then take my scissors to them, chopping off at the waist, round the neckline and down the middle.  The finished size of the sweatercoat is determined by what size the shrunken jumper is. It’s all very serendipitous!

I also need to then decide what other jumpers are going to be put with them.

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I found this stripy scarf and thought I’d upcycle it into a waistband, and let it dictate what other colours were to be in the coat. I’ve got a workshop full of shelves of recycled woollies, and was able to pick navy, brown and turquoise blue jumpers to add. The tie belt is a nice addition which helps to cinch in the waist.
Sometimes the hardest dilemma is which colour thread to use. I like my seams on the outside for added texture and contrast, and in this instance I used a very light brown, beige thread which seamed to contrast well with the blues, and especially the navy wool.

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The full swirly skirt is made by cutting triangular shapes from the sleeves and the hem and hood are made from strips cut from the main body of my recycled jumpers. So, this is what I did with the first boring blue jumper on the left.

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As the resulting sweatercoat was fairly small , I had to enlist the help of my daughter Hannah to model it! Thanks Hannah 🙂

The process was exactly the same for the other jumper, a larger size, but I decided to stick with all dark blue jumpers and use a contrasting jade thread with these.

2BJ9

So, there you have it, two boring blue jumpers, destined for waste by the charity shops as they had shrunk, given a new lease of life by upcycling them into wool coats. Ecofashion at its best!

If you’d like to see these and other sweatercoats I’ve made, then head over to the shop on the website, and go to Women’s Clothing, Sweatercoats.

2BJ11

Thanks for reading. See you next week 🙂

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The Sad Demise Of Hawick Knitwear

A year ago, on my birthday to be precise, I drove my van up the beautiful A68 through Northumberland to Carters Bar on the border of England and Scotland, took a left, and meandered through beautiful scenery to the town of Hawick, home of the Scottish knitwear industry, or so the sign told me as I drove into town.

I’d sent an email to Hawick Knitwear, a few weeks before, asking what they did with their waste. My business is about upcycling waste and saving it from landfill, and I was in need of another supplier of knitwear. The guys there couldn’t have been more accommodating. They had even raided the secretary’s stash of chocolate biscuits as it was my birthday. I had a meeting with the head of sales and the waste manager, and showed them some of my woolly wares. I took with me a sweatercoat, some little ponchos and baby blankets, and the men looked at these appreciatively, and although a far cry from the smart jumpers made by Hawick Knitwear, they made encouraging noises about my work.

Up until then, they explained, the waste had been sold to carpet manufacturers where it was shredded, but if I was prepared to negotiate a good price, then they would save some garment panels for me. I was also taken into a large stockroom and asked if I could do anything with ten boxes of lambswool jumpers without head holes. Bingo! I had found myself a supplier of the finest lambswool and cashmere.

For the next year, thanks to the waste from Hawick knitwear, I made dozens and dozens of ponchos, bedspreads, baby blankets and throws, and sold these at events such as Hexham Farmer’s Market,  Woolfest and The Green Gathering as well as online from my website and through social media. Partly thanks to Hawick knitwear, my business flourished during 2015.

London-Elvis-&-Caroline

I let my stock of materials dwindle over Christmas to make way for family staying as the guest room has previously been piled high with boxes of Hawick’s waste knitwear. In the new year I emailed Hawick to arrange another delivery, as I needed to hit the ground running and get making again. To my horror I got a reply to my email saying Hawick had gone into administration, and the guy I had been dealing with was now unemployed.

I phoned the administrators and was told that they were trying to find another buyer for the business, but if I wanted to register an interest to buy any stock, they’d be in touch in due course. A month later, I was headed for the last time, up to Hawick to buy half a tonne of waste knitwear that had been taken off the machines. The factory workers had only been given four hours notice of the factory closing when they had gone back after new year, and so had just walked away, jumpers half finished on machines.

I had been offered four tonnes of waste knitwear, but after doing the sums with my accountant husband, we decided the rental of a storage unit for that would amount to ten year’s worth of knitwear for me, wasn’t affordable. As it is, I’ve had to rent a storage container, and now have enough knitwear for the next two years.

I find it so sad that this major employer in the small town of Hawick has gone. It is devastating for the town and the workforce. The chap who met me last week had been with the company for thirty-nine years, and both his sons had also worked there. I’m sure the reasons for its closure are many and complex, but the question of cheap clothing manufactured abroad by people living and working in shocking condition must come into play. Luxury knitwear made in Britain would appear to be a dwindling market.

I went into the factory to collect my knitwear, and found it’s emptiness and silence a stark contrast to the bustling and happy place it had been before. So sad, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost their jobs, and to their families for whom it will have a knock on effect.

I do hope the remaining stock will go to a good cause if it isn’t sold. I would hate to think of it going into landfill when there are refugees in desperate need of clothing. I think I maybe should email the administrators once and find out what is happening to any unsold stock. There are after all, containers heading off to Syria and Dunkirk that could be filled with Hawick’s waste.

So I now need to get busy. I have a container full of waste knitwear to work with and four boxes of beautiful thread that I managed to save from the skip. I’m looking forward to making lots of beautiful things with the fabulous lambswool. I will also have to be mindful of the fact that I’ve lost a supplier in the long term, and will need to find another.

 

 

 

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