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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
The Woolly Pedlar