This evening Paula Wolton brings us this joyful post from local designer and entrepreneur Heather Firby. Heather has established her own knitwear label – ‘Woolly Minded Knitwear‘ – through which she sells her own finished knitwear products made from carefully sourced materials including plenty of wool as well as alpaca fibre. We love the clear explanation of textile composition given for each of her designs; that her pieces come with a life-time free-repair service (i.e. that they are designed to be worn and enjoyed for years); and the commitment to traceability and sustainability exemplified by her brand. It is interesting to read about the shortcomings in higher education viz exploring the potentials of wool from different sheep breeds’ and other animal fibre. It is also interesting to read about the difficulties she has encountered in trying to establish a knitwear business that sustainably draws its raw materials from the local landscape.

Woolly Minded and ‘wool-ness’

I spent my childhood looking after our Shetland sheep with my dad: knowing every sheep by name; learning all the characteristics of the breed; and even measuring the fineness of their wool under the microscope. I was surrounded by wool and by people using it in varied and creative ways: seeing first-hand the joys of working closely with nature and animals, and how all of the amazing properties of the wool then translated into a finished product.

Super Chunky Shetland Wool from Woolly Minded

In 2012, I moved to London to study Textile Design at Chelsea College of Art. I loved the buzz and creativity of London, but soon began missing my home of Devon. All of my work began to be inspired by nature: by the beauty & calm that we can find from it, and how we can work with natural materials to create truly sustainable textiles. I was amazed by how little was known about wool: about how many different breeds there are and the vast differences between them; the beautiful range of undyed shades; and the amazing, sustainable properties it has when sourced and processed responsibly.

Natural B&W Bi-Colour Polo; this cosy, unisex jumper is hand knitted using 100% undyed British Shetland wool

When I finished my degree, after working in the Midlands for a year and struggling with health problems, I returned to my home of Devon. Here, I began knitting again. My designs were (and are) inspired by the landscapes that surrounded me, and returning to the process of working by hand with raw, natural materials felt honest and therapeutic.

Darts Farm Jumper – This light-weight, long jumper is handmade using pure alpaca fibres from Devon. Inspired by a line of trees at the top of a muddy field at Darts Farm, Devon, wool is woven into the knitting to imitate a line of summer trees

The aim of Woolly Minded has always been to share the process of a garment from soil to shoulders, and for people to feel connected to how and where their knitwear is made. Every piece is made by hand using only natural, responsibly sourced materials – with the whole process photographed, explained and displayed transparently. I really believe that knowing the whole process of our clothes (or possessions; or food) and knowing that they come from a natural, honest and sustainable source, can give us a pure and invaluable sense of ‘wellness’.

Chunky pom pom hat hand knitted using 100% undyed, British Blue-Faced Leicester wool

The most important thing to me is that my materials are genuinely ethically sourced. In a world where the production of goods is so hidden from us, this has proven almost impossible at times. After a lot of hard work, I have been lucky enough to find a couple of farms and companies in Devon where I can visit wool and fibre-growing animals myself and talk to the farmers about their spinning process, so that I know what I am using is genuine. As makers or producers, I believe we must work hard to source our materials from the right places, and to be transparent. The fact that it is so difficult to do so – even if you desperately want to – is something that needs to change.

I really believe that we can each make a difference through sticking up for what we believe in and care about: through going against the ‘norm’ and supporting local makers and companies that are working hard to do things differently. Trying to grow a business out of genuinely sustainable products is not easy. The thing that keeps driving you has to be a passion for what you are doing, and a hope that it is making a difference. This difference can simply be sharing with your customers a sense of wellness, or ‘wool-ness’.

Important Information: text and images © Heathy Firby and Woolly Minded.