Woolness and me: Past, present and future in wool

Hazel Smith, Mill Manager at Uist Wool, is here today to talk about her love for wool and how much wool wellness she gleans from working in the industry. Hazel wrote a longer article for us last year on her work at the mill, and the incredible yarns they make that tell the story of Uist.

As a knitter I know the benefits of wool work, craft, repetitive actions and complicated puzzles. I’ve watched it in my mother; visibly relaxing (most of the time…) when knitting and perking up with glee at the sight of a good sheep. I also see it with her mother, once a tough, very highly-strung woman with a voracious appetite for puzzles (who frequently began knitting a project, finished the tricky bit, then set it down to start another) now grappled by dementia and depression and unable to manage or understand most activities; but she can knit. With the needles in her hand, her disinterested grunts become sentences, and when she gets lost, she takes great pleasure in undoing the work and winding a neat ball. Wool works.

I’ve demonstrated that wool, sheep and making has always been in my home in one way or another, but we weren’t farmers, my mother and grandmother weren’t great tradition-bearers descended from fishing or agricultural lives- they’re from Wimbledon.

“What’s your textile background?”
“You’re not a local, how did you come to be here?”

The answer is a long(ish) story and not very straight forward or romantic, or interesting for that matter. The honest truth is that I floated around without great purpose. I’ve enjoy the jobs I’ve had up to a point, but the usual issues always began to creep in: Boredom, working for a bad cause, feeling overworked and uncared-for, office politics, short-term contracts, being undervalued, bullying, harassment. The pressure, stress and misery associated with not enjoying the work was debilitating. So I sought a life that would help me get out of that- I had no idea what it would be, or that I would find it so soon, but I took the plunge and here I am!

For me, Uist Wool is a magic blend of ethic, interest and hobby, skillset, great office culture (to coin some executive-speak there), excellent location and commute, I can take my dog to work, there’s always tea and biscuits- the perfect formula. My day consists of talking about wool to anyone and everyone that will listen, it usually also involves handling and sniffing wool too! HEAVEN.

OK it’s not perfect, I don’t want to over-do it. Working for a new business is stressful: we’re feeling in the dark a lot of the time and we won’t always get it right; there are people relying on the success of us for their income; long hours; and there is the regular sense that I’m a total fraud to be battled, etc. But at the end of the day, I love my job. I work through my lunch breaks, I stay after hours, my knitting has ramped up threefold and I’m beginning to dabble with design, so that in reality I work somewhere close to seven days a week with wool, and it feels great. I can wake up and ship myself off to work without (much) struggle at all, I always take wool on holiday, and hunt it out whilst I’m there, I talk sheep with my neighbours and make sales in the shop queue.
More jobs in the wool industry would benefit so many. For all the reasons I have stated, but also for all the reasons that you and fellow Wovemberers have stated: I could not recommend it higher!

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