Romney Marsh Wools

Made from 100% British wool, Romney Marsh Wools started through a firm belief of wanting to raise awareness of all the benefits that British wool can bring.

 

Having recently celebrated Wool Week in October, we caught up with Company Director Kristina Boulden to find out more about the renewable, sustainable and incredibly versatile Romney Marsh Wools…

 

For readers who may not know, can you explain what Romney Marsh Wools is and what inspired you to start up this business?

Farming is in our blood and as my husband once told me “To be a farmer is a way of life, it’s a responsibility to maintain as well as improve a sustainable landscape for future generations to benefit from”. Sheep maintain the landscape, without them it would all look very different. It is imperative that we maintain the numbers so that the landscape can continue to thrive. Wool being natural has so many excellent qualities as it is renewable, sustainable, and incredible versatile. Our dream is to build a legacy, which our children and their children will also be able to enjoy. Romney Marsh Wools was born through a firm belief that we wanted to raise awareness of all the benefit that British wool can bring.

 

What would you say have been your proudest moments with Romney Marsh Wools over the past 15 years?

Since founding Romney Marsh Wools we have had many challenges, we launched our business in a recession and have organically grown our business to its size today. It has truly been a journey, each new maker, new product, new customer who enjoys our ethos and collaborates with our family has been a privilege. For every one person that considers wool and has learnt something valuable about wool and its process or has a better understanding of provenance and the countryside, these precious moments are my proudest.

 

What would you say are some of your best selling products?

We have an extensive range from country clothing to knitting yarn and interior designs, all showcasing just how versatile wool is. The lanolin range, particularly our Lanolin Soap is one of our best selling products. It has been so lovely to be able to explain to customers that lanolin comes from the wool (oil they produce from their glands which waterproofs them) and how this beautiful bi-product of the fleece can be used in toiletries and its benefits being one of the closest matched to our skin oils and therefore not only moisturising our skin but also a great barrier to sensitive skin.

One other hugely successful product in the last 12 months has been the Wool Slug Pellets for any discerning gardener. The wool fibre itself has scales which slugs and snails do not like to travel over, the fibre also absorbs 30% of its own moisture content which means that the pellets well up to at least 3 x their size and mulch around the plant leaving a felted protective barrier around it. Being wool it is natural and biodegradable so will then slowly biodegrade over a whole season whilst feeding the plant with the nutrients from the wool and organic matter itself and the best bit is that it is 100% natural and does not harm any wildlife.

 

Why does Romney Marsh (and its sheep) make such special wool?

Since before the 13th Century, the Romney Sheep have been a familiar sight on their indigenous area of Romney Marsh. The Romney Marsh Sheep also known as the Kentish Sheep, became one of the most successful and important breeds of sheep. Their main characteristic is an ability to thrive in wet situations; they are known as a hardy sheep. The wool is a semi-lustrous of excellence, quality and staple (length), shearing a heavy even fleece and is considered one of the best British Wools. Our British wool is therefore one of the most adaptable fleeces, its cream semi-lustrous and thanks to its versatility is a popular choice for knitting wool, knitting yarn, and cloth.

We take our fleeces to traditional weavers who hand process, then spin and weave our yarn into beautiful wool rugs and wool throws, which have a unique quality attributable to the Romney sheep wool. With some of our cream wool we have mixed other naturally coloured native yarn to allow for varied design, colour and texture. The Romney or the Kent sheep is a “longwool” sheep and was recognised as a breed in England by 1800, most of the Churches on the Romney Marsh were built through the income of the wool industry as wool was highly prized then. Today wool represents only 1% of the World’s fibre production, however it is becoming a more popular choice, as it is a renewable resource and a natural product.

 

How are you able to ensure no sheep are harmed whilst making your wool?

It is incredibly important that sheep are shorn. Shearing improves animal welfare; Sheep grow wool continuously to protect them from the weather. Wool is a natural product of the sheep’s life cycle and the welfare of sheep is improved by them being shorn every 12 months. Shearing keeps sheep cool in the warmer months and reduces the risk of parasitic infestation and disease. It also reduces the risk of sheep becoming ‘rigged’ or stuck on their backs, which can make them vulnerable to attack by crows or other predators. Sheep are particularly susceptible to insect infestations like flystrike because of their thick fleece. If parts of their fleece become sufficiently contaminated with dirt and fluids, which can easily happen when grazing freely in the fields, this can attract flies, which lay their eggs in the fleece. After hatching, the maggots bury themselves in the sheep’s wool and eventually under the sheep’s skin, feeding off their flesh. External parasites can cause sheep severe discomfort and distress and, in the case of diseases like flystrike, even death if not spotted and treated quickly.

Prevention is therefore always better than cure and removing the fleece considerably reduces the risk of diseases of this nature because it removes a potential breeding ground for insects.

Wool is nature’s best insulator and protects sheep from extreme cold in winter months. However, wearing a thick, heavy fleece during warm summer months is uncomfortable and stressful for sheep. Shearing during the late spring/early summer months is ideal as it allows sheep to have adequate wool growth to keep them cool in the summer (and avoid sun burn) and a full fleece in the winter to keep them warm. Sheep shearing is a skilled profession which should only be carried out by professionals who have been trained to shear carefully and sympathetically.

My husband has been shearing since the early age of 14 years old and he has attended many courses to become the excellent shearer he is today (these are run by British Wool, a professional organisation). Personally I have never shorn a sheep as I am too scared that I may nip them with the shears (these are clippers), but I have watched them done over the years by my husband as well as the professional shearers who come once a year and it absolutely fascinates me. Speaking to a professional shearer he once described shearing was a bit like a rhythmic dance, it is all in how you balance the sheep to ensure that they cannot hurt themselves and you shear accurately and as quickly as possible to give the sheep little distress. They start by taking the belly wool off first, they then work from one leg, all across the back to the other side and shear the whole fleece as one, it looks back breaking but I can see how the balancing is critical in how they are able to shear each sheep so swiftly and it is always such a pleasure to see the sheep run off joyously fleece free into the field afterwards.

 

Can you tell us how renewable, sustainable and versatile your wool is?

Since the Stone Age wool has been appreciated as one of the most effective forms of all-weather protection known to man, and science is yet to produce a fibre which matches its unique properties. Wool fibres are crimped, and when tightly packed together they form millions of tiny pockets of air. This unique structure allows it to absorb and release moisture.

Wool is both renewable and biodegradable. Each year sheep will produce a new fleece and at the end of its life the wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes releasing valuable nutrients into the ground.

Wool fibres resist tearing and can be bent back on themselves over 20,000 times without breaking. The fibre is also naturally elastic and therefore maintains its appearance in the longer term, adding value to the product and its lifespan.

The protective waxy coating (Lanolin) on wool fibres make wool products resistant to staining and they also pick up less dust, as wool is naturally anti-static. Recent innovations mean wool products are no longer hand-wash only and easy to care for. Lanolin is the naturally occurring fat in wool which waterproofs sheep. It has many beneficial attributes and is often used in cosmetics as it is gentle, rich and soothing and helps keep skin hydrated.

All wool is naturally hypoallergenic. It’s resistant to mould growth, and it inhibits dust mites which cause most of the allergic reactions. Wool is ideal if you suffer from asthma or allergies.

The softness of wool is measured in microns looking at a single fibre strand. On average a human hair is about 100 microns, a highland sheep is around 50 microns (so quite rough and not soft to wear against the skin). However, Romney fleeces are considered to be one of the finer British Breeds at around 32 microns.

 

Did you recently celebrate Wool Week 2023 and, if so, what did you do?

This year again we celebrated all things wool… continuing from the Campaign for Wool’s film ‘Why Wool Matters’ released back in April, during Wool Week we highlighted the benefits of wool through events, communications and social media, wool’s natural performance attributes and asking consumers to #ChooseWool.

Autumn, the cooler months, and especially the month of October is ideal to raise awareness about wool and remind consumers of the reasons to purchase British wool.

 

From a personal perspective, what do you enjoy most about living in Romney Marsh?

The Romney Marsh is a magical place ‘a Hidden Gem’ with its vast expansive open sky lines, each season presents its own unique attribute and mood. We feel blessed to live on this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), managing and working on this beautiful landscape which we have been able to share with our customers who can now come and stay in our bespoke Shepherds huts and enjoy the surrounding area.

If you like wildlife and history then the Romney Marsh is a great destination, we frequently spot Marsh Frogs, Herons, Tawny Owls, Buzzards and even on occasions Turtle Doves to name a few. There are also such fantastic attractions near us from the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway to Port Lympne Zoo and Lympne Castle, the churches and all the beaches from Dymchurch to Dungeness as well as the array of fantastic local small businesses and places to eat. We would really recommend the Romney Marsh as a destination to explore. What tickles me most is that here on the Romney Marsh there are still more sheep than people which suits my husband just fine.

 

Find out more on the Romney Marsh Wools website.

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