All our yarn is locally produced – the sheep and goats are farmed in the Karoo and parts of the Southern, Western and Eastern Capes. South Africa is the biggest mohair producing country in the world, responsible for more than half the global production annually, and also produces excellent quality merino wool. The wool is cleaned and combed in local factories, where most of our yarns are commercially spun, with a small proportion of handspun done (by hand!) in the Eastern Cape.
We use commercial acid-wool dyes, which are azo-free and comply with European safety and environmental standards.
Some people say they are very sensitive to wool and find it scratchy. We all have different skin sensitivities. We work with good quality fibre and the wool is the finest you can get in this country.
For most people wool only starts to feel scratchy when they are too hot. When the fibre gets warm it “opens” kind of like a flower as it has “scales” surrounding an air core, which expands when it warms up. These scales are what makes wool felt, and when it’s warm they open and make it a little more scratchy – so usually when it feels scratchy it’s because it’s time to take it off and put it back on again when you’re cold.
Most of our wool is superwash treated to remove the scales and make the yarns machine washable. This makes it generally less scratchy.
We hand dye everything at cowgirlblues. Most of our yarns are commercially spun, the rest spun by hand. Our ready-to-wear products are knitted by machine and finished by hand. And we over-dye everything.
All dyeing is done in our Woodstock studio.
Yes. One of my customers, a man, bought a knit neckwarmer in the winter. As it started getting warmer he told me he was driving to work with the air conditioning on and all the car windows down so that he could still wear it, because even though it wasn’t really cold enough he didn’t want to take it off!
Definitely, it’s an important part of what we do and we intend to grow this into a big small business. We have 5 women working in the studio who are involved in various aspects of making and finishing the products.
We don’t think so. Neither the sheep nor the goats are killed for their wool/mohair respectively. Being shorn or clipped is like going for a haircut. Sometimes they get little cuts if they wriggle, a little bit like someone might nick themselves shaving. South African farmers do not practice mulesing which is very cruel to animals.
All products do, but we try to minimize that as much as possible. Wool and mohair natural fibres are renewable – the sheep and goats are still roaming the Karoo and produce many seasons of fleece. An adult ram/ewe can produce 5kg of fleece. In some parts of the country they are shorn twice a year, in others only once, so that’s about 10kg of fleece each year, which can go a pretty long way, when you think that our smaller products use less than 100g of material.
The dyeing process requires a fair amount of water but we try to recycle it as much as possible, and to use our dyebaths to exhaustion so that the dyes aren’t going into the water table.
We do explore and experiment with natural dyes. Many of them are plant derivatives and require large quantities of bark, flowers, roots, etc. Sometimes this is taking a food source that could otherwise feed a hungry person, otherwise it’s just a big environmental load. So for now it’s still an exploration.
Our products need to be looked after carefully. Handwashing is preferable, although most of our yarns are superwash treated. We recommend a lukewarm water bath with gentle detergent is all it needs. Squeeze it gently in the water, support it when it’s wet, rinse in more cool water and dry it flat in the shade, reshaping while it’s damp.