Naturally coloured wool and its uses
Each breed has characteristics that make its wool suitable for particular uses. Good management also plays a big part, ensuring that wool is sound and free of contaminants such as vegetable matter. The way wool is handled at shearing time is important, and a Code of Practice has been prepared to ensure the highest possible quality.
The best-known end use for natural coloured wool is handcrafts. Spinners, weavers, felters and other woolcrafters value the wool from coloured sheep for its natural look and its freedom from dye chemicals. Some breeders export fleece and carded wool for handcrafts to other countries. This is a niche market for top quality fleeces.
Coloured wool is also processed by commercial manufacturers into yarn, and may be made into woven or knitted garments, blankets and rugs, and other items. These command high prices in the export and tourist markets. Natural coloured knitting yarn is popular in New Zealand and overseas, and is made by a number of companies. Natural coloured wool can also be blended with other specialty fibres, such as alpaca or mohair and most recently possum, in the making of luxury products. Furthermore, both commercial enterprises and handcrafters find that by overdyeing natural coloured wool they can obtain a lovely range of interesting soft colours.
There is a small but growing demand for natural coloured sheepskins. As with handcraft wool, there are specific requirements if quality skins are to be produced.