In Norway, there are 12 sheep breeds, of which six are endangered. Several of the breeds have speckled gray, black or brown color shades and the quality of the bottom hairs is different than that of the cover hairs. Norwegian mass producers refuse to use this wool. For them, only Norwegian white sheep apply, since It does not need dyeing, bleaching or other processing. The Norwegian company Varp & Verft thinks differntly.
“While nursing my first son I came across a research study called “Valuing Norwegian wool”. Basically, the conclusion was that we are underutilizing a wonderful natural resource at the expense of biodiversity,” says economist and designer Carina Sandsmark Øvestad, who founded the company Varp & Veft with private and government funding in 2013.
From shearing to hand grading, spinning and finally weaving & finishing, every element of the company’s Norway Cloth™ Grey Trønder wool collection is produced locally and from start to finish takes many months.
At the 2015 design fair 100% Norway in London, she exhibited the company’s first product series together with textile designer Jon Petterson. They realized that English dealers were interested in the niche product and wanted to collaborate with British architects and use it in public environments.
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“We believe in the importance of preserving local manufacturing know-how as well as the lovely, yet longtime neglected, pigmented wool of old breeds of sheep. This is why we source handpicked raw wool from dedicated farmers and process this natural resource into high quality fabrics and finished items such as cushions,” says Øvestad.
In the old days the Norwegian Vikings knew how to best utilize the different wool qualities for the different usages. Each fleece would be hand sorted so that the long, coarse and almost waterproof hair would be used for sails and rugs, while the soft undercoat was spun into a softer yarn used for knitting garments.
Nowadays the Norwegian industry seems to prefer importing homogeneous wool for easier processing, while the wool of the modern white “meat sheep” is exported for the making of durable carpets. As a result, many old Norwegian sheep breeds are vulnerable to extinction.
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“I wanted to change that,” says Øvestad who run the family-owned business with the help and inspiration of her children and husband.
By involving all segments in the wool industry, from the farmer and sorting machinery, to the weavers, spinners and designers, the result is added value, and Norwegian wool industry would change from mass production to batch production.
The “Black Sheep” of Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg.
All photos © Varp & Verft
Feature image (on top): Photo by: Kristin Bodsberg at the Øfsti Søndre Farm