Homespun jerseys the go for strong wool

Davaar & Co founder Kate Macdonald and her father, Davaar Station owner James Macdonald, of...
Davaar & Co founder Kate Macdonald and her father, Davaar Station owner James Macdonald, of Western Southland, spoke about her journey making and marketing jerseys made from her family’s strong wool clip at a Beef + Lamb workshop at Telford near Balclutha. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A strong wool clip on a sheep and beef station in Western Southland is creating a superior yarn.

Davaar & Co founder Kate Macdonald spoke about her new venture at a Beef + Lamb "Farming for Profit: Flocks’ Future — How Much Wool?" workshop at Telford, near Balclutha, last week.

After graduating in agribusiness and food marketing at Lincoln University, her plan was to go on her OE but the pandemic hampered her plans.

So she returned home to work on Davaar Station, where her family have farmed for more than a century in The Key.

Smoko conversations with her parents James and Fiona Macdonald included ways to add value to their strong wool clip.

"We just kept coming back to homespun jerseys."

She wanted to create a fantastic homespun jersey like her grandmother Sally Macdonald could make.

Research showed the market for woollen workwear was saturated but there was a hole for a versatile, high-end fashion garment.

Davaar & Co began trading in July 2022 and bought wool from Davaar Station.

About 6500 breeding ewes were run on the station.

The older sheep were shorn once a year and younger sheep were shorn every eight months.

For the past two years wool was fibre-scanned at shearing.

Don Morrison, of Pastoral Measurements in Christchurch, did the fibre scanning at Davaar Station. Scanning made it possible to select the highest-quality wool on a range of characteristics.

"This is proving to be a vital part of producing beautiful garments using our strong wool."

A wool characteristic searched for was higher curved fibres, which have greater elasticity, durability, resilience and insulation properties.

Mr Macdonald said the aim was to select fibres which broke at a similar point when stretched.

If a fibre was weaker and broke sooner than other fibres it could result in a jersey pilling and itching its wearer.

A fine yarn was needed for the knitting machine, he said.

"The only way to get a fine yarn out of strong wool is to have quality."

About a third of his ewes could produce the wool his daughter required to make jerseys.

Before buying a ram, he had it fibre-scanned to identify its heritable wool characteristics.

The data helped him select the ram to put over his ewe flock to improve the quality of the clip.

Miss Macdonald said another important characteristic was fibres being even and round to aid spinning and reduce a garment being itchy.

Fibre was also selected on a medullation characteristic, which impacted dye uptake.

The mean micron of their ewe wool was 35 and lamb’s wool was 30.

Fibre-scanning cost about $2 a sheep.

About 40,000kg of wool was produced annually on the station

Davaar & Co used about 8% of the wool.

The other 92% was sold at auction.

"The value of the fibre-scanned wool is worth twice as much as the auction wool."

The wool got scoured at WoolWorks in Timaru,

An aim was to provide Woolworks a staple length between 70mm and 90mm.

The scoured wool was spun and dyed at Woolyarns in Wellington and knitted at Otago Knitwear in Dunedin.

About 1kg of scoured wool made one garment.

Her long-term goal was to use the entire Davaar Station wool clip for various value-add products.

"We have quite a wee way to go, as wool does go a long way."


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