Tory MP Damian Collins will soon be addressing the House in a suit made from the wool of Romney sheep in his Folkestone and Hythe constituency.
Usually Romney wool is used for carpets or upholstery, but painstaking work – all done in and around Huddersfield – has seen the first apparel-quality cloth produced and marketed as Romney Tweed.
The venture has taken more than three years to come to fruition. The original idea came from local resident Pat Alston, who wants to create jobs in the Romney area, but really took off after textiles veteran Gordon Kaye, former managing director of premium mill Taylor & Lodge, became involved.
Kaye’s knowledge enabled Romney Tweed – actually a worsted quality – to be realised. The fleece is hand-sorted to select the best fibre then scoured at Curtis Wool Direct in Bingley, worsted-spun at Spectrum Yarns, Huddersfield, and dyed by Paint Box Textiles in Liversedge. The weaving is done at C&J Antich and the finishing at WT Johnson, both in Huddersfield. Sales to the bespoke trade are being handled by cloth merchant Dugdale Bros of Huddersfield.
Dugdale has 15 patterns of the 13oz cloth, which sells for about £54 per metre. Despite the relative coarseness of the Romney fleece – it is about 31 microns in diameter compared to the 18.5 microns of a Super 100s fibre – the production process has given it a soft handle.
Collins, who has been chairman of the all-party parliamentary committee for fashion and textiles since 2010, is having his Romney Tweed suit made by bespoke tailor Timothy Everest, who spent part of his childhood in Kent.
Alston, the wife of a former British ambassador, hoped to have the cloth woven on Romney Marsh, a sparsely populated wetland that straddles Kent and East Sussex. However, this is proving to be too ambitious a project as the area has no weaving tradition. She has set up a community interest company – a local charity – to manage the project and is looking for funds to ensure that Romney Tweed has a continuing identity.
Kaye stresses that to create such a soft-handle worsted cloth from the short fleece of Romney wool is challenging technically. “British wools usually are used for woollen qualities, but by hand-sorting the raw fleece we were able to get enough yarn to make it work as a worsted. It is the first time that a Romney cloth has been made entirely in England,” he said.
Geoff Wheeler, London sales manager for Dugdale Bros, added: “It is very unusual to be able to offer tailors a purely English cloth. This might be a slow burn on sales, but Savile Row tailors want more specials and this has a great story behind it.”