Ingebretsen’s nålbindning teacher, Renata Fossett, has her students use Lovikka yarn from Ullcentrum for good reason: “It has a nice density, a nice feel, and the right amount of spin. It’s a sturdy, old-fashioned wool.”
Ann Linderhjelm, the founder of Ullcentrum (Wool Central) a yarn manufacturer based in Öland, Sweden, would be pleased at having her product considered “old-fashioned”. She’s built a company on keeping old-fashioned alive.
Ann started Ullcentrum in 1998 when she learned that many of the local sheep farmers were burning or throwing away up to 80% of the fleece their flocks produced because they couldn’t find a market for it. “The reason is that most people have forgotten how to use natural fibers. So I made it my mission to make Swedish wool popular, make designs from it, and make people interested in wearing and using wool products,” she explains.
By creating a market for wool, Ann also addressed another problem sheep farmers faced: Sweden doesn’t have a trade agency or collective that helps market the wool the way that many other European countries do. Many farmers in Oland and surrounding provinces are trying to keep the unique, heritage sheep breeds of Sweden alive. Major yarn companies aren’t interested in buying small quantities of fleeces with varying characteristics. They prefer wool from only a couple of different breeds, primarily Merino and Romney, the white, fluffy sheep that immediately come to mind when you think of Australia and New Zealand.
However, variety is the very thing sheep farmers are trying to preserve. Ann herself kept sheep for ten years and has a soft spot in her heart for them. “The sheep keep the land open and beautiful,” she says. Linnea Dahlberg, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, explains how the various breeds evolved and why they are so tied to the Swedish countryside:
Sheep have played a very important part in rural history. In Sweden there were many kinds of small native breeds, kept for their meat and fleece. Women cared for the flock that often had very little to feed on during the cold and sometimes harsh winter months. This meant that these sheep over time acquired special phenotypic properties depending on the environment they lived in, and easily fed compared to modern breeds kept for meat. Most of these sheep have since become extinct.
To make it economically possible to keep the remaining breeds viable, markets for their fleece needed to exist. Ann provided that market with Ullcentrum. “We buy all wool from local sheep farmers. For grey yarn (we dye also on grey) is the breed Gotland sheep. White wool is Swedish cross breeds,” Ann writes in an email. “We are proud to be able to preserve one of the best natural materials available – Swedish wool.”
The style of the yarn also keep tradition alive. Ann writes, “Lovikka yarn is an ancient yarn type, from Laponia [an historical province in the far north of Sweden and Finland]. From the beginning, the Laponian women used the yarn when knitting warm mittens.” Renata Fossett elaborates, “If you wanted to make something that lasts, you would use this style of yarn. It’s a single ply with a firm twist. It doesn’t become unwound. It holds up beautifully.”
Knitting designer and Ingebretsen’s instructor Wendy J. Johnson is also a fan of Ullcentrum’s Lovikka wool. Wendy teaches the Lovikka mitten class and Ingebretsen’s sells her Lovikka-style knitting patterns. She says, “It’s the perfect yarn for creating authentic Lovikka-style garments or any warm garment or knit object that will be fulled/felted. It finishes beautifully to a firm, yet soft, fabric. And the natural colors are gorgeous! I have enjoyed working with this yarn. The fabric that this bulky yarn creates provides the perfect surface for the distinctive hand-embroidered cuff designs found in the Lovikka tradition.” (In a side note, the people of Lovikka, Sweden, population 61, are so proud of this tradition that they knitted a 12-foot mitten for the town.)
While Ann’s original mission was to end waste, she has accomplished much more. She has helped keep the Swedish environment healthy, helped keep unique sheep breeds alive, shown people the beauty and comfort of wool, and created a yarn that is long-lasting and enjoyable to work with. As Wendy says, “It is a delight to use this true Swedish yarn for true Swedish heritage knitting!”