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Lakes business looking for natural solutions

Jane Exley and assistant Letty Ashworth

Solutions to eco-problems might not always be easy to find, as an Ambleside-based company discovered.

The Woolly Rug Company manufacture highly-prized hand-made rugs and wall-hangings from a small workshop in the heart of the Lake District. The rugs, hand-tufted using 100% wool from local Herdwick sheep, have a distinctive grey tone and designs inspired by the surrounding landscape.

Owner Jane Exley turned to Eco-Innovations for help when she wanted to explore the possibility of developing a manufacturing technique using natural, rather than chemical, dyes.

“We’re very proud of our sustainable process, but wondered if there was even more we could do,” said Jane. “This might include potential CO2 reduction if we could source local natural products with a shorter distance for transport.”

Some chemical dyes are currently used to colour some of the yarns, and these are more resistant to fading than natural dyes, and they produce quick results that can be repeated accurately. But Jane and her team were concerned about adverse environmental impacts of chemical dyes and wondered if there might be potential benefits in using more sustainable natural dyes.

The pros and cons were extensively researched by Eco-Innovation intern, PhD student Carrie Hedges, who produced a comprehensive report for the company.

“The research discovered that the picture is not simple,” said Jane. One of the biggest obstacles, they realised, would be the need to use MORE energy in heating to a simmer dyes needed for large quantities of Herdwick wool. There was also an issue involving “mordants” needed to help the dyes bind and stay fast.

“We’ve begun a very interesting investigation into how we might become even more sustainable,” said Jane. “We had ideas which this  project allowed us to explore fully, so we can make decisions about what’s good for our business – and the environment.”

Eco-Innovation Cumbria, a project funded by the European Regional Development Fund, offers small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) throughout the county the opportunity to make use of university resources in order to develop and grow in an innovative and sustainable way.

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