Friday, May 9, 2014


Jane Shand's merino scarves are all designed and made in Canterbury. Photos: Image Workshop

Today we share a fascinating insight behind the scenes of one of our many talented designers, Jane Shand of JS Design (formally Jane Henry Merino). Creating quality wool from a small flock of specially bred Merino sheep on a family run Canterbury farm, Jane has close relationships with those who bring her designs to fruition while overseeing all aspects of the production process, which is lengthy and labour intensive. For each scarf being a true labour of love, we spoke with Jane to discover just what is involved in making these luxury beauties for our discerning friends of The Flock.

You’ve spent your creative career involved with wool in some way or another. Can you give an overview of your journey and how it led to establishing JS Design (formally Jane Henry Merino)? I grew up on a farm and was given a spinning wheel by my parents when I turned 21. Although I worked as a teacher for 30 years, I found spinning a most rewarding hobby when my children were young. For many years I spun, dyed, knitted and made pictures and rugs from my own designs. 

Can you tell us about your relationship with the young farmer, William Gibson, who breeds these small flocks of rare merino breeds? When I had a break from teaching I began to explore creative possibilities with wool and discovered a beautiful flock of naturally coloured merino. Someone in the industry told me about young Will, so I contacted his family and since my first visit we forged a very genuine friendship. 

When we met, Will was only 15 and he had been already been developing his flock from the age of 9.  The fibre was of exceptional quality and I admired Will’s passion and dedication to perfection in his breeding. As Will was looking for an outlet for his wool, and as many manufacturer's at the time considered this breed as the “black sheep” of the merino family, and preferred to dye the wool, I recognised its inherent beauty and commercial potential, so together Will and I began our collaborative relationship. His parents Anton and Liz now supply the white fibre, which is eco-dyed for a wider range of colours, as well as the naturally coloured fibre, and bring the same dedication to the task that Will does.

Can you give us a little insight into your creative process for your designs? It's very much an organic process and I dream ideas often at night. I am hugely interested in textures and pattern, more so than shapes, and making scarves and shawls allows me to explore this aspect. I admire traditional elements such as plaids, checks and stripes as well as lacy textures.

I aim to make products that will last many seasons, so I tend to design more classic styles with unexpected non traditional details. I usually draw or paint the designs to see how they might work and the lacy patterns get drawn on graph paper for my long suffering Dunedin knitter to interpret!

However, with all my designs I have learnt to be disciplined and work within certain constraints dictated by the availability of yarns on hand and what can actually be produced within New Zealand. Sadly many New Zealand factories have closed down, which has meant that whatever I make must be able to be reproduced in New Zealand if another factory closes, which has been quite challenging at times.

These particular merino sheep are bred for their inherent natural colouring. Photos: Image Workshop  

How closely do you work with the makers in order to ensure your design is interpreted just the way you envisage it? I work together with both my knitter and weaver by sitting down with them and discussing my ideas. Sometimes my ideas may not technically possible, so I moderate them to suit once I have learned what the machines are capable of producing. It is always a process and can be frustrating at times due to the constraints imposed by the weaving process, but can be an equally thrilling discipline. I try to remember that simplicity is usually best and not all crazy ideas are commercially viable.

How much of your time now is spent designing, teaching, spinning, knitting, and running your business? There is simply never enough time! I no longer hand knit and spin much anymore. Running all aspects of my business myself is a huge challenge. 

I spend many hours on the computer every week mostly organising the movement of fibre and yarn here and there, and developing a number of contacts overseas, packing and sending out orders, ordering new stock and keeping up with the books. 

I love the creative process, and seeing the wool evolve from the sheep at the farm gate through all stages of production to the finished product is extremely rewarding. However, it's always a challenge designing and overseeing the manufacturing process, as well as managing the business aspects like marketing, which is so crucial to the success of any business, but often hard to find the time for! 

I am about to start on creating a brand new website to give a clearly representation of what I am doing now, as the business has evolved so much since it first began. 

Grading the wool is a time consuming part of the process which ensures the very highest quality is used in production of each scarf. Photos: Image Workshop 

How many merino sheep are in the flock bred to produce the wool used in JS Design scarves? Will now has around 300 and it is growing all the time. However, it's a slow process as he is very selective about the sheep he keeps. Although white merino is much more plentiful, the fineness and quality (15 - 16 microns) which I use from Anton and Liz, is relatively scarce. 

Can all of the wool be used or is there some kind of quality process involved? People I've worked with in the past believe all of the fibre can be used. However, this leads to pilling and felting problems which ultimately undermines the quality. I have learnt that classing - removing all short and inferior fibre - is absolutely crucial and that is what Will and his family do. 

There is huge trust involved in this aspect. There is a world wide problem in the wool industry where pilling has become prevalent and less care is taken, or inferior fibre mixed for profit taking. I know now that this is largely preventable but it is very time consuming and costly.

The manufacturing process is lengthy and labour intensive; how many people are involved in making one scarf? The fibre has to be selected, micron and strength tested, colour sorted, baled and sent to be washed at the scour. 

The scouring process is a very technical process which needs to be done with great care or the fine merino will felt or clump. Then it has to be carded to remove any remaining short fibres and in our case because we use the worsted system, the fibres all have to be aligned. Then it is spun and sent to the dyer, if it is white is is eco-dyed with metal free dyes, and is then sent to either a knitter or weaver. 

Where is the factory based? We use factories all over New Zealand, but weaving is done in Auckland and knitting in Dunedin. Sadly a couple of years ago I had to transfer spinning to Malaysia because New Zealand no longer has the capacity to card and spin very fine merino. However I pleased to say the results have been exceptional and they are well respected within the industry for their high level of quality.

Can you tell us which parts of the creative and manufacturing process make JS Design scarves different from other mass produced wool products? I choose not to use most of the usual chemical processes which aligns with my ethos. Textile manufacturing can contribute hugely to chemical overload and can be damaging to the environment. 

The Merino wool we use is grown sustainably and I didn’t want to tamper with the natural qualities it has of warmth, softness and resilience. Our knitting yarns require waxing to facilitate their smooth running through the machines but wax is a natural product and when I dye I always try to use metal free dyes. Our naturally coloured woven scarves have no treatments at all. None of our yarns are shrink resist treated because this is a very chemical process and my scarves and shawls don’t need to be if people treat them with care. I spin a little more tightly than usual to ensure stability of the fibre and it has been a very experimental process to get this right without sacrificing too much soft handle. Wool has been used for centuries in its natural state – why not now?

Small factory within Canterbury where JS Design merino scarves are produced in small batches. Photo: Image Workshop 

Initially only producing naturally coloured wool from the specially bred Merino sheep, what led you begin to introduce eco-dyed colours? I wanted to do quite delicate patterns for my knitted products and someone mentioned that the patterns were feminine but the natural colours were not. I didn’t entirely agree, but it did prompt me to think about colour as a way of extending the range, and because naturally coloured fibre is rare and in shorter supply, I began to experiment with this idea and so it evolved. I have enjoyed working with these new colours, but still love the natural coloured fibre and the fact that I can produce items from this which are straight from the sheep’s back so to speak.

What do customers love most about your scarves? Besides guaranteed warmth and comfort, people are becoming increasingly aware of our impact on our environment and taking personal responsibility by buying sustainable and eco-friendly products. These ideals are strongly supported by our commitment to operating sustainably and responsibly towards animals and the environment, with an emphasis on using the highest quality natural materials. 

How often do you create new designs? Is this seasonal and are there some specific designs which are repeated every season? With my new company, I intend to bring out new designs every season, but popular styles like classic lace will remain. My woven scarves change less frequently as I am required to make large batches at once, but I love designing these and always trial a couple of new styles when embarking on a new batch. 

One needs to be careful to create a particular style that is easily identifiable as a JS Design in order to build a brand and changing too frequently can interfere with this. Building a sustainable brand of high quality natural products takes time and I did not want to be too influenced by the fickleness of fast fashion. My designs are timeless, have lasting quality, and serve their function of superior warmth and comfort in the cold.

To see our range of JS Design merino scarves click here >

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