Ave Matsin is Head of Department at Viljandi Culture Academy at the University of Tartu. The Culture Academy offers professional higher education (240 ECTS, 4 years) in Estonian native crafts. The department aims to make craft more visible and stronger in society. Students work with local traditional techniques and materials, textile students work mostly with wool. Since 2016 there is a wool laboratory for innovation at the university.
The current situation for wool in Estonia (2015) is about 85000 sheep, 1900 farmers with average herd size about 50 sheep, and the annual production of wool is estimated to 170 tons. 85-90% of the wool is discarded, only 13 ton per year comes out processed in Estonian industry.
There are several obstacles to using local wool in the industry: Wool is counted as agricultural waste, farmers focus on meat production, quality is uneven, there is a lack of shearers, no wool standard, no collecting or classification system, no scouring, less than 1% is washed by small companies in the country, farmers have problems getting rid of wool, wool has a low economical value, and there are outdated machines in the industry.
In 2017 one student made research of the wool mill situation in Estonia. There are six mills producing woolen yarn and three mills producing semi-worsted. The largest yarn producer is Raasiku wool factory (OÜ Aade Lõng), with a capacity of around 40 t per year. They prefer New Zealand and Australian wool that has been previously washed and dyed in Europe. The share of local wool in their production is 10-20%. The smaller mills mostly use home scoured local wool, or local wool scoured in Pāces Vilnas Fabrika in Latvia. The total annual production of wool factories participating in the study is about 60 t of wool products, of which the production of local raw materials is about 13.5 t.
There was a lack of specific yarns to practice old textile techniques which lead to the creation of an own wool laboratory at Viljandi Cultural Academy in 2016. The equipment was produced by Ramella company in Italy for specially meeting the demands of the university. The machines can handle all processes from scouring to yarn (semi-worsted) and also produce wool batt. The maximum capacity is 20 t per year. There are no measuring or testing machinery in the laboratory.
The work in the wool laboratory is based on innovation. Students make small amounts of yarn for producing knitted or woven fabrics and garment, so they better understand the textile processes. The students also learn more about the materials. They are mostly working with finer fibres suitable for yarn and textile production.
What they have learnt from working in the laboratory is that all wools are different! But there is suitable usage for every fibre and yarn. For local development it is important to have the whole collecting and production chain at the same place. Size also matters. The state must support classification and collecting of wool. All partners must be included, the university can´t do this on their own!