Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Warm and Wooly

It is snowing hard right now.  When we lived on the Yukon River in Grayling, Alaska, the natives taught us to call this kind of snow "duck feathers."  It's not real cold, but in half an hour since the snow began, we have at least an inch on the ground.  None of this teeny stuff.  This is serious snow.  Fun snow!  Sledding snow!  And, to me snow and wool seem meant for each other!

I LOVE wool.  To me, wool is one of the very best things about winter.  The basket pictured above contains some of my Leicester Longwool, carded out, ready to spin into yarn. It glistens in the sunny window, springs back at my touch, and invites a hand to probe its many wonderful qualities, wriggling fingers deep down.

Wool is a sustainable fiber.  Each year, the shepherdess takes a "crop" of wool from her sheep, and they immediately start to work on growing next year's.  Spinning yarn from fiber is one of the most satisfying endeavors.  It's quiet, relaxing, and the finished product is ultimately wearable and warm. 

IMHO wool is the single most wonderful fiber!  You can actually FEEL the warmth being generated even as you simply slip your cold hand into a wool mitten.  It practically glows!

But some complain that it's just too "itchy."  Kids object to sweaters that are of the wrong TYPE of wool, being next to their skin.  I know I did.   As with everything else in the natural world, some things are well-suited to a particular task, while others aren't.  So, learn about wool first, and then you'll know what to avoid and why.

For example, LLW is a wool that would be suitable for what is called "outer" wear. Directly next to one's skin, it would be less than pleasant if you're a sensitive.  So, what is knit with this type of wool is anything that doesn't go next to one's skin.  This wool works for under-the-coat-collar scarves, socks, gloves, mittens...anything that doesn't lie right next to skin (with the exception of socks--feet seem to be less affected by the "scratchiness" of this type of wool).  The wool IS long!  Some of these sheep, which I owned a few years back, had "locks" as much as 8-10 inches in length as measured when shorn.  This breed was developed for both meat and fiber, and was thus favored among the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  The wool is spun "worsted" and is exceptionally strong. 
On the other hand, I've now finished the scarf I started a few weeks back, using a blended yarn made of  50% Merino wool and 50% silk.  Talk about soft!  Merino sheep have the softest wool imaginable!  No scratch.  No itch.  Just pure luxurious warmth.  Hence, the yarn is excellent for articles of clothing that are worn next to the skin. 

The point, here, is that you do have choices.  Wool is NOT necessarily synonomous with "itchy."  And synthetics simply do not warm as wool does.  Acrylic "doesn't get it" either.  It has no live warmth.   Even when it's wet, wool warms.  

Many complain that wool is not washable. Yet much of today's commercial wool yarn offerings are indeed machine washable. But, of course, be sure and check the label to determine washability before making any assumptions.

A couple of months ago, I purchased The Knitter's Book of Wool by Clara Parkes.  What a delightful encyclopedia!  Subtitled, The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber, it is an exceptionally useful and helpful book both for knitters and handspinners. 

If you're looking for a neat hobby that will keep you learning for years and years, one that teaches you how to make great clothing and home decor items, and vicariously let's you live the life of a shepherd...consider browsing the fiber arts specifically in the "wool department." You will be rewarded a thousand-fold with this fascinating craft.  There are lots of resources and websites devoted to the craft on the web.  Simply Google in the term of your choice, and go from there!  It will be a wild and wooly ride!  Perfect for a snowy day in January!


  1. Elora -- Wow -- the photo of the snow falling rapidly, in what looks like your described feathers, is marvelous. You'll need those knitted wool items for all this cold and snow we have been having. -- barbara

  2. I wear wool socks year round because I have cold feet year round! Since I don't knit I have to buy them but generally try to stock up in the spring when the hiking stores put them on half price. I love that basket of wool - it looks like it needs to be sitting on the floor next to my stitching chair! :) blessings, marlene

  3. I enjoy knitting (and crochet) for the sense of being able to create something beautiful. However babies and small children, at least mine, need their clothes washed after one wearing and as I wouldn't permit acrylic yarn onto my knitting needles I stopped knitting them jumpers. Now they are so big that it would take a year to knit something that would fit them. Instead I took to chrocheting knee rugs from any oddments, the challenge being to combine the colours available into something of beauty. My design hero is Kaffe Fasset because of the wonderful way he uses colour though my knitting tension/style is a bit off square and my results are a bit squished. have you tried felting because that looks like it could produce some wonderful results too.

  4. Thanks so much, again, Barbara! It was really SNOWING! But melting fast beneath, so the build-up was pretty minimal.

    Marlene, I know you have happy feet with those wool sox! Smart lady! hope your grandson gets on the mend, quickly, Marlene!


    I haven't had much luck with felting, but I haven't been doing it very long. I will email you a pattern that my friend Debbi gave me, for felted clogs. The important thing about felting, though, is knowing your wool. Some wools felt, some don't. My Leicester Longwool, for example, is listed as a "poor" felting wool; (and I've proven that!!) Some wools felt almost immediately. There's not really a fixed "recipe" and there is some experimentation involved. I'm still kind of sensitive about subjecting a project that I've managed to knit, to an uncertain process that has the potential to negate my efforts up to that point, by either not felting, OR felting! My knitting is still a work in progress!! Nonetheless, I'll send this over to you. It's a PDF format. It's got complete instructions for knitting and felting.

    BTW, I, too, like to crochet. I find it more restful than the knitting, where I have to pay strict attention or else I screw it up! Crocheting seems more forgiving!
    Thanks for your comment!