thinking about wool

i’ve been thinking a lot about wool recently. i’m a knitter and a spinner and it’s winter in new york, so that’s not terribly surprising, i suppose. it’s really that i’ve been thinking a lot about wool in some different ways than i’ve thought before. before when, you ask? well, here’s how my thinking has evolved.

before i was a knitter, wool was just something that winter clothes were made of. you wear sweaters in the winter, sometimes they’re made of wool, sometimes they’re made of something else, some wool sweaters are itchy, some are nice but expensive, sometimes you find a wool sweater that’s so perfect you basically live in it from october to may. but mostly, i didn’t really think that much about the fiber content of my clothes. if it fit well, looked nice, was washable and dry-able (which tended to rule out a lot of wool clothes, actually), and if it was something i could afford or was willing to spend money on, i bought it and wore it, giving more thought to how my clothes looked or felt and not so much about where they came from and what they were made of.

after i became a knitter, i started paying more attention to clothing fibers. after all, i was making things for myself and others to wear and i started to learn about the properties of different fibers and fiber blends in yarn. what makes this yarn feel so softy and squishy to knit with or this yarn produce a good firm fabric but be so tough on my hands? what causes this yarn to show off cabled stitches in a sweater so nicely but this yarn to have such a lovely drape and sheen in a lacy shawl?

when i learned to spin, i started paying even more attention to fibers. how is spinning wool different from spinning alpaca or silk or angora? how is spinning the wool from a fine wool sheep breed different from spinning wool from long wool breed or a down breed?  spinning got me more interested in sheep and other fiber animals and in the people who raise them.

i became a shareholder in juniper moon farm’s yarn and fiber CSA, visit the farm on a regular basis, and have became good friends with JMF’s owner and shepherd susan gibbs. i learned to shear sheep, acquired the only fiber animal i can legally keep on my tiny brooklyn lot, and keep my eyes out for any and all ways i can get my shepherding ya-yas until i’m ready to overthrow my yuppie life for a sheep and fiber farm of my very own.

all this has had a significant impact on the way i look at the clothes i wear. and this evolution of my thought process, which was already unfolding on its own, was reaffirmed with kate davies’ and felicity ford’s wovember project.

i know, it’s almost february and wovember happened in november. and i admit that i didn’t actually wear that much 100% wool in november. november was an unseasonably warm month here in new york and i hadn’t unpacked all my heavy woolens yet. but i spent a lot of november thinking about wool and as winter turned into actual winter weather, i started reassessing my wardrobe.

i have some good wool sweaters, a few pairs of wool pants for work, a nice wool-blend dress but also a lot of clothes from H&M and old navy and the like that are poly-something/rayon/etc blends and the best that can be said of them is that they’re cheap enough to buy a lot of and easy to replace. i actually tend to wear the same smallish handful of pieces over and over, so i’ve come to realize that what i do own should be the best i can find.

i started shopping for more 100% wool clothing after wovember. one of my favorite brands is icebreaker, which not only produces some great 100% merino wool clothing that’s machine-washable, but tries to do it in an ethical and sustainable way. i like that you can trace each garment to the sheep farm where its wool was grown. since i’m friends with an actual shepherd who makes her living from the sheep she raises, i particularly appreciate that even larger corporations recognize that for there to be wool clothing to sell, there have to be sheep farmers who can make a buck producing it. other companies that make 100% merino washable wool clothing that i like include ibex, luna, minus33, and of course, smartwool.

yes, these clothes aren’t cheap. but they’re hands down the clothes i put on more than all the rest of my clothes combined. i wear wool skirts and pants to work, with wool tights or wool knee socks underneath. i wear wool long johns under my wool skirts on extra cold days when i’m walking to the subway. i wear wool shirts with jeans and wool sweaters with everything. wool keeps me warm when it’s cold, is breathable and cooler when the heat gets turned up a little too high, and keeps me comfortable all day. wool is perfect for running and farm chores and other times when i’m working hard and sweating up a storm. i even wear wool as pjs. i won’t say that i wear 100% wool 100% of the time, but i’m definitely committed to spending more of my money on high quality wool clothes and less on cheap lower-quality synthetics.

and every time i put on something made of wool, i think about all the work it takes to raise the sheep that make the wool and all the effort it takes to turn raw wool into finished garments. and i think that all the money i’ve spent is a total bargain.

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