Friday, September 21, 2012

About Wool

Great book for knitters to learn about wool by Clara Parkes
My head is full of wool these days. I spent half of the summer with raw wool fleeces – cleaning, combing, carding, spinning and knitting the wool of various breeds. It was an incredible experience and, among many other things, I learned that wool - hand cleaned, prepared and spun - is almost like a different animal than commercially prepared fiber or yarn.  And in a few weeks, I will be on my way to the Taos Wool Festival in Taos New Mexico to play with more wool.

Washed lock and handspun skein
Babydoll Southdown sheep from Juniper Moom Farm

Wool is a gift to knitters with a kaleidoscope of marvelous and desirable characteristics that synthetic fibers can only envy. Wool insulates against heat and cold. It absorbs moisture keeping the wearer dry. Up to a point of course, but even saturated, wool will still keep the wearer warm. It even extinguishes itself in a fire.

Swatch of Handspun Tarhee Stretched and relaxed

Specifically important to knitters, wool is resilient. It stretches when a knitting needle is inserted into a stitch and returns to its original size to snuggle into the newly made stitch. In other words it holds its shape.
A Fabulous Book About Sheep and Wool
A word about allergies, the biggest obstacle to non-wool lovers:  Wool is made up a protein called keratin – the very same thing that our hair and nails are made of. It seems unlikely that we are allergic to keratin. Maybe some people are allergic to the lanolin rarely but sometimes left in yarns. More likely, the allergy is due to the chemicals and dyes used in commercial processing of wool. Thus handspun wool may not have an allergy problem. There is a prickly factor referred to in the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook – some humans are so sensitive that even the finest fiber’s pokey ends can be felt and attributed to an allergy. Definitely this is an unclear subject.
By the way, the above book is chock full of all kinds of information about wool, history and information of over 200 breeds of sheep and characteristics of the their wool – absolutely fascinating.
“Wool is Green”: wool is a natural renewable fiber as opposed to synthetic fibers that are produced from oil. As Linda Cortwright, editor and author for Wild Fibers magazine so poignantly states it: “pause for just a moment to consider the fact that there has never been a national disaster caused by a sheep spill” (from the article in this issue of Wild Fibers “New York Welcomes the Wizards of Wool”)
Check out some breed specific yarns (Merino, Bluefaced Leicester and more at wool festivals and some local yarn shops) to support local ranchers, be green and see for yourself how fun wool can be.

No comments: