what wool means to me

You may have heard that the month of November has been claimed as the month of ‘Wovember‘ as a celebration of wool.  It’s an idea I can heartily endorse & it inspired me to write a post about wool.

I remember how common wool was when I was young.  Winter sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, blankets – EVERYthing to do with winter was woolen.  Very little of it was scratchy, in my memory.  In my teens, the quality of moderately priced woolens had dropped considerably, so it fell out of favor in my wardrobe.  In the 80’s & 90’s, cashmere ruled, and the humble woolen sweater was rendered obsolete.

I bought a sweater at Saks in the mid 90’s that woke me up.  It was a deep brown Italian merino vest, and the softness, pill resistance & warmth was far superior to the cotton & cashmere that also hung in my closet.  I had forgotten how wonderful wool was to wear.  Lightweight & comforting – more so than static-y acrylic fleece or junky, pill-y department store cashmere.  An old friend to rely on.  I began to take notice of wool garments wherever I found them.

Some years later, I began to knit.  Alpaca was the fiber-darling of the day, and wool yarns were pushed to the lower shelves to make way for all of the cuddly alpaca yarns.  Yes, it was soft.  Yes, it was a pleasure to work with.  But man, did it stretch in the blocking process & pill in use.  I found Karabella Aurora 8 & was immediately smitten with its softness, but I was thrilled with its durability, light weight, ease of washing & wearing.  It was – & still is – far superior to alpaca yarns, in my opinion.  There are other favorite wool yarns in my stash: String Theory Merino DK, Jamieson’s Spindrift, Bartlett Yarns Sport, Sanguine Gryphon TravellerHarrisville ShetlandMadeline Tosh Vintage, and the ever-popular workhorse yarn Cascade 220.  Each one a treasure in its own way.

I later discovered the wonders of Shetland wool.  Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books extolled the virtues of wool over all other fibers, and I wondered if she was raving about yarns that were no longer available, and that I had missed my chance to use such yarns.  I missed the fair isle yokes of my youth & reading Elizabeth’s words made me realize how much I’d like to make one.  The yarn wasn’t carried in any of the LYSs, and I wanted to hear the general consensus amongst knitters before I took the plunge to buy it.  I still laugh when I think back to my early days on Ravelry when I asked for other knitters’ opinions of Shetland yarns.  The Americans that responded said it was quite itchy, but the Brits that responded said it was soft & perfectly suited for baby clothes.  Quite a range of opinions, and not terribly helpful at the time, but now that I have used it for myself, I feel I must side with the Brits.  While it can be a bit rough off the skein, it softens with washing, and softens even more with further use & washing.  It provides greater warmth than other fibers weighing twice as much, making the garments a pleasure to wear.

So what does wool mean to me?  It means warmth.  It means tradition.  It means rain-resistant.  It means practicality.  It means comfort on a level that no other fiber can touch.

What does it mean to you?


The Knitter’s Book of Wool

I caved today. My moratorium on spending on myself experienced a momentary lapse. (Truth be told, I knew I’d cave on this one.)


I used to be a major alpaca fan, but this year I’ve come to appreciate pure wool above all other fibers. It’s warm, durable, resilient, lightweight & the gold-standard for fine knitwear. That said, I was very curious to see Clara Parkes’ newest book – ‘the Knitter’s Book of Wool’, and after a few short minutes, I realized it’s a perfect complement to June Hemmons Hiatt’s ‘Principles of Knitting’, of which I am fortunate enough to have a copy.

I love to know the mechanics behind the things I find interesting, and while ‘Principles’ covers the physics of actual knitting, ‘Knitter’s Book of Wool’ takes it further & discusses how the actual structure of wool from various breeds looks, acts & performs. The perfect thing for the tech-geek’s bookshelf, despite the apparent lack of typical technology.


There’s a chapter whose name I love & it’s aptly called ‘From Pasture to Pullover’. It’s a fascinating look at what most knitters don’t get to experience – the progress of the wool from shear, scour, card, to spin – and finally to the dye pot & to you.

I’m dying to find the quiet time to slip off & read the rest of the book – I’m hoping I find some before January! It’s not packed with patterns (though it has quite a few), but really, get yourself a copy of this while you can. I think this book is going to be one of those ‘Holy Grail’ knitting books that people pay outrageous sums for on ebay when they realized how they missed the boat.

My friends, do not miss the boat.