Wool is pretty darn amazing. It's a renewable resource (the sheep keep growing it!) and has a lot of properties that make it special. Here are just a few of the magical qualities wool possesses:
- it has memory (the ability to go back to its original shape) and can stretch
- it doesn't need to be washed as often as other materials such as cotton
- it has a high ignition temperature and is self-extinguishing
- it is hygroscopic (can absorb a great deal of moisture - 30 percent - before it start to feel wet), which makes it quite good as an insulator
There's a lot more wool can do, but that's just a little taste of it. And the world of wool is so wide as there are a number of different breeds of sheep and the wool they produce has varying characteristics, each suitable for different applications.
When I was at PLYAway last month, the special Friday night talk was given by Clara Parkes, one of the top experts and supporters of wool. She shared many of the above positives of wool and then gave us some examples of companies (outside the crafting world) that have been making use of wool. I wanted to share some of those uses with you.
Clothing is definitely a big category for use of wool, beyond the items we make for ourselves. Some of the companies Clara Parkes mentioned are the following:
- Icebreaker - provides clothing that is versatile and can be used for a long time in multiple ways (the opposite of "fast fashion")
- Duckworth - produces clothing from sheep in Montana
- Wool & Prince - clothing from wool produced by sheep in the Pacific Northwest and scoured (washed) in San Angelo, Texas (then back to the Pacific Northwest for spinning, weaving, and sewing)
- Wool & - sister site to Wool & Prince that carries wool dresses
- Allbirds - wool shoes (I have 2 pairs. I love them!)
- Baabuk - another option for wool shoes
- Ortovox - clothing for outdoor activities
And the U.S. military has turned to using wool for uniforms because of its flame-resistant properties (because synthetic materials can catch fire more easily and can also melt onto a soldier's skin, so those can't be used safely).
Wool is also being used inside and outside houses:
- Wild Valley Farms - wool pellets for gardening (makes use of the bits of fleece that might otherwise get thrown out)
- Havelock Wool - insulation
- Solid Wool - chairs
Clara also mentioned other uses of wool such as wool coffins (which are biodegradable) and the fact that all vitamin D3 comes from lanolin. And on my flight home, I read an article in the in-flight magazine about a company using wool to make surfboards!
Help Promote Wool
Clara opened her presentation with some of the images she had been sharing on Instagram with some companies that have been throwing wool under the bus, making claims that we should leave wool for the sheep and not take it from them. The fact is that sheep need to be shorn regularly. If they are not, their fleece can become dangerous to them, causing them to have limited mobility and sight. So rather than helping sheep by using synthetic fabrics, it's actually hurting them. (Here's a brief article from the American Sheep Industry that discusses this issue.)
So if you see someone say something negative about wool, set the record straight because wool truly is an amazing material with all sorts of uses that we're really only beginning to discover. (And if you or someone you know thinks that wool is "scratchy," take some time to learn about different breeds and what a micron count is and how that affects how soft, or not, wool can be. There's also a newer process called wool mercerization that makes wool superwash and also softer--I want to learn more about this process!)
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