Please Explain: Wool

Friday, December 17, 2010

This cold weather has caused many of us to pull out our wool sweaters for extra warmth, and for this week’s Please Explain we’re talking about wool—and the process of gathering and using wool, from the sheep to the sweater! Clara Parkes, author of The Knitters Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber and The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn, and Dr. Christopher Lupton, Professor, The Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory, Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, join us to discuss the subject.


Christopher Lupton and Clara Parkes

Comments [30]

DWS from NY

Serious question... do moths attack sheep or just wool sweaters?

Dec. 17 2010 05:43 PM
Mia from Manhattan

You really didn't deal at all with the cruelty behind wool: the animals are raised in factory-farm like conditions, intensive breeding to produce more and more wool or specific kinds can cause the animals extreme discomfort, sheering can be pretty brutal (lots of photos available of cut up sheep), and there's something called mulesing that is standard practice among major wool producers. It involves tearing flesh from lambs' hindquarters and legs, with no anesthesia, to prevent maggots settling in folds of skin. You guests said most wool in the U.S. comes from Australia. Mulesing is common there, despite ongoing protests.

Why not explore these aspects of wool, too?!

Dec. 17 2010 02:02 PM
Robert Plautz from New York, N.Y.

What is ragg wool?

Dec. 17 2010 01:57 PM

Stefanie Weiss - Have you asked the sheep farm people at Union Sq about their processes? They sell meat and hand spun yarn.

WOOLITE!!! Teh guys at Nantucket Looms said NO NO NO to woolite! Weakens fiber

Dec. 17 2010 01:54 PM
nan from nyc

I,ve had problems with mohair shrinking incredibly in handwash - also, it's disinitigrated a lot under the armpits

Dec. 17 2010 01:53 PM
donna from brooklyn

this is one of the best 'please explain' segments ever! excessive laundering is one of the biggest generators of pollution. if treated properly wool sweaters can be washed infrequently. i treat wool like hair -- that is, i often wash my wool sweaters with baby shampoo and follow with a hair mild conditioner. i feel this is so much better than harsh synthetic detergents and chemical fabric softeners. can clara comment on whether this is a good idea?

Dec. 17 2010 01:51 PM
Teri from Manhattan

When I was breastfeeding, I used a lot of products containing lanolin. What it it about Lanolin that makes it suitable for healing and soothing human skin?

Dec. 17 2010 01:51 PM

I've been to the Shetland Islands and is it true that Shetland wool is of a better quality because the diet of the Shetland sheep--they eat seaweed and mosses. . . .

Dec. 17 2010 01:51 PM
Charlene Jaszewski from UWS

Wool doesn't have to be itchy. I used to live in the midwest (where layering is critical to stay warm in winter) and I was thrilled to discover thin layering garments made of very fine wool (brands like Smartwool and Icebreaker). Soft next to the skin, with fabulous wicking properties (meaning you don't stink if you sweat like with polypropylene).

Dec. 17 2010 01:50 PM
Claudia from NJ

Why would bamboo be added to an alpaca blend? What would that do to the yarn? I'd like to know since I just ordered gobs of it online ...

Dec. 17 2010 01:49 PM
stefanie Weiss from west village

Can one find any wool that is from a farm in which the lambs are NOT sent to slaughter? I'd feel a lot better about wearing it if I knew it was kill-free.

Dec. 17 2010 01:48 PM
Elizabeth from Montclair

What about allergies that are not contact dermatitis? I have no problem with wool against my skin, and wear wool socks all winter long. But if I get near a wool blanket or sweater, my soft palate itches, my eyes itch and tear, and sometimes I get a hive or two near my eyes. Even if it's not the wool per se, but something in it, either original or acquired through processing, to me it's a wool allergy because my wool sweaters were the only thing I had to give away when the itchy symptoms started.

Dec. 17 2010 01:47 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Is there any way to know when buying wool if the sheep are treated humanely? Does any organization certify this?

Dec. 17 2010 01:47 PM
cecilia from nyc.

Knitting is so relaxing and might relieve the world of a lot of anxieties. cd

Dec. 17 2010 01:44 PM

cold water and glycerin

Dec. 17 2010 01:37 PM
Charlene Jaszewski from New York

Wool doesn't have to be itchy. I used to live in the midwest (where layering is critical to stay warm in winter) and I was thrilled to discover thin layering garments made of very fine wool (brands like Smartwool and Icebreaker). Soft next to the skin, with fabulous wicking properties (meaning you don't stink if you sweat like with polypropylene).

Dec. 17 2010 01:37 PM

I have definitely heard of automated sheep shearing devices that should raise flags about cruelty issues.

Dec. 17 2010 01:37 PM
Bob from Glen Rock

When I see films of sheep being shorn, they seem to be docile. Are they enjoying the process. Do sheep need to be shorn like cows need to be milked?

Dec. 17 2010 01:36 PM
Mike from Jackson Heights

Wool used to be promoted as a naturally fire-retardant fabric - suitable for use by gas utility employees. True or myth?

Dec. 17 2010 01:36 PM
Veronica from Manhattan

I understand that synthetics are the best socks and clothing for athletic activities because they wick away moisture. Is it true that synthetics are better than wool (or cotton) for this reason?

Dec. 17 2010 01:34 PM

what about lanolin sensitivities? I was raised believing irish sweaters ( fisherman) and kowachin sweaters should not be drycleaned because tne lanolin is vital to the warmth they provide.

Dec. 17 2010 01:34 PM
Jayr from Queens

Is there any wool that has insulating properties as dense and as warm as Leonard's beard seems to have?

Dec. 17 2010 01:29 PM
Christine from Darine

Why does alpaca yarn shed so much? I knitted a beautiful shawl and can't wear it because it sheds so terribly.

Dec. 17 2010 01:28 PM
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

How does wool "wick away" moisture? Is it because the fibers remain somewhat separate or does it have something to do with static electricity?

Also, does wool have more wind-stopping capacity and is it actually warmer than other fibers?

Dec. 17 2010 01:27 PM

I do understand that the production f merino wool involves cruelty and so avoid buying it - but not all wool involves cruelty.

Also, in Italy there has traditionally been a wonderful fabric recycling industry - incl wool - they don't especially value virgin wool and as everybody knows - Italy makes gorgeous clothes at all price levels. (Or has traditionally - maybe things are changing there with the rise of India and China)

Also, used wool felts in a hot water washing machine cycle - and it's very warm. Sheep contribute poop to soil - important - (environment, sustainability) and milk for cheese and yogurt - they eat grass - it's always important to distinguish between industrial processes and artisinal. And don't call "artisinal" "elitist!" They are CHOICES.

What I wonder about is all the cashmere around - it used to be rare.

Dec. 17 2010 11:38 AM
Leo in NYC

Sorry for the serial posts — I just figured I'd save everyone the trouble and summarize:

Wool uses less total energy to produce than cotton or polyester, but has a larger carbon footprint and uses vastly more water and other natural resources. It also requires pesticides and antibiotics to be applied on an industrial scale.

And if you care, there are huge animal cruelty issues — farmers intentionally cut the outer layer of skin off of the animal and castrate them without anesthetic as part of the production process. Many New Zealand sheep die every year from heat exhaustion, and an estimated million a year die from exposure in the US.

Dec. 17 2010 11:23 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Hard to believe now, but something so simple-sounding as the wool trade was a major factor in the development of the once all-powerful British Empire.

Dec. 17 2010 11:06 AM
Leo in NYC

Oops — that link might not work. Try this:

Dec. 17 2010 11:04 AM
Leo in NYC

By a funny coincidence, I just did a whole bunch of research on the sustainability of wool vs other materials! A friend asked whether synthetics were more sustainable and I realized I didn't know. A half a day with google later.... voila!

It's too much info to post here, but here's a link to the research:

Dec. 17 2010 10:57 AM
George from Bay Ridge

How sustainable is wool?

When did humans start wearing wool?

Dec. 17 2010 09:29 AM

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