Friday, November 8, 2013

Why use handspun yarn?

I had a customer ask how to care for one of my handspun handknit hats, thinking it would be difficult to care for wool. And I realized that not everyone has been immersed in wool for 37 years like me, and may not realize the advantages of naturally-grown, naturally-processed fibers. So I'm climbing up on my soapbox and giving a lecture on why natural fibers and handspun yarn are very good for you.

1.  That difficult-to-wash thing? Nope, not at all. It takes the same amount of time for me to handwash woolens as it does for my machine to go through a load--40 minutes give or take a few minutes. You throw all your laundry in the machine, add detergent/soap, select the cycle and walk away.The machine beeps when it's done. For woolens, you choose an appropriate-size container (sink, basin or bathtub) for the items, fill with warm-to-the-touch water, add a wool wash product or a good shampoo (I like shampoo for colored hair as it tends to safeguard the color in dyed woolens), push the items down into the soapy water and walk away for 30 minutes. Then you gently squeeze the items a couple of times to release the dirt, squeeze out excess water, empty the container. Refill it with warm water, immerse the items, squeeze gently a few times to rinse, squeeze out excess water, roll in a towel and lay flat somewhere (a waterproof place like the top of your dryer or a drying rack), and walk away. Hint: Don't lay your woolens where your pets can find them or you'll be picking dog/cat hair off your precious woolens. That's Kitty Mercury's favorite trick, sleeping on a drying sweater.

And, I really only wash my sweaters once a year, before I store them for the summer. That's probably because I have so many that each one isn't worn enough to get really dirty.

2. Wool and most animal fibers are better for the environment than acrylic. This is not to say that acrylic yarns should disappear, because they have many uses. But animal fibers are renewable whereas petroleum is not. Animal fibers will biodegrade in our landfills (or around my fruit trees where I use leftovers as mulch);  acrylic and plastics will remain for perhaps a thousand years.

3. When my handspun handknits are no longer serviceable as sweaters/hats/mitts, I can recycle them. Mostly I throw them in the washer and felt them, which means the cat gets a new snuggly cat bed or the living room has new coasters on the end tables. Make coffee sleeves, sew the felt together for a scarf or new mittens/hat, let the kids cut them out and glue them to bulletin boards in their rooms, cut felt Christmas tree ornaments, etc.

4. Wool isn't necessarily itchy. My personal feeling is that this urban myth came about from WWII when the soldiers were given blankets made of "shoddy" wool--wool that had been sourced from wool rags that were mechanically torn into shreds, respun, rewoven and felted into blankets. We had a couple of those blankets when I was a kid and they were nasty nasty nasty! If you're really allergic, with the sneezing and itchy eyes, there's not much you can do. But not all sheep are the same, some breeds grow tough rug wool while others grow spongy soft stuff that you can wear next to the skin. Those who want a soft wool should look for Merino, Rambouillet, Corriedale and other wools that are known to be soft. Handspinners source their wool from local growers or from mills that realize handspinners will only buy/spin the soft stuff.And this is why all my skeins are marked with the sheep breed (if known) so you can buy with confidence that it will be a soft yarn or a yarn suitable for outerwear.

5.  The most important criteria for me? I can have whatever color, whatever texture, whatever size yarn I want. And when I make it into a garment, no one--NO ONE--will have the same garment. Because every spinner is working with her hands and heart and brain, and those hands/heart/brain will make design decisions that are different in some way from mine. My friends, using the exact same raw materials, will spin differently and knit or crochet or weave or felt something completely different from my work. Handspun, handcrafted items are one of a kind (OOAK) and should be treasured, cared for, used, reused, and used up. It's one of the reasons we have few surviving textiles--they were hand made with a lot of work and love and were considered too precious to toss away.

Buy handspun yarn, work with handspun yarn, support the creative folks who have chosen to design and produce lovely yarn and lovely hand made things--they are giving you their heart and soul.

And that's the end of the lecture. Hope you enjoyed it!

1 comment:

Doug said...

Thanks for the info.
Yes, I'm a wool-washin' newbie.
Actually I've avoided washing newly crocheted wool items for fear of both color bleeding and felting.