Re-Discovering 100% Wool

My children are screeching and growling from a laundry basket turned into a ship and the kitchen floor a mighty conquest, the tinkle of legos floats across the living room as a master-builder is searching for the next piece. Seven inches of snow fell yesterday in one swoop calling for two consecutive snow days. I spy a trio of winter finches fluttering to the bird feeder in my kitchen window and I am reminded that the sun has come out after the big dump.

We are beginning this January with some special cozy snow days. The weather bug in our family, our eight year old daughter, tells us that we’d better enjoy the sunshine today and tomorrow because more snow and below zero weather is coming on the weekend.

A new knitting book was waiting for me on my doorstep before the big snowstorm hit, “Knitting With Icelandic Wool.” On occasion, when asking fellow knitters about Icelandic wool, usually a yarn shop clerk since its a very uncommon yarn for most knitters, they scrunch up their nose, shudder, and tell me, “Oh, don’t knit with Icelandic wool! It’s horribly scratchy.” So the fact that I have a whole book about knitting with icelandic wool, is partially a small miracle.

Last year, I knit almost exclusively with various brands of merino/silk blended yarn. All beautiful, high quality yarns in rich colors. And sadly, all of them have pilled terribly. I am rather discouraged that most of my baby knits look so shabby, I’ve retired them early into the store away pile and I am seriously doubtful they will be prized heirloom pieces in two decades.

I remember a wonderful sweater my mother once gave to me as a hand-me- down. It was a commercial sweater (I’m the only hand knitter for three generations past in my family), made of 100% wool, an heathered baby blue, and it had one tiny hole in the body but the rest of the sweater was as sound as the day it had been made. I wore the sweater for skiing and it became my most favorite piece of clothing.

Putting away my baby hand knit sweaters, all tattered and pilled, got me thinking about what kind of yarn I am using. That old sweater that was my mother’s when she was in her twenties and became my own that went with me to the ski slopes every week all during my teen years finally was forced to be retired because the little hole continued to grow into a big one. And this was a great tragedy because the entire sweater was still sound. The more I wore the sweater, the better it seemed to become.

After taking a sweater hiatus to knit Christmas shawls, I started the new year asking: Would I be willing to give up a little on the immediate softness of a yarn to provide more longevity? Would I be willing to watch a garment soften with washings, usage and time? Was I willing to work with 100% wool, less commercialized, that held more of its natural properties and watch it mature into a heirloom-like garment?

If I hadn’t had that sweater from my mother, I might not have anything to compare my baby hand knits with. I might have summed them up, “Children are hard on clothes.” Or, “Got my use out of that one; baby wore it every day and now it’s seen its better days.”  But my mother’s blue sweater is a faint picture that wool, worn over a long period of time, becomes more comfortable, more beautiful and more amazing.

I eagerly went about researching wools and found a list of wonderful yarns I’m eager to try. Coincidentally at the start of the New Year, I find myself re-discovering 100% wool and wools that have unique and interesting properties that are a joy to work with and are going to have a story to tell of its wear, age, and enjoyment over many decades to come.

Icelandic wool took my heart and I’m trying it first. I took my time with my new book, reading the first two essays about Icelandic Knitting History and the creation of their traditional lopi yarn. I’ve savored looking at the pattern collection and am narrowing down what will be my first lopi sweater. Stay tuned. The joy of wool is blooming.