Yes. I am a fiber snob. I mainly love wool because of its wonderful characteristics. By wool, I mean, any fiber that comes from an animal (i.e. alpaca, llama, angora, mohair, camel, yak, etc.). But, I was not always a wool lover. In fact, when I started knitting, I didn’t fully understand all the wonderful qualities of wool. I thought it was itchy, expensive and hard to take care of. All the commercial wool sweaters I owned seemed to be that way. After knitting several projects in cheap acrylic yarn, I began to wonder about those yarns in my LYS (local yarn store) and then, I knit my first wool sweater and my world changed forever.
First and probably most importantly, wool breathes. It has the wonderful capability to make you warm in the cold without making you sweat. Air is able to flow in and out of the fabric, while the wool insulates, trapping air for warmth. In contrast, acrylic yarns are made out of petroleum oil…the same oil used to make plastic bottles for soda. Imagine wearing a Coke bottle around you…does that sound comfortable? Sweaters made in acrylic make you sweat and then, you get cold. Keep that in mind when you are knitting for the homeless. Wools are best in the cold.
Secondly, wool is elastic. It has memory, meaning your sweater will stretch to fit and go back to its original shape/size after you remove it and/or wash it. This characteristic is especially helpful with ribbing or bands on necklines and cuffs that get a lot of stretching. When knit in a proper gauge, wool sweaters stay in shape and last for decades.
Thirdly, wool singes and self-extinguishes in extreme heat. Uniforms for firefighters have traditionally been made from wool for these exact qualities. Acrylic yarns melt to your skin in extreme heat. If unsure if a yarn is wool, you can do a burn test for yourself. Light a piece of it on fire and see if it self-extinguishes or melts.
Fourthly, wool washes up nicely. Yes. It can get wet. Sheep get wet. And, with encouragement, it will block to the size you want. It is true that you cannot throw it in the washing machine with your blue jeans. However, after 200 hours of knitting/crocheting at $8.50/hour, it is worth $1700, and it deserves a little extra care…don’t you think? And, in general, you only have to wash your wool sweater once or twice a season since it not generally worn next to the skin.
Fifthly, wool is good to our environment. It is bio-degradable. Whenever you see an oil spill in the news, don’t you wonder what that is doing to our natural resources? A couple years back, author Phyllis Alberici, called for a ban on acrylic and nylon yarns. Here is her posting…http://blog.timesunion.com/fiberarts/why-we-must-ban-petroleum-based-synthetic-yarns/5579/. I am not sure that I would go that far, but there are some very good points made it that article.
Finally, the wool made for hand knitters/crocheters is of superior quality to anything you find in ready made sweaters in the department store. Basically, they don’t use the same yarn we do. Yarns used for commercial sweaters are from the least expensive, inferior wool to keep the costs down. When sheep are sheared, the wool is put into different classes and manufacturers of hand knitting/crocheting yarns pick the best of the best. Basically, our wool is better than their wool. It’s that simple.