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Knitting with Wool

The Wonders of Wool

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Wool yarn is probably the most popular fiber out there, and it's no wonder that people love working with it. Wool is springy and easy to work with, producing knitted objects that are warm, durable and long-lasting.

What is Wool?

Technically the term wool can be used to mean any animal fiber, but it is most commonly used to mean the yarn spun from the fur of sheep. Other wools can some from alpaca, goats, llamas or rabbits.

Wool from sheep is special because the scales overlap and the fur is very kinky. Both of these characteristics lead to wool's amazing felting ability.

The crimps in the fiber also make wool bulky. The fiber is full of air, which makes it quite warm in the winter, but it can also be used to keep heat out during the summer. Thin wools have more crimp, while coarser wools have less crimp.

Wool has been used by humans for centuries and is still an incredibly popular knitting yarn because of its naturalness, the ease in working with it and the wide variety of colors and textures available.

Knitting with Wool

Wool is a great fiber even for beginning knitters, and many people recommend that new knitters start by knitting with wool. That's because wool is very forgiving. It is naturally elastic, which makes it easier to keep an even tension.

Wool is also quite resilient, so when you stretch something that has been knitted with wool, it tends to spring back to its original position. This makes wool a great choice for projects that need to stretch to fit, such as hats, earwarmers, fingerless gloves and similar items.

The Big Negative: Sensitivity

Wool sure sounds great, and it is, but there is one potential problem that keeps some knitters from giving up all other fibers for good: wool allergies or sensitivities.

Wool allergies are pretty rare, but lots of people have reactions to the dust and dander that can collect in wool, or simply find it itchy. Before you knit for another person, make sure you know if he or she can tolerate wool.

If there are no sensitivities, wool is a great choice for people of all ages, including babies. The breathability of wool can be useful for not overheating little ones. Just think about using a superwash wool for baby projects so it can be washed by machine.

Caring for Wool

Wool is sensitive to agitation and hot water, which causes the overlapping scales of the fiber to stick together, what we call shrinking, or, if we do it on purpose, felting.

To avoid this, wools should be washed in lukewarm water with little agitation. Most people prefer to wash wool items by hand to avoid any possibility of felting when they can't see what's happening inside their washing machine.

Woolmark offers many great tips on caring for woolen items. These tips pertain especially to purchased wool items, but here's an abbreviated list for handmade items:

  1. Check the yarn label for suggestions on how to care for your particular yarn.
  2. Treat stains as soon as possible with cold water and seltzer water. Blot with a cloth rather than paper towels. Seek the advice of a dry cleaner for stubborn stains.
  3. Allow woolens that have picked up odors to air out on a bed.
  4. Wash items by hand, using a product designed to be used with wool, according to the directions on the yarn label. If you don't have any directions, wash in lukewarm water and avoid agitating, wringing or spinning the item.
  5. Rinse well with lukewarm water.
  6. Lay the item on a towel and gently roll to get excess water out.
  7. Leave the item flat to dry, outside of direct sunlight and away from heat.
  8. Store woolen items folded in a closet or cedar chest. Do not hang woolen items. If storing long-term, consider having the item dry-cleaned first.
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