Using Wool to Create Natural, Sustainable & Unique Wardrobe Staples
Sponsored by: Wool and Company
By: Laura Keiken
Knitting is perhaps one of the most perfect hobbies. It is a natural way to promote relaxation, relieve stress, improve focus all while producing gorgeous hand-made, earth-friendly garments and accessories. The portability of knitting allows it to be a very social activity and joining the knitting community has proven to have a positive social impact for many.
High-quality yarns spun with 100% wool are produced to last for generations. Did you know wool is also anti-microbial and moisture wicking? It is also fire resistant and hypoallergenic. This all-natural fiber has the ability to prevent mold and mildew growth as well as other undesirable odors from ever forming. The anti-microbial properties of wool allow it to be washed less often and at a lower temperature, making it the perfect earth-friendly fiber.
Fiber enthusiasts can enjoy knitting with wool knowing that this sustainable resource requires no harm to animals or plant life and is typically produced organically without the use of chemicals. Wool’s makeup contains 50% pure organic carbon naturally produced from the sheep’s diet of plants and herbs.
Worldwide, there are over 1,000 different sheep breeds each having unique meat and wool properties. Most often, flocks raised for the purpose of creating knitting wool are Merino, Blue Faced Leister, Corriedale and Cormo. Even within a specific breed, the micron count, or fineness of the individual fiber, can vary. The higher the micron count, the softer the hand. Many wool manufacturers have listened to consumers’ requests for softer wool and have begun producing higher-micron fibers without compromising the warmth and durability wool provides.
Knitting with wool dates back many centuries with some of the first knitted garments found in Norway dating as far back as 1476. The craft was historically associated with those at the lowest socioeconomic levels as a means to provide income. Many years later the popularity of knitting increased and was taught to orphans and the homeless as a way to support themselves and their families.
Norway’s long history with wool and knitting has influenced what the modern knitter has access to today. The Norwegian yarn manufacturer, Rauma, has been in existence for nearly a century, and has a factory located at the mouth of the Rauma River in northern Norway. This historical textile factory was completely destroyed by bombing during WWII at which time a new factory was immediately erected. Their company has been intimately involved with the wool production and knitting industry in Norway and, in turn, wool production is an important part of the Norwegian economy.
Often times, Norwegian knitted pieces were constructed with a specific technique called stranded knitting. Stranded knitting is a process where two colors are used in one row of knitting creating beautiful patterns while creating a fabric that is doubled in its thickness and warmth. This method was used to create hats, mittens, vests and sweaters that stood up to the harshest winter climates. Traditionally knitted Norwegian garments contained only 2 colors, most often black and white. Occasionally, there may be a third color of red, but this tradition was introduced with the availability of more colorful wools and with the discovery of natural dyes years later.
Stranded knitting or color work was not exclusive to Norway. To the west of Norway, across the North Sea lies the tiny island of Fair Isle. This small, remote island is located north of Scotland and is part of the Shetland Islands. Fair Isle is the birthplace of a very specific type of stranded knitting called Fair Isle. This type of knitting uses only 2 colors in one row but many colors in a particular motif. Fair Isle motifs are made up of peerie (meaning small or thin), border and large patterns. These patterns are always symmetrical in pattern and color placement.
Early data records indicated Fair Isle socks were a prized art and were quite valuable pieces used for trade. The tradition of Fair Isle knitting gained huge popularity around 1921 when the Prince of Wales began wearing Fair Isle jumpers in public. This created a high demand for hand-made Fair Isle garments and was a huge boost to the economy for this region. To this day, these unique knitted pieces are highly sought after pieces made by highly skilled artisans dedicated to the future of the craft.
The modern knitter will find the traditions of Norwegian and Fair Isle knitting are quite similar in their appearance and often contain the traditional OXO pattern. In Norwegian designs, typically the “X” in the pattern is more pronounced where the “O” is more pronounced in Fair Isle knitting patterns. Norwegian patterns are also more likely to have “all over” patterns while Fair Isle is typically in stripes to creative distinctive Fair Isle designs.
The modern production of wool allows knitters a vast and inspiriting palette with endless color and pattern combination possibilities. The act of stranded knitting offers the ability to create timeless heirloom pieces to be enjoyed by generations while working with an all-natural, sustainable product. The joy and satisfaction of creating these pieces has a positive impact on the knitter, the wearer and the environment.