Monday, April 11, 2011

Wool


Photo courtesy Flickr

It’s not quite spring but late enough in winter to be able to look back and evaluate cold-weather wardrobe. Coming in from a garden session yesterday, I realized that wool is the hands’ down champion fiber in this climate.

Like a radiator or cast-iron stove, wool’s a heat sink, slow to warm, slow to cool. It buys time in the infinitely varied temperatures of a local day. This is a rare and nutso climate, only Japan and England share its characteristics. A couple of sets of mountains and other factors I’m not up on create what’s called the Puget Sound convergence zone. Weather reporting is fairly accurate, but within the predictions lies an infinite range of minor change that can shift the chill factor of a damp day from comfortable to dangerous in under a minute.

Wool is the upside that keeps hypothermia at bay. It’s not as clammy as synthetics, is more durable at fireside, is simple to wash and fast to dry on a rack, far faster than cotton.

I believe advances in the breeding of sheep are responsible for the pleasant quality of current wool. There’s not a moment’s itch. The Oregon Rodeo Mill’s plaid classics are my partner’s three season workhorse shirts, cheaper than cotton flannel figured at cost per use, just as durable if not more so, and responding well to gentle home laundry.

The big lesson I learn every spring is not to fear high-end fibers. Silk, wool, and cashmere make great, cost-effective everyday garments. Back in the day, people had small wardrobes consisting of daily wear, old things, and new ones waiting in reserve. That’s a good way to manage a small set of classics-four of each would not be too few.

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