Archive for the ‘wool’ Category

Wool, a mother’s perspective.

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

When my first daughter was born, I got some handmade woollen hand-me downs, gorgeous tiny knitted cardigans and precious booties. They were made of the softest yarn in pastel colours with intricate lacy patterns. They were stunningly beautiful... and I despised them. I found them outrageous. They embodied everything that was wrong with parenting these days! I was, of course, extremely young and extremely foolish.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated their beauty and the fact that they had been made with love, but I bemoaned their lack of practicality. Hand wash only! For a baby! As if new parents had time for that. To me, Hand Wash Only was a dreaded label that should be avoided at all costs. I grew up in a tropical climate so there was never a wool culture in my home. My mother was a power professional who always had her suits dry-cleaned. The few delicates that escaped her strict “no hand-wash garments” policy piled up at the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper for weeks on end. Once they reached a critical mass, mum would grudgingly fish them out and scrub them with a vengeance. Thinking back, they would have probably fared better in the machine.

In my early twenties I left home to study in Ireland, a move for which neither my mind nor my wardrobe were prepared. Just before I left, my wise mother bought me an under-shirt, the first I’d ever owned. It was a gorgeously soft blend of merino wool and silk and it was machine washable! Oh, how I loved that shirt. And yet, it never occurred to me to buy more woollen clothes, maybe because I was a broke college student and I weighed any purchase against how many Tesco Value ramen I would be able to afford with that money. Had I been a little wiser I would have saved myself more than one nasty cold.

It wasn't until after I became a mother that I started to learn the importance of surrounding and dressing ourselves with natural materials. I did a lot of online research and was lucky to meet a few like-minded mothers who taught me more than I ever thought I could possibly learn. One lesson in particular stands out in my mind. My friend and I were having lunch with our toddlers and her 8-month-old baby. Dessert was fresh mango and the baby ate it with gusto. And by “ate it” I mean poked it, squished it and rubbed it all over her face, with the yellow juices running down her arm and chin onto her white knitted cardigan. Seeing this, I joked to my friend “I hope that cardigan isn't hand wash only”. She looked at me with genuine puzzlement: “Yes, it is. Why?” I was aghast. Wasn't it obvious? “Isn't it… too much of a hassle?” I asked. “Not at all!” she answered nonchalantly. “I'm staying at my mum’s tonight and she doesn't have proper wool detergent but baby shampoo works in a pinch. I'll just give it a rinse in the sink while the girls are having their bath, it’ll be dry by tomorrow”.

That was it? Could it really be so simple? If you grew up wearing wool you’re probably laughing at me right now, but it really took a while to wrap my head around the fact that hand-washing didn't need to be a huge affair. I started researching and began to understand. Wool is antibacterial! Wool repels stains! No scrubbing your knuckles raw, you just need to let it soak in soapy water and rub stains gently. It dries super fast. And some wool is even machine washable!

After this eye-opening experience, I tentatively ordered my daughter’s first pair of woollen pyjamas… and I fell in love. Caring for them was as easy as everybody promised it would be, and never again did I need to worry that my baby was too hot or too cold at night. No more icy hands, no more sweaty foreheads thanks to wool’s property of thermoregulation, which I believe is a fancy word for “mama, don’t fret”. By the time my son was born I was a convert… and I found myself wishing I hadn’t returned those handknit woolies that I used to hate so much. They were pink and purple and frilly… but I would have put them on him anyway, and he would have been happy.

Lorena Díaz García. ( A Cambridge Baby customer)

What’s the difference between Llama and Alpaca?

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Llamas and alpacas look very similar and are closely related, but there are a number of differences between them .   These differences stem from how they have been used and bred over thousands of years of farming in South America.

A_Quechua_girl_and_her_Llama-Thomas-Quine

 A young Quechuan girl with her llama, which are stronger and less woolly than alpaca.

Alpaca have been bred for their fibre - which can be super-soft, light, airy and warm.  It's truly the fibre of Incan royalty and we at Cambridge Baby keep expanding our range of alpaca clothing as its durable, and up to 7 times lighter than wool for its warmth.

Llamas, in contrast, have been bred as useful, working farm animals - to carry loads, and to guard other livestock.  So they are stronger and larger than the pretty alpaca, and rather less furry to look at.  They are also quite independent-minded, whereas alpaca prefer to be in herds, rather like sheep.  If you look at their faces in the photos above and below, you can see the differences.

Alpaca taken by Patrick Furlong

Alpaca, bred for their fibre, are smaller and more woolly than llama.

But we discovered recently that Llama fibre can be just as lovely as alpaca.  A fleece consists of two layers, the guard layer, which is strong and straight, and makes good rope, while underneath  is the super-soft layer of down.  These are the fluffy fibres which make excellent clothing and, like alpaca, can be as fine or finer than cashmere, under 20 micron.  They usually have a hollow core, which gives extra insulating warmth, and a crimp (a kind of zig-zagging of the fibre) like merino wool, which also adds insulation.

Should alpaca and llama hair be called "wool"?  Most people say that it's not technically wool and should be referred to as fibre, but some say that it's fine to call it wool after it's shorn.  So, take your pick!

Alpaca and llama fibre, like most animal and human hair and wool, should be cared for gently.  There's not need to wash very often and the "wear then air" strategy works well.  If the times comes to wash it, use detergents designed for delicates, wash gently and dry away from direct heat.

Serendipity_Diamond_llama_cardigan

We're lucky to now be stocking a hand-knitted llama cardigan for kids in sizes from 2 to 11 years.  We hope you enjoy it!

 

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The wonderful benefits of wool!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

 

Wool, nature's way of clothing sheep, has real benefits for you and your family. It's not only soft and fluffy, but naturally clever too.   Genius, in fact.

How wool works

  • Wool can breathe, absorbing water vapour from the body and releasing it into the atmosphere

This means that if you wear around you, sweat is easily and consistently wicked away from your skin keeping your or your child's skin healthy.  Soft Merino wools are fabulous next to the skin, and non-itchy for most people.  

  • Wool can dynamically respond to the environment and help regulate temperature

Wool moves moisture away from your skin faster or slower, depending on your body temperature and the environment.  This is because is has evolved naturally to help keep sheep comfortable as temperatures change - and it does the same for you and your baby or child.  In this way, it helps keep the body's temperature stable even if you warm up through exercise, cool down through sitting still, or are affected by changing external temperatures.  Your body has to do less work, and it's more relaxed in a way - and wool helps the body relax into sleep too.

  • Wool can clean itself (oh yes!)

This benefits you as you don't have to wash it very often.  In fact, most natural wool clothes can be hung up to air and then worn again - the "wear then air" approach.  

  • Wool repels rain (think: sheep)

It's not entirely waterproof of course, but it's surprisingly showerproof and what's more, it can absorb water without feeling cold and wet.  You know how cotton gets cold when it's wet?  Wool stays warm and dry-feeling for much, much longer.  This is great for kids on the beach in Spring or in muddy puddles, and great if you're hiking in the Lake District too. 

  • Wool is good for summer!

Because wool can respond dynamically to what's going on around it, it's an excellent year-round fibre.  Fine layers of wool work brilliantly as underlayers in winter and top layers in summer - and it's also naturally UV protective too.  

Wool is a natural "high-performance" fabric - it's naturally good for your skin and body. Because of this, it's very helpful in keeping you and your family healthy, relaxed and rested.

 

The science and structure of wool

Let's have a look at how it does all these things.

Wool consists of three layers.

  • The first, keratin, is a moisture-loving protein that all animal hair has. It is designed to maintain a stable body temperature. Think how useful this is to babies, athletes and your own day-to-day living.
  • The second layer is a scaly covering. The overlapping scales are tiny, but as they rub against each other they push off the dirt. So it is self-cleaning, as anyone who's put their baby in wool knows.
  • The third layer is a filmy skin which keeps the rain out. Wool is quite water-resistant, as duffel-coat wearers and sheep can testify.

So, you can see already that it's pretty amazing, and a healthy thing to have next to your skin.

Now, the two outer layers have tiny pores which allow moisture to pass through to the keratin core, which absorbs it. So, if the temperature increases or the wearer becomes more active and begins to sweat, the moisture is wicked into the central core. Your body heat then wicks it out towards the surface, where it is released into the atmosphere.

In this way, it helps you and your baby maintain a stable temperature and keeps you and your baby dry and comfortable by absorbing and releasing sweat. It even does this "dynamically", which means it does it more when needed, and less when not needed. Wow. It's just the best thing, don't you think? No man-made fibre can equal this.

To keep these abilities, wool does need to be looked after. But with 99% of washing machines now having a wool cycle, this is quite easy. Just use a liquid detergent for wool, or a drop of your own shampoo, and set the temperature on your wool cycle to 30C.

More wool facts

  • Wool is naturally antibacterial. This is due to its lanolin (wool fat) content - as wool becomes moist, some of the lanolin converts to lanolin-soap, which helps keep the fabric hygienically clean! Combining this with it's self-cleaning properties, you can begin to understand why wool underwear doesn't get smelly. It smells fresh for ages.
  • Wool can absorb around 33% of its own weight without feeling wet. This is heaps more than man-made fibres, which typically absorb only 4% before feeling wet and uncomfortable. It's much more than cotton, too. It means that your baby is more likely to stay warm and dry if he/she dribbles or possets, and you can just give a quick rub down rather than having to change him/her so often. Making your baby happier, and your life easier.
  • Wool is a great insulator. It is warm in winter and cool in summer (think vacuum flask). This is because of all the "waves" in the fibre, which lock in air. It may seem strange to us to use wool in the summer, but many Bedouins and Tuaregs use wool to keep the heat out! (They use camel and goat hair as well as sheep's wool.) This is why sheepskins are such a great choice for prams, strollers and carseats, keeping your baby comfortable and so making your life easier.
  • Wool is "bouncy" - the springiness of the fibres gives it good elasticity - it stretches really well and goes back into shape well too. This means that it's very easy to put on your baby - and to take off of course too. Much less fiddling around with arms and things. Making your baby happier, and your life easier (did I say this before?).
  • Wool fibres can be bent and twisted over 30,000 times without breaking. (That's just an interesting fact. I can't relate that to your baby...)
  • Roman togas used to be made of wool. (ditto...)
  • Finally, wool is a very safe fabric and fire-resistant. It's harder to ignite than most synthetic fibres and cotton. It has a low rate of flame spread, it doesn't melt, or drip, and if it does burn it creates a "char" which self-extinguishes.

 

No man-made fibre can yet duplicate all of the properties of natural wool. How did sheep do all that?

The Story of Wool

Monday, October 20th, 2014

The story of wool began a long time ago, before recorded history, when primitive people first clothed themselves in the woolly skins of the roaming wild sheep that early hunters killed for food.  Mouflon sheep, pictured below, are thought to be the closest relatives of the earliest sheep mankind would have encountered.

Mouflon-sheep-2

In using sheepskins, early tribes had discovered a durable fabric which gave them what nothing else could give:  protection from heat and cold, from wind and rain alike, from a fabric which kept the body cool in the heat of the day and warm in the cold of the night, and which could absorb moisture without feeling wet.

Sheep then began to be kept for both their milk and their valuable wool. When a sheep shed its fleece, it could be spun and woven into cloth. This versatile animal was probably the second to be domesticated after the dog, the perfect shepherding animal.  Sheep, the shepherd and his dog - an image which has reverberated through the ages, symbolic of gentleness and leadership, of kindness and endurance, of man and nature in harmony.  And we know that sheep have been kept and looked after and wool spun from their fleeces for over 10,000 years in Mesopotamia, Asia and parts of Europe.

Sheep Rock Art from Coso

 

Early wool-making

Wool is a fibre man can never match. No other material, natural or man-made, has all its qualities. But we can refine and improve wool and have done so through selective breeding of sheep over the centuries and through continually improving processing techniques.

Simple processing was happening already in Northern Europe thousands of years ago.  To spin wool, early tribes they took the wool in one hand and drew it out, twisting it into a thread with the fingers of the other hand. The result was a thick uneven yarn. Later, a crude spindle was developed by fitting a stone or clay ring to the end of a short wooden stick, and such hand-spindles have become more and more sophisticated, as in this decorated Incan spindle below.

inca-spindle

The ring acted as a flywheel and enabled the drawn-out yarn to be wound on to the spindle. This method of spinning was used for thousands of years and is still used by communities in various parts of the world to make wool yarn.

 

Wool - the gold on the loom

 Weaving is the earliest form of fabric-making known, pre-dating knitting and crochet which only appeared a thousand years ago.  Early looms were simple and effective, and their close cousins are in use around the world today too.  

 

primitive-loom-and-a-girl-spinning-wool

 

Spinning and weaving wool were of such importance in everyday life that they are central to many stories and songs that have been handed down to us, such as those below, and of such importance economically to Britain that it's fair to say our wealth stems from our woolly history.

As in this Scottish slip-jig, wool really was "gold on the loom."

 

"Hark as the bee hunts for treasure

That's hid in the mountainy bloom

Me shuttle goes buzzing with pleasure

To gather my gold from my loom."

 

Other wool songs - 

The Spinning Wheel (Mellow the Moonlight)

The work of the weavers

A Gaelic waulking song (this would have been a work song) - a shame now we listen to music while we work, rather than make music together!

And I like this polished version 🙂

 

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 Information adapted from the British Wool Marketing Board and the International Wool Textile Association.  Photo credits - Mouflon sheep: von Netzer Ranch, Texas.  Sheep rock art: the Bradshaw Foundation.  Inca spindle: http://ancientarchives.wordpress.com/.  Loom: http://chestofbooks.com/

 

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