The recent freeze across the country brings to mind a timely story I have been waiting to post. Also, today is the one-year anniversary of my self-commitment to write and share my thoughts regularly on this site with you. Thank you for joining me and supporting my inner voice.
A few years ago, this Patagonia catalog image* captured me. Seized by the symbolism, it is worth 1000 words to me. Plus another thousand emotions deeply snuggled down in the fibers of the sheep and the fiberfill.
Surely it is a brisk 20 degrees Winter day, the sunshine providing shadows more than warmth on this country road. Our little Winter princess, Miss Athena, is leading our gentle King Arthur down a snow-packed road. Let’s call it a slippery slope. The two pose for a closeup. Arthur looks comfortable with his little friend, if not slightly paternal, his eye confident and wise. From the ages, he carries wisdom and knowing his species’ unique ability to provide warmth and industry for the humans. His nose is a buttery soft, furry, warm, luxurious; an irresistible symbol of comfort.
Athena, on the other hand, is concise in the doubt of her put-upon condition, despite her obvious inexperience. Her captivating big brown eyes are explicit. She is dubious about this photoshoot. She, too, is all-knowing…and she is not fooled. Wise with innate intuition she shows no confidence or trust in this portrayed scene. The wool is not being pulled over her eyes. So to speak.
Adorable in her hand-knit hat (possibly wool, possibly not) and her little down or fiber-filled nylon jacket, Athena begins a life adventure with clothing, to cultivate her fashion & personal style. Today she is dependant on adult choices for her. Today is an adventure in synthetic fibers, those of a very popular, world best selling company. Today she must follow along, just like her lamb.
I think she might be cold.
Whereas thick and textural King Arthur is well equipped for the temperature, he, too, questions the caper of going down this road. Joyous frivolity is not expressed by either one of them. Something troubling is imminent.
To my trained eye, I see dramatic contrast in the close up image. Mammal warm, soft, living, breathing loft, and fiber-inviting touch posed (literally) shoulder to shoulder with thin, slick chemical nylon, in a cool mint color…though infused with loft and fiber…undesirous to touch. Warmth is implied from one to the next, but visually the hat succeeds more than the jacket. I navigated that slippery slope of fibers and industry throughout my long career in fashion and textiles. I watched as innovation occurred to create practical alternatives to wool traditions. I saw the evolution. And I watched the gradual replacement of an industry of protection and beauty, with that of a new industry of practical science and economy. I had to decide which to invest in to survive. Slippery. Cold.
The subliminal message in the image is not lost on me. I resent using a vulnerable, very young child, to imply the 2 industries are equivalent protection. But I surrender to the slipping economies and fast-paced lifestyles that require affordable alternatives and practical maintenance. Yet, I don’t like seeing a child about to grow up without the joy… the warmth… the beauty… of wool in all its varieties.
The choice is difficult. Beauty is not often practical. Practical is not often sustainable. I hope both can win. With balance, I want comfort, protection, art, and beauty to coexist in modern life. Though she is leading her lamb out to pasture in the very clothing that is causing it to happen, I am glad she has been imprinted with a warm and loving friend.
You see, Athena, named for Greek Goddess of Wisdom, War, Strategy, and Handicrafts ** represents the future. Utility and production are efficiently covered by man-made industries. And Arthur, our heritage King of sheep’s wool, represents the traditions of natural trade. As in today’s photoshoot, he likely sees the day for what it is and doubts his future ability to reign.
Ahhh, but Athena sees strategy and wisdom in handicrafts which are an expression of textural beauty. Wool in all its forms is now a revered art material. No longer held responsible for utility, it is free to express itself as beauty…and becomes art.
Arthur, Art for short, has survived the slippery slope and can now be free to roam back up the hill with dignity, proud history, and new recognition as an art form…as a valuable medium to also elevate the many disciplines of textile arts. My wish for Athena: to choose warm and beautiful clothes as she glides through life.
*Patagonia is high integrity, environmentally responsible company of sports clothing. https://www.patagonia.com/environmental-responsibility/
**Wikipedia encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athena
Another word about pastures
Disturbingly parallel, when my three-decade fabric business career came to an end at my transitionary age of 52, I expressed outright judgment, fear, loud protest, flat-out refusal, and a plea to the world, in my own words, to “NOT be put out to pasture” as an obsolete fashion executive.
Along with dear, knowing Arthur, I’m not sure it didn’t also happen to me. I’m still working through whether it was greener….but I think not.
Past…tures and Presentures
In the meantime, I feel lucky to have enjoyed the past wool boom decades, wearing it every day…and the joy of sewing and steaming it into beautiful clothes as a popular pastime. Dior is perhaps the greatest artist for sculpting with wool crepe, yielding shapes through steam and construction. Armani, the genius for honing gracefulness by deconstructing traditional tailoring with fluid and elegant wool suitings. Today we celebrate the joys of wool through our many yarn designers and suppliers for knitting and weaving arts. Thanks to the many yarn shops and few fabric retailers for keeping the beauty and appreciation alive and touchable for now!
Modern demand is changing supply. Women’s clothing boutiques are hard-pressed (so to speak!) to find a supplier of wool pants (much less lined) and affordable wool winter coats, for example. Fewer demand it, even fewer know the difference.
Contradiction? This image beautifully illustrates the slippery slope. Warmth, synthetics, contemporary fashion, traditional ideals are thrown into one in this 21st-century portrayal…
Dare to find these classics, looking at labels:
- 100% wool
- Italian origin wools. These are such beauties. Armani made famous the elegant blend of wool and rayon. These wools are silky and so beautiful in tweeds and fine suitings.
- Watch for other %’s of wool, noticing how small. Reused wool is more common and must be identified as such. It has lost so much of its nature, it barely counts.
- Classic wool fabrics are nearly nonexistent in moderate affordable price ranges. Seek out Jersey, Crepe, Gabardine, and Doubleknit.
- Blends with rayon and polyester try to imitate wool and reduce the cost. Rayon helps the loft and drape but 100% polyester is more common. Most seen in gabardine, double knits, & crepe.
- Iconic past wool joys: (maybe in your stash! or seek out in estate sales)
Wool challis by Liberty of London and Josef Otten of Austria
- Twill weave Viyella and Liberty’s Jubilee Wool & Cotton blends
- Scottish Harris Tweeds from 30″ looms!
My Challenge to you: Buy or make a new wool scarf, vest, or sweater! Appreciate its character.
Fun Links to Explore
Pleasant Read The Coat Route, Craft, Luxury, Obsession. On the Trail of a $50,000 Coat by Meg Noonan
See what steam can create: The Cowboy Hat Movie Documentary, Director John Carter
SNL News bit: Saturday Night Live feature February 27, 2021
Harris tweed is enjoying a renaissance in men’s clothing
Wool Shoes! Allbirds, a New Zealand company
Please consider signing up for my Friendly Fibers Workshops at the Denver Art Students League. It is a blast to learn so much about the fibers, you will be amazed at what you do NOT know! https://asld.org/
In the meantime:
Homage to Wool
- elegance, drape, beautiful dyed colors and combinations, tweeds and textures
- takes shape, steams to sculpted curves. Dior shapes, elegantly folded lapels. Including body forming personalization, molding, and comfort to the wearer
- sometimes itches a little, allergenic for some but not all
- resilient to stains and spots (the property that makes it itch also keeps it clean!)
- natural, varying textures
- warmth from loft. Organic nature, holds warmth
- felts for fun. Reforms, re-invents itself. Boil it!
- responds to craftsmanship and skill
- sustainable, biodegradable, organic
- regrows! healthy animal product, though great expense to procure
- superfine to bulky
- shapes with steam and heat
- changes when washed
Homage to Synthetic
- simple wovens low depth, plain texture, smooth
- short compiled fibers, as in fleece, provide loft, depth, warmth from thickness
- colorful dyes when fiber dyed, less deep color if vat dyed
- pleasant, no itching
- texture from pilling, sometimes desired, mostly not
- wicks away dangerous moisture in extreme temperature conditions
- less expensive, mass supply
- yields contemporary, simplistic, 21st century streamline design
- indestructible, bad for landfills. Does not decompose, though recyclable
- melts with heat, does not absorb much steam
- super washable, no shrinkage, no change
Imagine knitting with bulky nylon and how it feels in your hands and your lap, vs. knitting wool and how it feels in your hands and your lap. Which would keep your ears warm in a wind chill. Would it lay elegantly in your lap and your hands?