Getting along with wool

I have a wool allergy.

That doesn’t seem like a big deal to say in the normal world, but in the fiber world this is apparently a big deal.

There are people who sympathize with you. There are people who will also say it’s all in your head and you’re not really allergic. There are people who will say you’re sensitive to wool but not allergic to it. There are people who say you are reacting to the chemicals that are used in processing the wool and not the wool itself. There was recently a Ravelry discussion (link for Rav users only) about EZ’s wool allergy theory that people aren’t really allergic to wool, one just need to introduce wool a little at a time to get someone wearing 100% wool in no time.

In my opinion, the truth lies somewhere in between, and is most likely different for different people. There are people like Amy over at Knitty (and author of No Sheep For You) who cannot touch wool, any wool, else they experience an immediate and ugly reaction. I’m not that bad, thank goodness. Then there are people who can wear anything — and I’m not like that either.

Over the past few years I’ve been discovering my own truth. I was diagnosed by an allergist years and years ago. And some wools definitely bother me — mohair comes immediately to mind. Can’t go near the stuff, drives me nuts, can’t stop sneezing, yuck. I’ve recently discovered that alpaca in particular, while feeling extremely soft in the skein, slowly burns my skin so I can’t stand it any more. (Too bad about that alpaca silk hat I made!)

As for wool wool.. normal old off the sheep wool, well I do think that processing has a lot to answer for here. I can’t stand store-bought wool sweaters. I’m discovering though that I can do some wools that I find in yarn stores. Especially the less processed and more pure wools, and wool blends. I’m loving wool blends. All the bouncy and elastic qualities of wool without the itch! I’m really looking forward to trying out organic wool some day, I bet that will work too. Even my last hoodie, which felt extremely itchy in the ball and wasn’t all that great to work with, has softened up to be extremely wearable just through my usual wearing and washing routine.

So it’s safe to say I’m still experimenting. I no longer hesitate to put wool on the kiddo — it doesn’t appear to bother him in the slightest. I still wouldn’t generally give wool to a non-knitter unless it was machine washable (I love giving machine washable wool to our English relatives because hello! They already have a washing routine conducive to wool, yay!) but knitter friends are at my mercy, muhaha 🙂 The Yarn Harlot’s latest post even talked about babies and wool, discussing fire-resistant qualities of wool for baby items, which isn’t something I’d really thought about before. I already knew it was vaguely anti-microbial and water resistant and breathable, which is why the boy wore wool shorts for a while. I might even get brave enough to try the wool she’s currently using, which is definitely inexpensive. (For that matter, I’ve got the same sweater queued up that she’s working on and was planning to use another alternative she mentions, Rowan Calmer. But maybe I should just try wool?)

I’m even getting brave enough to try Lopi, that infamously hard-wearing and interminably scratchy Icelandic wool that has been used to make outerwear forever, as discussed in a recently blog entry at Knitting on Impulse. The whole scratchy vs. soft and pilling vs. non-pilling debate is funny when it seems to be that scratchy pretty much equals hard-wearing and non-pilly, while the softer the wool, the shorter the fibers, and therefore the more pilly it’s going to be. Of course my experience is limited, but that seems to be the case from what I’m reading. Considering I’ve been very comfortable wearing my hoodie over long sleeves, I’m about ready to make the leap to Lopi. I’d love to have a good wool, breathable sweater to wear instead of my plasticky, non-breathable Columbia jacket. Nice as that jacket is, a sweater just sounds nicer.

I’m making peace with wool. Learning what works and what doesn’t. As I keep discovering, sometimes the things that people used long ago, that come readily provided in nature and just need a little help to make usable, were the very best substances to use in the first place.

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3 Responses to Getting along with wool

  1. Jenn says:

    I have problems with store-bought wool sweaters, too, how can they be that scratchy? I also discovered a few months ago that I have a sensitivity/allergy to alpaca. Good thing I’d never bought any! I will agree that softer wool = more pilling, sort of a bummer.

  2. Sarah says:

    I read that whole Ravelry discussion and was going to chime in about thinking EZ’s “theory” was just a little tongue-in-cheek, but judging from how militant people were getting about allergies I thought it best not to.

    I definitely understand that there are allergies and sensitivities. Me, I can’t do mohair, makes me itchy and rashy. My throat doesn’t close up or anything, but I don’t like the feeling, so I choose not to knit with it. I know there are people out there with very real reactions, but there are also plenty of people who claim they’re “allergic to wool” when, in fact, they just don’t like scratchy wool. My mother was one such person, but I’ve made her several pairs of wool or wool blend socks and not once has she complained.

    I certainly hope you can find some good wools and wool blends you can work with without reaction!

  3. Matt says:

    Have you tried O~Wool yarns? Beautiuful, soft organic wool yarns made with 100% certified organic wool or blended with certified organic cotton… we have had many people who have said they are allergic to wool try our O~Wool products without adverse effects.

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