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Fermentations, Ruminations & Meditations

The Wool To Live

Dec 8, 2012
Today is my birthday and I am wearing my gift: a new-old wool dress, made of swaths of recycled merino wool sweaters sewn together in a garment of great comfort and color by my friend, seamstress of the stars, Kerry Shamblin.  The dress is a patchwork of browns and greens and, when I put it on and walked downstairs this morning, my husband said, "Just like a tree!" He knew this was the most flattering thing to say to me.  I have often wanted to be a tree.

I have never wanted to be a sheep but I do love to wear wool.  Living in the rain-washed forest of the Pacific Northwest, I realized years ago that I needed fur to survive here.  Since I cannot grow quite enough of my own, I am grateful for the herders, shearers, spinners, weavers and tailors who raise sheep for wool and then harvest it to fashion human clothing.  I wear wool for at least 9 months of the year.  Light merino undergarments that start to feel like a second skin in the winter.  Coveted cashmere sweaters gleaned from the racks of thrift stores.  Hand-me-downs from my friends and family.  I am grateful to the human and ungulate community that clothes me.

As well as making me feel warm, wearing wool makes me feel closer to the ground, as if some residue of the pasture remains in the fibers and penetrates my skin.  I remember that I am an animal when I wear wool, that it is by earth’s creative mammalian adaptations for warmth that I am able to survive and even enjoy a damp, December day here in western Washington’s wet, green woods. Wool is remarkably useful and versatile, something our ancestors figured out 10,000 years ago when sheep were first domesticated.  The Greeks used wool to line their helmets and parents then and now use it to line their babies’ bottoms.  Unlike hair, wool is curled and stretchy and grows in clusters that cling to each other when you spin it. Sure, my boys sometimes complain it can be itchy, but wool is thick, insulating and moisture absorbing.  The virtues of wool win out over every other textile for me.  Pull the wool over my eyes.  Wool has wooed me.

The love of wool inspired us to acquire two very fuzzy Shetland sheep a few seasons ago, in hopes our elder son would take to being a shepherd and we could then raise and harvest our own wool from this land.   He promptly named the docile critters after Star Wars characters and dutifully fed and watered them each day.  Then I borrowed a spinning wheel from my neighbor Kay and our friend Daniella gave us some spinning lessons.  I fancied I would spin wool from my son’s sheep and then sit cozily by the fire on winter evenings and knit scarves for my loved ones, and perhaps even for chilled soldiers in faraway lands.

There is great satisfaction in being able to fulfill your own basic needs from the piece of land you live on.   Along with the homesteader’s hankering for self-sufficiency and the ecological ethic for low-impact living, I had ample motivation for making my own clothing.   The sheep raised on our farm would convert the earth’s minerals into wool and I would wear this land!

But, well, you see, spinning wool is rather harder than it looks.  And sheep, as far as my son was concerned, were less interesting than he imagined. And there are so many discarded wool sweaters hanging on racks at the Goodwill already.  And all of the soldiers are in the desert now anyway…The truth is, our home grown fiber fantasy was a bit flawed.  There are only so many things we can do well in a day and, given the other demands of our farm and family life, we decided to take a raincheck on raising sheep.  Queen Amidala and Luminara Unduli found new, greener pastures at Twin Vista farms, where they are well-loved and wooly' and I am hoping to learn to use the spinning wheel sometime later in life, perhaps when my days stop spinning so fast.

We really liked having the sheep on the farm; they filled out our menagerie in a comforting way.  And I enjoyed looking at the wooden spinning wheel in our house, with its elegant blend of purpose and beauty.  For now, since we are sheepless, the wheel will remain as a reminder of what is possible.  That we can derive what we need to survive in many different ways. What we wear, like all of the choices afforded people living beyond poverty, is a privileged decision.  People, animals, and elements are all affected by each piece of clothing we pull over or slip into or zip onto our bodies.

On this my birthday, since it is too cold to wear my birthday suit, I am glad to wear my birthday dress—sewn by a friend from old sweaters made from the wool of sheep in a field somewhere.  I hope those sheep had good days on green ground.  I hope the folks in the factory who manufactured these sweaters were treated with respect.  I hope the pasture lands are tended with reverence.  I wear this dress with all kinds of hope and hope that it helps me be kinder.

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