One of the great comforts of winter can be wrapping up in swathes of scarves, layering with fine soft materials or swaddling in chunky comforting pieces that can keep us warm while maintaining our individual style.
We recently conducted a survey on how our customers felt about Knitwear and we have to say it was hugely informative.
Here’s the rub
A quarter of those surveyed told us that they have an issue with wearing wool. The predominant issues were sensory with 56% of those with a problem indicating that they just don’t like the feel of wool on their skin, ‘itchiness’ being the main challenge. The smell of wool, overheating and concern about Animal welfare were amongst the other issues..
So we have taken some time to investigate how we can help you feel seasonally on trend and comfortable without having to endure the sensation of being scoured by brillo pads and gritty sand!
Ireland has long had a tradition of indigenous knitwear. The Aran Jumper has international recognition and the distinctive cable knit styling is often copied by the big fashion houses. The handmade traditional knits of our grandmothers and mothers handed down sometimes carried a stigma of poverty, not being good enough and complete lack of being cool! The utilitarian consideration to the wool being used was mainly that it was warm rather than stylish or even soft, and so the good old woolly jumper earned something of a dour reputation.
We have definitely all been here!
Knitting though, has come a long way in a short time with the increase in the variety of wool available, the diversity of patterns and a stronger sense of style. A handmade piece is a thing made of heritage, love and mindfulness to cherish. It has even gone on to gain something of a hipster reputation, with celebrities taking it up to relax, and pseudo art craft movements such as ‘yarn bombing’ springing up as ‘knit graffiti’ in public places.
The choice of knitwear on the high street is literally stupendous at this time of year. There’s so much on offer it’s hard to decipher what might be comfortable. As indicated by our survey, of those that can wear wool the preference is luxurious cashmere at 47% with merino a close second at 42% with lambswool at 34% a popular third. Softness is clearly key.
Every major brand A/W collection each year is sure to feature knitwear. So, when it comes to wearing wool, it turns out there’s many ways to shear a sheep…or alpaca, or goat as it might happen.
Here are some top tips to wearing wool and the wool alternatives.
Knitwear does not have to be 100% wool
There are many varieties of wool blends out there that can provide the warmth and aesthetics of a completely wool item without the discomfort of itchiness. Wool blends also have the advantage of being more economical than pure luxury wool such as cashmere while maintaining softness.
Many of the brands we stock at Ohh! By Gum feature great wool blends. Knits range from high wool content like the Part Two Orille lightweight sweater with 35% wool, 33% mohair and 32% polymide
to the White Stuff Lundie Tunic and Seasalt Tutwork Jumper with identical mixes of 80% lambswool and 20% nylon while the Seasalt Endurance Jumper is 100% merino wool. (Shown in order)
Some also contain low percentages of wool, basically added for some warmth and added softness to lighter weight knits.
White Stuff is particularly good a mixing up their blends and including other natural fibres such as cotton and viscose. The Spot It Jumper contains 38% Viscose, 35% Nylon, 22% Extrafine Merino Wool, 5% Alpaca while Maurice the Moose is 40% cotton, 30% Viscose and 20% nylon with just 10% yak hair!
Both of which would easily pass for your Christmas Jumper, just add tinsel, mind you we can’t do anything about the scratchiness of tinsel.
Wash with Care…and a little flair
Many people have reservations about washing wool, and the good news is that with 100% wool in particular, less is more. The wool fibre exterior is 'hydrophobic' this means it repels water. The interior of the fibre is 'hydrascopic' meaning it absorbs water, it can absorb 1/3 of its bulk weight in moisture vapour without feeling wet. It also still feels warm when wet. This is one of the reasons that fisherman working in harsh wet cold climates wear wool jumpers. Wool is also naturally slightly antibacterial which helps to wick away any odour. Airing a woollen garment will remove much of the build up of odour so reduces the need for constant laundering - another green credential to wools name!
When you do wash always remember to wash in cool temperatures most washing machines have silk/wool programs these days which have gentle spin cycles. Washing by hand is always preferable but not always necessary particularly with wool blend garments. There are also many specialised detergents for washing wool but there’s perhaps an even easier way.
What you need: Hair conditioner.
What you do:Fill your sink with cold water. Take out your wool garment of choice (one that allows for hand washing, not just dry-clean only) and soak it until completely damp. Drain the sink and press out excess water from the sweater. Apply a liberal amount of hair conditioner to the garment, working it into the fibres all over with your hands. Let it sit for half an hour and then rinse out with cold water. To wring out the garment, wring gently by hand then lay flat on a towel, then roll the towel up relatively tightly from the bottom enfolding the garment. The towel will absorb the excess water. Shape the garment on a flat surface and lay to dry.
How it works: Wool is just animal hair after all! It requires maintenance and a little love, just like your own tresses, every now and then.
Wrapped in Cotton Wool? Why Not!
The most accessible alternative to wool in knitwear is cotton and a whopping 89% of our survey participants indicted it as their chosen natural fibre substitute. Cotton and the high quality nature of organic cotton in particular offers an all season textile for knitwear.
It can particularly address an issue that was also raised by our survey which was that of overheating, especially due to menopausal hot flushes. No one wants to be caught out especially in public by deeply uncomfortable fluctuations of temperature. Organic cotton provides both a great breathable base layer in the form of a long sleeve T for under sweaters and jumpers with wool content and also in its heavy weight form as jumpers itself.
Instore and available online brands such as People Tree and Thought have a good range of organic cotton and organic cotton mix jumpers and cardigans for workwear, while ArmedAngels cotton sweaters are more casual and trend focused.
We have being doing some dressing up to show you how they can suit all body shapes and sizes.
Animal Welfare – The Elephant / Sheep in the room
The advent of veganism and rise in consciousness around animal welfare throughout our food and clothing chain has prompted many to consider carefully their options when purchasing wool based knitwear. The majority of cashmere is sourced in China, a country not very well known for its animal welfare. The wool itself is derived from the cashmere goat and is in fact the soft thermal undercoat of the goats wool. The shearing takes place in winter when the undercoat is most dense and so many animals are subsequently lost due to being unable to survive weather conditions.
The majority of merino wool is sourced in Australia, where the practice of mulesing takes place. Mulesing involves cutting flaps of skin from around a lamb’s breech and tail to create an area of bare, stretched skin without an anesthetic. Because the scarred skin has no folds or wrinkles to hold moisture and faeces, it is less likely to attract blowflies. This makes mulesed sheep less susceptible to flystrike. However, research shows the pain of mulesing is similar to that of castration (removing testicles in ram lambs), but it lasts longer (up to 48 hours) and can cause blood poisoning. Of course there are farms in both countries that do not have these practices. But as wool is purchased wholesale by manufacturers it’s hard to know how ethical the source is unless the company is working with a fair trade business model.
The ethical and sustainable brands we stock, for instance Seasalt and Les Racines du Ciel are very careful about where they source their wool. Trudy from Seasalt has assured us that they only source their merino wool from certified South African farms. Les Racines du Ciel knitwear is almost all Alpaca which is a good ethical alternative to the other luxury wools available. We asked them about how they source their alpaca wool and Natalie their spokesperson provided us with the following information.
‘This yarn is produced with high quality alpaca coming from breedings which have been subscribed to CALPEX (Consorcio Alpaqueros Peru Expo) which gathers 21 associations of alpaca’s breeders of the areas of Puno, Cusco, Apurimac, Ayacucho and Huancavelica, promoting their social and economic improvement through the commercialisation in association form and self-management of the business. The quality is better because the workers free from the subsistence problems of their own activity, can focus on the perfection of the quality which represents and advantage for the finished product.’
The Big Occasion
Knitwear has shaken off its homespun roots and diversified into all areas of fashion, not least providing some glamour to social and formal engagements. Though the working of some sparkle into the threads and fibres of wool and natural fibre alternatives they have been elevated into winter evening wear and formal occasion looks. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of bling after all!
White Stuff is leading the way this year with an elegant top which can be paired with a velvet pants or legging perfect for the office party, the Christmas Dinner or New Year’s Eve.
Don’t be shy come and try, there really is a knit for everyone, we’d love to see you.
Thanks again to everyone who participated in the survey, we couldn't have done it with out you. We have heard what you have said and will be planning our buying for next year accordingly.