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Fiber-conscious: Superwash wool

November 15, 2014

*Find the sequel to this post here, Alternative to Superwash wool, for a list of yarns and brands I love – for socks and beyond

**Find additional sources that explain more about Hercosett 125, polyamide-epichlorohydrin resins and the science behind the superwash process at the bottom of this post

This post has been in progress for a little over a month now. I was unsure if I should post it, worried I would offend someone, even friends in the community I’ve made, but I’ve decided to go ahead and share. Not a lot of light has been shed on the topic of superwash wool, specifically superwash Merino.

In our home we’ve taken great strides to minimize as much use of plastic as possible. Six years ago we got rid of all our plastic food containers, stopped using a microwave, started using reusable water bottles and began really thinking about what and where this stuff was coming from. My friend Kirsten is quite passionate about the subject of plastic and that’s really where the idea for this post began. After spending a weekend with her exuberantly extolling a plastic-free life, I felt compelled to share what I now know about superwash wool.

By no means are we completely plastic free, in today’s world it’s unavoidable to a certain extent. If we’re all being honest, plastic does have it’s place, however we try to be as conscious as possible when it comes to things we eat, drink, wear, and use in our daily life. If there are healthier and safer alternatives to using plastic, why not? Which brings me to this topic of which I’ve recently become quite passionate about.

When I first began as a knitter, I had no idea of the different compositions and idiosyncrasies of fiber other than there was cotton and there was wool. I soon learned the different blends and the advantages and preferences for each. I became obsessed with the gorgeous hand dyed superwash yarn from boutique brands and soon my stash consisted of primarily that. As time went on, I became more “fiber-conscious”, I guess you could call it a sort of maturity or awareness. I started looking deeper into each of these yarns, what they were comprised of and how they were processed. What was even more intriguing was that the question around superwash kept coming up quite randomly through various conversations I was having with persons more experienced and knowledgeable than I. It wasn’t until a few months back that I discovered superwash wool is very heavily processed and the fibers are coated in plastic. When I first heard this I was stunned. Plastic? Really?! Then it all began to make sense. Superwash wool was the answer to our desire to machine wash and dry our knits. A compromise for the sake of convenience. Though it may have started as this, superwash Merino has taken on a life of its own and is a mainstream fiber these days, regardless of the buyer’s laundering preferences.

At what point does something that has been so drastically processed, losing many of it’s natural characteristics, become a different thing all together? As I read more and more about how superwash wool is made and the plastic in which it is coated, I started to question if we can or should really, truly still call it wool. Wool in all its natural glory is an incredible protein fiber, with so many valuable qualities. It has scales that interlock when agitated or teased at certain temperatures. Wool is naturally fire resistant and has incredible health benefits which I’ve talked about when we purchased our wool mattress. To avoid felting wool, you have to follow careful, yet relatively simple cleaning instructions. It’s not rocket science, yet it is inconvenient at times, although I’d hand wash my hand knits any day over throwing something I spent countless hours on into the washing machine and dryer. Superwash wool is made by exposing the fiber to a chlorine gas that erodes the scales and then it is coated in a plastic called Hercosett 125. This doesn’t even include the toxic chemicals that are used in the overall process. Disturbing no?

Superwash wool has some cool benefits aside from the laundry. Because of it’s heavy processing, it takes up dye much better than most other wools. The vibrancy of all the gorgeous hand dyed superwash yarn is intoxicating for sure, and one of the reasons I still have so much in my stash. Another interesting characteristic that’s been mentioned over time has been the softness of the worsted superwash Merino yarns. It’s true, it is incredibly soft! However after discovering non-superwash Merino, Cormo and different Alpaca blends, I challenge anyone to say they can’t find a more natural wool that’s just as soft or more so than superwash.

So all of this has lead me to the decision to purge my stash of superwash yarn, whether it be by selling it or using what’s left in projects. I recently finished my first wrap, using up some of my superwash and have sold several skeins on Ravelry as well. For me it was a personal decision based on convictions I have, however as with anything else in life, everyone is entitled to their opinion and decisions. Some could say my decision is drastic or dramatic, however it wasn’t a hard one. Like I said before, if there are healthier and more natural alternatives, then why not?

I would love to learn even more about all of this and if anyone knows if there are alternative treatments being developed to superwash wool, without the toxic chemicals and plastic? I’m sure there is a way!

And for those wanting to avoid superwash wool or just wanting to learn good ways to wash their wool hand knits, my friend Kirsten shared a blog post recently with some great information.

**Since this post was released nearly a year and a half ago it’s gained a lot of attention and thus a lot of questions. One of the more popular asking for further sources on the science and understanding behind polyamide-epichlorohydrin (Hercosett 125), the resin used in the superwash process, both domestically and overseas. Here are a list of further resources. I’ll add more as I find them. 

-The original patent for Hercosett (polyamide-epichlorohydrin resin) applied for by Hercules Powder Co, invented by John D Floyd, in 1957 – Process for preventing shrinkage and felting of wool

The chemistry of a polyamide–epichlorohydrin resin (hercosett 125) used to shrink‐resist wool (unfortunately in order to read the full article you have to pay :/) You can find the same article HERE

-A patent that includes the use of Hercosett or other similar polymers – “Ionizing radiation treatment of wool textiles with resin for shrink resistance”

-A patent applied for by Chargeurs (a European and US scour and fiber processing plant) for “Method for oxidising or activating a textile mass with a gas mixture containing ozone”

-A more detailed explanation of epichlorohydrin

-Did you know the many facial tissues, toilet papers and paper towels use polyaminopolyamide-epichlorohydrin? This was brought to my attention recently and is another interesting thing to be aware of. Here’s a scientific paper with more detail.

-A list of industrial resins and a little about each of them

-A little more info on polyamide resins

 

 

 

 

Knitting Natural Living Parenting

Exploring: Natural dyeing weekend at the goat farm

November 6, 2014

Well, it only took me two months to get these photos edited and post written. Between business plan writing, grant proposal research, knitting, parenting, working and traveling, editing photos somehow finds its way to the bottom of the list. It’s always fun though to go back through and remember how amazing of a time you had somewhere, doing something, with people you love.

Labor day weekend we set out to my friend Annie’s up in Humboldt county. If you remember, we visited her and her husband at their farm for the 4th of July holiday.  It’s a little bit of a trek, but somehow we’ve adopted the road warrior status this past year with all our traveling to Washington and Idaho, so we were set. I’m not going to complain about 6hrs straight of knitting time. 🙂

Annie and I had planned for this to be a dye weekend. This was my first time venturing into the world of natural dyeing and I was ecstatic to have an experienced and equally enthusiastic friend to lead the way. David even surprised me with a natural dye book in preparation for the pending extravaganza. The evening after we arrived Annie and I sat down with a stack of books (see bottom of the post for a link to each book in our dye library) and planned what to forage for the dye pots. The next morning we prepped the yarn, tying together skeins for each color we planned and using alum we began to mordant the lot of fiber. I hadn’t realized prior to this experience how involved dyeing actually is. There are a lot of steps and patience and timeliness is important, but it is incredible the satisfaction you get from each step along the way. We then took off to forage for our dye pots. Toyon, Blackberry, Scotch broom, Indigo, Cutch and my favorite, Marigold. Well they’re all my favorites really.

We only had a few pots and burners to make the rounds so we started with the Toyon and Marigold, then moved onto the Blackberry, Indigo, Scotch broom and then Cutch. I’m sure every dyers process is slightly different, a practice that evolves over time. Mine was closely guided by Annie, who’s been dyeing for several years and still giggles and squeals each time she sees the outcome, like it’s her first. It’s completely adorable.

After the dye pots had sufficient time to cook, we began dyeing the yarn. I should note here that I am leaving out a lot of the step by step process, primarily because any knowledge you could and should gain about natural dyeing should come from an expert in person or from books like these. Temperature is a very important thing when natural dyeing, making sure the dye pots don’t go above a certain degree.

Once each dye pot had been exhausted, we rinsed the yarn and laid them to dry, with the exception of the Toyon, which we did a post dip in iron (a bucket of rusty nails and odds and ends) as an experiment. I honestly couldn’t believe the colors that had seemingly come from just some random plants around us, and a few of them even considered weeds! Of course there was forethought put into which plants were chosen, directed by both Annie’s experience and the books we consulted…but still, how incredible is nature?! I cannot wait to plant our future dye garden at our ranch.

The remainder of our time with our friends was spent visiting an Apple orchard, bbq-ing and corn on the cob, knitting and planning for Little Woolens, and taking care of more kids than you can count. Baby goats that is. 🙂 I helped Annie on a couple shifts, feeding the many, many, MANY newborn goats, it was a humorous sight I’m sure.

I feel so blessed to have such an inspiring and incredible friend like Annie. Our times on their farm are a pleasant reprieve from the city life and their company is second to none. That might have something to do with her butterball of a daughter Louella too. 🙂

Recommended Natural Dye Books

Nature’s Colors by Ida Grae

Natural Dyes, Plants and Processes by Jack Kramer

Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess

The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing by Eva Lambert

What others do you guys recommend?

cow fields

goat farm

foraging natural dye

toyon natural dye

foraging marigolds

coltrane playing

louella on the farm

 

mordant yarn

dye pot

fresh yarn

mordant yarn

coltrane

helper

dye pot

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marigold natural dye

tired mama

annie and fam

apple orchard

 

marigold

baby goats

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mamas

 

toyon

indigo

scotchbroom

cutch

indigo

blackberry

marigold natural dye

toyon natural dye

natural dyeing

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Natural Living

Natural living: Wool mattresses and bedding

September 19, 2014
organic mattress

For the last 3 months we’ve been sleeping on an air mattress. It’s been interesting. We do have a memory foam topper, so that has made it surprisingly more comfortable, however we are very ready to move to a real bed. We still co-sleep with Coltrane and that has made it a little extra challenging. With every “squeak, squeak” and jostle, our patience wears thin. We had a nice mattress, but because of a water leak and potential mildew concerns we had to rid of it. We’d been considering converting to all wool bedding for some time, prior to losing our mattress, but as with any major purchase we felt we needed to do further research. Sleeping on an air mattress is a huge motivator to make a rush decision and purchase. We held out and after a month of comparing our options, we placed an order for our new bedding system from Surround Ewe. It takes around 2 months for orders to be custom made and delivered, so we are patiently waiting until next week when it should arrive. We’ve upgraded from a queen to a king, so we’re all around pretty excited.

For those of you not familiar with wool mattresses, also called wool beds, let me share a little bit about the benefits and reasons we chose to “go” wool.

1. Reduced common allergens – Because of wool’s incredible ability to quickly absorb and then release moisture, consistent humidity within the fiber is greatly reduced. This inhibits common allergens such as dust mites, mildew and mold from taking up residence in your bedding.

2. Sustainable – If purchased from a reputable brand that sources it’s wool from quality and humane sources, wool is a completely sustainable fiber. There is very little impact on the environment during the processing of wool and most wool is processed without or with very little chemicals.

3. Fire resistant – Wool has a unique coating called Lanolin. This greasy substance coats and protects the fiber, making it naturally fire resistant. What’s even more incredible is that wool is passes flame resistance testing without the use of added chemicals.

4. Thermoregulation – Another incredible natural property of wool is it’s ability to thermoregulate. In basic terms, this means that when you’re cool, wool warms you and when you’re warm, wool cools you. It does this by reducing heat transfer to the environment and wicking moisture when you perspire.

5. Long life – Wool fibers last far longer then other fibers in comparison. A wool fiber can be bent and manipulated over 30,000 times without breaking, whereas cotton for instance wears much faster, breaking down after only 3,000 bends.

6. Comfort – Many praise the healing benefits of wool bedding because of it’s ability reduce pressure on critical points within your body, allowing you to sleep more soundly and wake up without being stiff.

7. For the love of wool – Not to be discounted, my love for wool and all of it’s incredible properties and benefits played a big part in our decision to go with wool bedding. Why do I love wool so? So many reasons. For one of my favorite and most interesting reads, check out Clara Parkes’ book (her love letter to wool), The Knitter’s Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber.

Once we decided to “go” wool, I began researching the few companies out there selling wool bedding. There are several to choose from, but what it came down to essentially was perceived quality, availability of reviews of both the product and company, customer service and cost. Wool is not cheap, and same goes for wool bedding. It is definitely an investment and honestly there isn’t a lot of customer information out there about it. This is one of the reasons I’m sharing our conversion here. Here are the top reasons we went with Surround Ewe.

1. Pre-compressed wool – Wool naturally compresses under your body weight. It’s recommended that you rotate your wool bed regularly and do your best to sleep all over the mattress in the first few months to avoid uneven compression. Many of the companies I found either did not pre-compress the wool they stuffed the mattresses with or made no mention of it. Surround Ewe pre-compresses the wool in several of their products, which lends to firmness and longevity.

2. Variety in thickness – It’s recommended that wool beds sit on slated frames or box springs. Some people reported being able to feel impressions of the slats through the mattress over time. I found many wool mattresses around 5″ thick, but Surround Ewe offers a 6″ and 9″ thick mattress. Even with the natural compression, my prediction is this thickness will help eliminate any awareness of slats or box spring.

3. Organic materials – Not all companies offer their wool mattresses covered in organic material. It was important to us that the material covering the wool mattresses was organic cotton.

4. 100% sourced and made in the USA – All materials used in Surround Ewe’s products are either grown, raised or made in the USA. Many companies offer products that are made in the US, but their materials are not sourced domestically.

5. Options – I like having options. Options around thickness, firmness, quality, accompanying products, cost, etc. Surround Ewe has a few options for mattresses, but also toppers, comforters and other bedding. I was able to customize our mattress set, getting the exact mattress, topper, pillows, etc.

6. Cost – Converting to wool bedding is a big investment. We’d never bought an entire bedding system before so this was all knew to us. I compared the costs and offering of every company I could find and Surround Ewe came out in front based on the info I’ve shared above and because they offer seasonal discounts. Right now they are offering a discount on their mattresses and toppers. Another determining factor was shipping costs, Surround Ewe offers free shipping on all orders.

So there you have it. I’ll be writing a couple follow up posts talking about our initial experience once we receive the Surround Ewe products and how they’re fairing after using them for some time. As with any product experience I’m sure I’ll have some interesting information to share, though I really do hope it’s all positive!