2009 is the International Year of Natural Fibres. One of the world’s most beloved natural fibres, wool, is also one of the oldest in use. Although sheep were domesticated around 10,000 BC, it took people nearly 5,000 years to begin spinning their wool. In the time since then, wool has been a worldwide textile-of-choice for clothing as well as a myriad of home comforts.
Currently, global wool-production is at around 2.1 million tonnes per annum with Australia leading the herd, so to speak, followed by New Zealand and China. This figure, while seemingly large, is actually much less than it once was. An increased demand for synthetic fibres beginning in the 1960s meant a decline in wool prices and, as a result, production.
The current “green” movement, however, has led to a renewed interest in sustainable natural fibres, including wool. While new wool products continue to enjoy their popularity in fashion and home décor, it is the “old” wool that is garnering much attention in the handmade community. With an eye on thrift and a commitment to “reduce and reuse“, eco-conscious crafters and artisans are repurposing existing and heirloom woolen garments to create fun and fabulous items.
A perfect example of this trend is this pair of merino wool felines (above) by Sweet Poppy Cat of Oregon. As with all of the other items in her shop, these adorable little cats are made by hand from pre-loved sweaters, felted for softness and strength, and are as unique as the person who will ultimately own them. No two are alike!
When it comes to things for baby, wool is truly a natural choice. Wool is dirt resistant, flame resistant and has excellent moisture-wicking properties. When exposed to dampness, wool will actually pull moisture into the core of the fiber and away from the skin and is capable of absorbing up to 30% of its own weight without feeling damp. The lanolin content in wool not only adds to its soft touch, but makes it naturally antibacterial! Garments such as these lambswool “longies” pants by Winkydinks will keep your “green” baby warm, dry and happy; not to mention very fashionable! An enthusiastic upcycler and member of the EcoEtsy team, Jen of Winkydinks has a wealth of information in the policies section of her Etsy shop for the use and care of wool and provides first time wool customers with a “wool wash bar” sample.
From yesterday’s sweater to today’s plaything to tomorrow’s heirloom – this is the beauty in upcycling. Jennifer of Wood Pond Designs creates her fun and environmentally-responsible baby toys from carefully chosen reclaimed wool. Each soft wool rattle, like these below, is truly a one-of-a-kind and is sure to bring smiles and giggles to anyone who gives it a shake! As practical as they are cute, Jennifer’s Plush Bunny rattles are fully machine washable and designed to take whatever baby throws (read: drools) at them.
Karen of The June Bride [previously featured] is another clever gal making use of secondhand wool garments to create unique accessories. Her lovely felted flower brooches (below), which were recently featured on the Today Show, are made from ordinary sweaters gathered from local thrift stores. With a little hot water and a whole lot of imagination, they have been transformed into items which are anything but ordinary!
It is important to note, too, that in addition to purchasing many of her materials at charity shops, Karen donates a portion of her Etsy sales to various organizations which provide shelter, food and medical care to people in need. I think wearing one of these pins would be a beautiful reminder to share warmth and comfort with others, especially during these difficult times.
To celebrate and learn more about the beauty of wool and other natural fibres, visit the International Year of Natural Fibres website.