Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Regular Wool vs 'Technical' Wool

Despite this winter being colder than last, I am finding cycling in freezing temperatures easier this time around. The reason, is that I have finally surrendered to wool. Clad in head to toe wool, I no longer complain about the cold and life has gotten easier. Pictured here: a long sleeve wool t-shirt from Icebreaker (the red bit sticking out), wool sweater and gloves from Jigsaw, wool skirt and hat that I knitted myself, and wool coat (folded over the back of the bike) from Benetton. Not visible here are Icebreaker leggings, Smartwool socks, and I/O Bio underwear and bra - also all wool.

I've certainly worn wool in the past, and - like Dottie from Let's Go Ride a Bike - I have always loved sweaters with enormous turtle/cowl necks that can be unfolded over my face to protect against the frost. But before this year, I have limited wool clothing to outer layers, and did not think I was tolerant of wool right next to my skin. That was why I repeatedly ignored advice that was given me last year to buy lightweight "technical" wool. I remember trying to wear wool shirts and tights next to my skin before, and finding them irritatingly itchy. Today's manufacturers of technical wool - the most popular being Smartwool, Ibex and Icebreaker - promise featherweight, itch-free garments. But they are also super expensive. It took me a long time to suspend my disbelief and commit to giving these things a try, and it also took me a long time to find everything I wanted on sale. But now that I have, I can never go back. The stuff works, and it really is non-itchy - even for someone whose skin is normally sensitive to wool.

I am not sure how exactly "technical wool" is made, and most likely every manufacturer's version is different. But the idea is, that the merino fibers are kept super fine, but made to interlock in a way that results in efficient temperature regulation. In comparison, if you examine a "regular wool" garment - like the sweater I am wearing here - you will find that it is more porous, not quite as smoothly textured, and thicker. Even the finest merino and cashmere sweaters do not have the same tissue-weight quality and smooth, dense texture as the technical wool garments.

All this makes it possible to wear "technical wool" next to one's skin, and for those struggling with the cold, I would highly recommend it. Wearing a wool sweater and overcoat did nothing for me last year, when the stuff I'd wear underneath was made of cotton or some other fabric. My underlayers would get soaked with sweat, and then the wind would chill me to the bone when I would stop at intersections. The feeling of my skin being covered with frozen sweat underneath three layers of clothing was just awful. But wearing wool underwear, bra, tights, and long-sleeve tee, has solved this problem for me completely. As far as the difference between the popular brands, I think they are all pretty good and I just get whatever is on sale. For ultra-thin layers, I prefer Icebreaker. And I also love Icebreaker leggings - they are gusseted, whereas Smartwool leggings are not.

For layers that are not directly next to the skin, I find "regular" wool sufficient - either store bought wool clothing, or things I knit myself. While Smartwool, Ibex, Icebreaker and others do offer technical outer layers, I think it is just too expensive for most people to amass an entire wardrobe out of that stuff. And, of course, it is also stylistically limiting. For me, as long as the layers next to my skin are the technical garments, I can wear pretty much anything over them and it will feel fine. I like to knit my own hats and skirts, because making them is fairly easy and I can invent my own styles. But sweaters are complicated, so mine are all store-bought.

One thing to keep in mind, is that thin merino sweaters are usually warmer than chunky sweaters, because the tightly-knit merino is less porous. Unfortunately, I have noticed lately that even stores that used to sell simple wool sweaters no longer do: I could not find a single sweater at our local Gap, Old Navy, or Banana Republic stores that was 100% wool over the past couple of seasons - and I checked at various points in time out of curiosity. Several years ago, you could walk in and buy a wool sweater without a problem, so I wonder what accounts for this change. Has the price of wool risen? J. Crew still offers a good variety of merino sweaters, as well as cashmere, but I wonder whether that is on its way out as well. It would be a shame, since it seems that an increasing number of people are re-discovering the benefits of natural fibers over synthetics - particularly in the winter. What are your experiences with "regular" wool, "technical" wool, and other fibers?

82 comments:

  1. Velouria said: "Unfortunately, I have noticed lately that even stores that used to sell simple wool sweaters no longer do..."

    I have noticed the same thing. It has been quite difficult to find 100% wool garments. Everything has a mix of acrylic, nylon, polyester, or some other fabric in it. I've even tried looking online with little success. I think your postulate that wool is more expensive could be a possibility. I'm sure manufacturers assume no one will notice a 10%-50% amount of something else thrown in here and there (they are wrong). The only items I seem to find are socks, caps, and gloves. Any other garments I need seem to send me looking for an individual who makes handmade clothing, and then it costs more than I can really spare, particularly when one item is hardly going to get someone through the entire cold season. Etsy is a nice spot to look, but when a sweater or skirt runs $90-150, I have to really decide if it's necessary.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In upstate New York it is even hard to find wool yarn, let alone wool clothing. I seen a couple sweaters at thrift stores none over 10% wool. A relative who lives in Mass. just brought over some knit wool socks for my daughter, I was jealous.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amen. I switched to wool last year and have never looked back. The comfort, the non-stink factor and the softness won me over. I even got my Lycra-loving husband to consider it, and now he has a few pieces.

    He overheats easily, even indoors, and he finds wool much superior for thermoregulation. In other words, he can leave his technical wool sweater on when he comes inside and he's still comfortable. His preference is for wool/synthetic blends, while mine is for all-wool from Icebreaker and Ibex.

    ReplyDelete
  4. lukeofny - Have you tried knitpicks.com for yarn? A dizzying variety of wool yarns, very reasonably priced, and free shipping over $50.

    GE - I especially love it when something is described online as "cashmere blend", and then you look at the details to discover it's 60% acrylic, 20% cotton, 10% polyester, and 10% cashmere. Um...

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm in my third year of my wool conversion. I wear an Icebreaker tank top underneath pretty much everything in the winter. It doesn't really stink, even after multiple wearings, so it rarely needs to be washed.

    As a very tall guy, I usually need to wear the tall size and LLBean has proven to be a good source for merino wool sweaters (thin-technical ones). WAIT! I just went to find the link, and don't see them anywhere, bummer.

    Their merino dress socks are also very nice.

    I also got a recommendation for smartwool tights for my wife, and it took the super cold weather for her to finally wear them, and she's in love with them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can you do a follow up piece about how to care for wool garments? Is everything still dry clean only?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Erin - No need for a separate post about it: you can throw these in the wash. I usually hand-wash mine in the sink, but that's due to my own peculiar preference. You can certainly use the washing machine. Also, being wool, this stuff dries very fast.

    JP Twins - Yes, LL Bean has also decreased their wool inventory dramatically, which is weird as they are LL Bean!

    Oddly, I don't like Smartwool tights - they just feel uncomfortable to me. I bought 2 pairs on sale and still have one of them un-opened (in Medium) if anyone wants them at the sale price.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm with you on the wool. I made a wool purchase or 2 this year. Our winter has been more mild this year. But last year, I hurt I was so cold.
    Here are a few of my must haves:
    Wool Buff (from REI)
    DeFeet wool gloves
    Swrve merino sweater
    I, like you, fought the wool craze for years. It has won me over.
    I do have some Patagonia Capilene base layers that are not wool, from an investment a few years ago, that are keepers for sure. Being Polyester, they are fully recyclable thru Patagonia's program if ever I decide to phase them out.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What is this guesset thing!? Can they be added to non-gusseted wool leggings by a tailor? My problem with my wool leggings is that they are SO tight at my waist. I think they are Icebreaker now that I think about it. Also they are XS though. They also scrunch at the knees unflatteringly. Do yours?

    You and I are the same size:5'7" but I am more like 130 lbs (on a good day :)) with most of my volume in my derrier. Can I trouble you for your sizes, Velouria?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Erin - I used to hand wash everything with Kookaburra Woolwash but then started to get lazy and now all of our socks get washed on 'delicates' and I still handwash the shirts. Since you don't have to wash them as often, it's not as much of a chore as it sounds.

    although perhaps not necessary, the Kookaburra Woolwash smells wonderful IMO, and can be bought in gallon jugs for much cheaper than elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think the dryer can be hard on the expensive wools, so maybe consider laying them out or hanging them around the house. Unless you have cats. They will chew that stuff like furry little bandits.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Faced the same dilemma in the past...and agree that Icebreaker is wonderful for leggings but for next-to-skin tops I have also ventured into (insert name of favourite thift store here) and picked up Henri Bendel/Saks/Neiman superfine merino wool or even cashmere crewnecks and turtlenecks in perfect condition for about $5, which work beautifully. At that price one can experiment with getting a bit larger size and washing it warm to make it smaller or just taking good care of it to keep it perfectly sized. As it happens a few items were so nice that they migrated out of the sporting wear category and into regular rotation. It is clear that you know wool well so you would find it easy to identify the right thickness, softness, knit, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've had an email asking to reveal my sources for the sales. I'm happy to, but just be aware that you have to check these regularly - stuff is always changing. It's not like you can set out and buy everything you need on sale in 1 place all together.

    But anyway, here we go:
    departmentofgoods.com
    backcountry.com
    moosejaw.com
    sierratradingpost.com
    In the summer they tend to have much more stuff than in the winter, so you have to buy in advance. But even now there is occasionally something good.

    Also, icebreaker.com itself has fantastic end of season sales. And jcrew.com has merino wool on sale regularly.

    Hope this helps : )

    ReplyDelete
  14. also in my first year of conversion to wool and loving it! took me awhile to convince myself to lay out the money but it's so comfortable and so warm that it's definitely worth it, in fact i keep the house much cooler now so the wool has already paid for itself.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This past Xmas Santa brought me a Smartwool cap that is so comfy and warm, it is almost too warm to wear indoors. Also, some nice wool sock liners from a company called Darn Tough based in Vermont. I'm not adverse to technical fabrics and Polartec baselayers in the winter. What I try to avoid, when it's cold and wet, is cotton, because it absorbs water and loses all insulation properties when wet.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This post is right on. I started wearing wool a few years ago for winter running and have slowly been replacing my everyday wardrobe as well. I think you'll love wool in the summer too. I have a few short sleeve tops from ibex and icebreaker and prefer them over everything else when it's hot. I think there are still a bunch in the "outlet" section of the ibex website.

    I know you don't wear "cycling clothing," but I tried the ibex cycling shorts and I wasn't impressed. They were comfortable, but after washing they seemed to get stretched out and didn't fit right anymore. Has anyone else tried these?

    I have a few paris of icebreaker panties, but have yet to find a wool bra that is supportive enough and doesn't look like a "masher" sports bra. My favorite wool pieces are the camisoles from icebreaker. I wear these under everything from fall through spring.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Eucalan is another very good wool wash.

    FWIW, I find the technical wool runs really big in size. I am 5'3, hover around 115 and am of the small waist, huge butt body type and I'm swimming in the XS ibex leggings I bought. I wear a 4 or 6 usually in most European brands and a 2 in mass brands like J Crew (ah, vanity sizing). I would definitely recommend sizing down in the tech wool sphere.

    The Brooks Brothers boys' dep't can be a great source for plain pure wool sweaters at cheap prices. A teenage boy's size L usually will fit a small woman and their plain silhouette is great, or was when I bought a bunch of them.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hm, I found some wool sweaters on sale at BR right before the holiday, but haven't really been looking otherwise. Had NO idea that you could get wool undergarments -- going to check that out!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. My understanding on the difference is that it has to do with the structure of the wool fiber itself. I was just reading about this and of course now I can't find the link, but the gist of it is that wool is traditionally known for both having kinky and scaly fibers. Think of how it feels relative to something with a long, straight, smooth fiber like linen. These properties give it loft and warmth, but also make it itchy and felt-able, as these fibers rub against each other and get themselves into a snarled mess.
    Technical wool is brought to us by modern chemistry, transgenic sheep, or both, (kidding!) and basically has the effect of taking a perm relaxer to the wool fiber, straightening it completely out. I believe the fibers are still too short to make an effective thread, so still not much weaving going on, but for a lightweight knit they're perfect, and smooth enough to finally NOT ITCH! Hurray!
    My husband knit me a lovely hat which sadly stretches to be too large over time and my best attempts to shrink it with hot water, detergent, and agitation do very little. I suppose that's the downside to modern technical wool.
    As for wool care, I'm a huge fan of a good soak in woolite in the tub, then a stint draining with the support of the side of the tub, and a final hang-dry from damp once the top of the garment is dry enough to support the weight of the damp lower portion. For favorite things I treat them to an end-of-season dry clean before getting stored in cedar 'till the leaves turn color.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Once upon a time ;-) all of my cycling garments were wool. That was because most bike garments were wool, and it was widely accepted that wool was the only real choice.

    The same was true for garments made for skiing and other outdoor winter activities. So, getting all-wool garments wasn't difficult and, although it was a bit more expensive than the few alternatives that were available, they paid for themselves in durability as well as comfort.

    I used to buy wool ski underwear and wear wool pants or tights, and a wool jersey or sweater, with a jacket as needed. I also had an old pair of Air Force flight pants that were toasty but not sweaty.

    Had I known then what I know now, I would have looked for another pair of those pants, and bought more of those other garments. I coaxed as much life out of them as I could.

    These days, wool outdoor gear is all but nonexistent. A few manufacturers are bringing it back, but on a very small scale. Hopefully, they'll expand their offerings and production. And, I hope that makers of "civilian" clothes re-discover the fabric. I can't remember the last time I saw an all-wool T-shirt or undergarment in The Gap or any other clothing store. Sometimes I see wool outer sweaters, but they are so loosely knit that they are about as effective as broken windows against the wind.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Most of what passes as wool in fashion circles comes from merino sheep. Most of merino sheep is in Australia and New Zealand. That's why it's very expensive- they practically have a monopoly on the world's wool market.

    If clothing manufacturers actually considered other sources of wool, such as Rambouillet or Cormo (so much softer than cashmere and longer lasting), they'd be able to expand their market considerably. In fact, one company, Rambler's Way, is trying to convince the public the benefits of Rambouillet wool (it's very similar to merino). Also,, their products (including wool) are all made in US.

    Another US-produced woolwear company is Pendelton, and their wool shirts are incredibly light and warm- I've had two vintage pendelton wool shirts and they are in heavy rotation this winter.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Eunice, thank you so much for the link to Rambler's Way! I had never heard of them and I love the tank top, the bias cut v-neck and the low-rise legging. Way way better cuts and colors that most of the technical wool I've seen.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm always on the look out for thin wool sweaters and find that I can score about one quality one every two months at the local thrift store. Much like with leather I like to buy my wool second hand to keep it out of the trash heap , where it would take forever to degrade. If the sweater is itchy I like to layer the smartwool tank-top / base layer underneath. i've had it for years and it's been one of my most used items in my closet!

    I recently won a Short Stack Tee from Outlier tailored. It was too big for me so I gave it to my man. The hand of it is silky and soft. They are a little pricey - but then again you get what you pay for.

    Stay warm!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I had started a post myself about how I was in EMS recently and overheard a sales jockey talking up wool as the very best....
    I am old enough to remember when all the technical poly fabrics came in, and it was all about "this is so wicking" and "it's so less itchy than wool" I guess they always have to be selling something :)
    Thanks to Charlotte's post above, I know that technical wool is actually chemically treated to be different than "old fashioned" wool, so there's a legitimate difference, I just think the turnaround is ironic. I don't have any technical wool, except socks and tights, but I do like and use a lot of regular wool and cashmere.
    I bought a tremendously "bedazzled" cashmere sweater at TJ max two weeks ago for $20, and then spent an hour removing all the sewn on beads and junk- ending up with a plain grey cashmere sweater for my pains.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Another merino convert here - I can't wear even cashmere next to my skin but I can handle merino. I wear merino all winter now and not just for cycling, it's great for sitting around in a cold house too. It's not smartwool - just ordinary merino. I am conscious of the slight prickle of the wool against my skin especially when I'm warmer, but it's entirely bearable (by February I might find I kind of like it). I've also knitted myself some merino socks.
    Here in Scotland there's still a lot of lambswool around for normal sweaters (although cashmere sort of took over a few years ago). Finding actual Scottish wool can take some doing though, especially for knitting.

    ReplyDelete
  26. From Wikipedia:
    Superwash wool (or washable wool) technology first appeared in the early 1970s to produce wool that has been specially treated so that it is machine washable and may be tumble-dried. This wool is produced using an acid bath that removes the "scales" from the fiber, or by coating the fiber with a polymer that prevents the scales from attaching to each other and causing shrinkage. This process results in a fiber that holds longevity and durability over synthetic materials, while retaining its shape.

    (note: the coating is basically teflon)

    ReplyDelete
  27. cycler said...
    "I bought a tremendously "bedazzled" cashmere sweater at TJ max two weeks ago for $20, and then spent an hour removing all the sewn on beads and junk"


    I've done the same : ))

    Anon 12:34 - Since I see many of these wools being described as polymer free, they are probably using the acid bath or similar method.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Since we are on this topic, I would love to ask everyone about sizing. I have found the Ibex and Icebreaker sizing a bit tricky. What is your experience? esp if you are about 5'7" and 120-ish lbs (and female--sorry guys...).

    Icebreaker leggings--had to go to the medium for length but they are a bit roomy

    Ibex--esp tops--did you find the sleeves long enough if the rest fit (and you have long limbs)?

    Random thoughts on sizes appreciated...

    ReplyDelete
  29. Given our winter is incredibly milder than yours (to say the least) i invested in some thin cashmere sweaters and drawstring pants for layering. the best investment i have made this winter. i found 2-ply cashmere (not knowing at the time it was such) sweaters for $70- and the pants for $90- at overstock.com. i guess it was this inexpensive because it's 2-ply, but it's perfect for layering, not too hot, just the right amount of warmth and weight. And not even the slightest bit scratchy.

    ReplyDelete
  30. This winter is my first winter where I'm clad from neck to toe in wool and wool blends (for my head I'm still happy with synthetics). So far, most of my woolens are SmartWool, but I've found that the material composition of "Smartwool" varies from product to product, sometimes with as little as 40% actual wool. So be careful and do check the composition of anything you're considering buying. Every Smartwool item I have is 100% merino wool:

    - long-sleeve zipneck top- midweight
    - long-sleeve crew - lightweight
    - leggings - midweight
    - leggings - lightweight
    - socks - midweight
    - socks - lightweight

    I'm fairly addicted to wool now. I'm finding it's awesome for any cold weather activity, including hiking. Heck, for yesterday's sub-zero temps, I even wore my Smartwool just to take the T to work!

    I agree that they're super-expensive, but with sales and coupons, I've managed to get everything I have at at least 25% off of retail (and even still, made a huge dent in my bank account!).

    ReplyDelete
  31. Oh man I have been waiting for this post! I've been researching technical wool since late November and next paycheck glorious warmth shall be mine!
    I'd love to know the specifics on which of Icebreaker's tights you bought. I was torn between two of their leggings. More warmth vs higher price is a hard decision.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Yeah, it's pricey alright.

    Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I tossed every item of clothing (except jackets?) that wasn't wool. Thin wool for summer and heavier weights for winter. You can even get suits from wool. The only issue is dress shirts, they would have to be silk, I guess?

    Anyway, I hate any kind of shopping so it remains just a theoretical exercise. Uh just thinking about shopping now makes me crazed! Arrgh!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  33. Velouria said...
    " It would be a shame, since it seems that an increasing number of people are re-discovering the benefits of natural fibers over synthetic ones - particularly in the winter. "

    Since wool is a natural product it takes an ever increasing herd of sheep to produce enough wool for a growing population which can be problematic in itself. This leave the door open to synthetics

    However, synthetics are tied to oil so they will soon become more expensive ,or disappear, as peak oil makes it's presence known.

    Which leads us back to wool and it's supply problems. Now consider that cycling in America will see an marked growth on all fronts from the increasing impact of peak oil causing all prices to rise or effecting shortages of major good/services.

    Wool can be harvested locally ,and processed locally, as herds of sheep reappear on the local level farms. But for the mean time it will do all well to invest in as much quality wool as they can afford to avoid what I see as massive price increases due to skyrocketing demand due to increased cycling year 'round.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I love my technical wool.

    I have tights from B. Ella that I bought at Sock Dreams, they're not "technical" wool but they're merino and I wear them pretty much everyday, with both skirts and pants. Sometimes with thicker over-the-knee wool socks over them!

    There was an Icebreaker warehouse sale here about a month or two ago. I really wish my budget had been larger, as I love everything I bought. I definitely wish I'd bought more undies.

    Alas, none of the wool bras I've found fit me, but I generally don't fit "sports-bra" style bras without underwires.

    One last thought: If you can knit skirts, you can knit sweaters. The knitting itself isn't complicated, especially if you do a top-down sweater in the round with raglan sleeves. I don't knit sweaters myself, but that's because they take too long. I knit socks instead. With sweaters, you can knit an hour and it hardly looks like you made any progress, but with a sock you knit an hour and it's easy to see how much farther along you are. Plus, way more portable.

    Do you have a favorite skirt pattern? I haven't knit a skirt yet, but it looks like it's just in the round? How do you keep them from looking weird when they go over the hips and butt area?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Finding wool garments - technical or otherwise - is next to impossible if you're a woman over a size 16. It's almost enough to make me want to learn to knit.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I have two of the lightest weight Icebreaker tees which I wear alone in summer and under a jumper in winter. They're low in stink factor and are comfortable to ride in and very long lasting.

    HOWEVER!

    They do itch. I am allergic both to wool AND synthetics so my options are limited. I wear the wool tops because I absolutely can't wear cotton or synthetics on my top half (especially in summer!) If running errands I can put up with the itchyness untill I get home but change when I get to work. I had two pairs of Icebreaker underwear which made me brake out in terrible eczema so have switched back to cotton which is uncomfortable in summer but I don't really have a choice!

    What I'd like is something like a top I had from Ground Effect which had two layers - one cotton and one synthetic which didn't trouble my skin but would stink after 5 mins in summer. A bamboo/wool blend or something? Does such a thing exist?

    ReplyDelete
  37. BTW, this is not an ad, but I get my merino wool from wiggle.co.uk and have been very happy with the prices, even including the shipping.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I've blogged about these before, but I just wanted to come back to again endorse my favorite crossover product - Gaynor Minden wool tights - lightweight for layering but oh so warm and stretchy, I was wearing them for cycling and *needing* them for ballet so I had to buy more, and they're totally worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  39. MDI while glancing at Peppy (the cat that can haz cheeseburger)January 25, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    I've been thinking to shear our furry bandits and make some technical wool out of them. Brown socks and grey gloves. Mmm, and not just abundant fur, plenty of good tallow and feline deliciousness. :)

    ReplyDelete
  40. Man, I can write volumes on this, but I'll refrain. I wrote more about this on my blog if anyone feels like reading it.

    I pretty much second the positives about Ibex, Smartwool, Icebreaker (though their advertising is a tad creepy), Darn Tough socks, Sock Dreams, and Pendleton. I'll thown in few other places/brands:

    MEC, the REI of Canada (or is REI the MEC of the US?), has come out with their own line of technical merino baselayers. They're pretty affordable, and the t-shirt and underwear I've got are comfortable. And the stuff is made in Canada!

    I've picked up a couple of random brands of wool long-sleeve tops that are good: Terramax/Thermawool and I/O Biocompatibles

    For outer layers, I'm the type of person who stays away from "brand" stores. But I've had good luck at thrifts. One of my prized finds is a baby blue "commando" v-neck sweater that is washable wool. $3 at a thrift in Courtenay BC. It's probably the top I used the most fall through spring.

    Army/navy surplus outlets are good for wool as well, however it's going to be drab colors and more on the itchy side. I scored a pair of German wool pants for $10 that I made into knickers. Great for cold winter biking! And if it's too itchy, a baselayer underneath.

    It's gotten so bad that April will occasionally comment that I'm wearing a full sheep.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Charlotte - Thanks, I had been trying to find your post about these tights, having forgotten the name! They look great, though I am conflicted on the sizing.

    MDI : (((

    ReplyDelete
  42. ....you know, i've pondered this many times and never committed to it. I've stuck with cotton shirts ('cause that is my standard workwear wardrobe) with the foolish knowledge of their effects, but equally i balk at the cost of technical wool undergarments. Plus, i'm not really an undershirt person anyway as I get too warm indoors. Anyway, cutting to the short of it, i just searched for regular style wool shirts and Sierra Trading appear to be doing a closeout on an Australian brand called RTK Shirts of regular collared merino wool shirts. I shall take a punt on a few of those given they are very cheap.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I recently also briefly wrote about my fond love for icebreakers. the obvious difference here in SF, however is that we don't get blizzards, but our weather is moody as hell.

    Im a HUGE wool fan, esp. icebreaker stuff. due that is the material able to keep up with changing zones, withihn our 7sq miles and though we dont get 'drastic' weather, it sure feels like when the changes are from 65 to 43 in a couple of hours.
    xxom

    ReplyDelete
  44. For UK people, Patagonia and Icebreaker can be found at countryside.co.uk. Customer service is always great and they have sale prices quite often. I love my Icebreaker camisoles in particular. All my wool stuff washes really well in a gentle machine wash. With a colour catcher I can mix dark and cream or white items and just do one big wool wash. Complete wool convert!

    ReplyDelete
  45. I grew up Hating wool. I had a pair or dress wool pants that I had to wear to Church on Sunday that itched like crazy. Now, every time I get near a church I itch... Just kidding (I think).
    I have tried some of the new wool and it does NOT itch! I am flabbergasted. Thin wool that does not itch and that I can layer. It works well for bicycling and for getting out at 4:00AM with my telescope!

    ReplyDelete
  46. Walt, I wouldn't worry too much about the price of wool. As emerging economics (like China) grow, they historically begin eating more meat. So the supply of wool will probably increasing, not decreasing.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I, too, am a huge wool convert...having discovered a few years ago how it is warm but not hot, and does not make you sweaty. I only knit now with wool and wool blends, and I love working with it...and I love wearing wool anything. Velouria, would you send your skirt pattern to interested parties?

    ReplyDelete
  48. 100% wool is so hard to find, because most are handwash only and people balk at buying something you can't throw in the machine. i admit to thinking about it when picking out yarn for a knitting project, but acryllic is itchy as well! and it can look cheap if acryllic is the main fiber.

    i loved both my silk and wool glove liners by itself, definitely warmer than my regular acryllic gloves (and those were meant to wear alone!).

    ReplyDelete
  49. Re handwashing: Icebreaker seems to specifically stress that you can "throw it in the wash," as compared to other types of wool. I have not tried it myself though.

    And re sizing - Yes, it's all over the place in my experience! In Icebreaker, I am an XS for their thicker tops, an S for the baselayer tops, an S for one version of their tights, and an M for another version. In Ibex I seem to be M. In Smartwool I seem to be S. And I am a US size 4.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I really like wool and have been grabbing every simple, classic garment I can find on sale for years. I also use alot of military surplus, some of my favorites are WW2 era Swedish and 1950s U.S. pants. They are various shades of green and gray and occasionally blue. I have one pair of Swedish fatigue pants from 1946 that are so stiff and heavy it's like wearing tree bark or something, they also happen to be the warmest things ever and are hurricane level wind and waterproof.

    I used to occasionally find lighter weight sweaters and jerseys at places like Gap and L.L.Bean and would buy 2 or 3 if they were on sale but the last ones were so long ago there's only a couple left. Mine always get damaged because I wear them so much and forget to take them off when I'm welding or cutting firewood and they tear or get tiny holes burned in them from welding spatter. They do'nt last long after that.

    I also like Pendleton stuff. Pants, plaid shirts,hats whatever. I don't weld in those. My favorite is a wool Pendleton coat I bought 20+ years ago, It's still in great shape and Most of my friends have never known me without it. I didn't think I could afford it but it was the best $239 I've ever spent on clothes.

    I don't mind wool undergarments at all, my wife says it's because it doesn't actually touch my skin due to my own natural layer of felt, I say that IS wool and that it proves my point. She remains unconvinced and found the idea of a wool bra horrifying. I think she's imagining some cable-knit Viking lingerie...

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  51. MDI - You shear those cats and I'll spin you some cat yarn! I've only got one long hair cat. Not quite enough there. Just don't send the felines to freezer camp. :)

    I was going to hop on in here with some answers to questions about price of wool, availability of wool sweaters, non-itchyness of "technical" wool and such, but it looks like I'm late to the game as so many other commenters have nailed it. I'm so glad to know that there are so many people out there who have come to love wool.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Wool is the "gear" of the utility cyclist.
    Even if one is just riding for transport purposes, wearing wool can make a big difference in how cycling is experienced, especially for someone who's starting.
    Wool can make cycling a comfortable and inodore experience, contrary to what is commonly believed.
    This is a very useful post in this respect, as sometimes when talking about utility cycling, there is a big focus on the bicycle and the clothing is underestimated.
    (I'm hoping to see more of this topic for the hot months as well...)

    ReplyDelete
  53. I love the Ibex and Icebreaker clothing. I've found it discounted on 6pm.com a few times, on REI, and backcountry.com near the end of a season. It's still spendy, but everything I've had has stood up to a ton of washings (as long as I hang it to dry).

    I'll wear it in summer, too. I have a few Icebreaker tanks that are great in the heat. They dry very quickly and don't stink!

    ReplyDelete
  54. Hi, Velouria... can't go there w/ you on the wool bra as I have not found one that offers sufficient support, but I agree w/ you about technical wool making the winter riding much more pleasant. In addition, it's must less bulky.

    Because I ride almost every day, I LOVE that I can just throw my Ibex or Icebreaker in the washer (on cold) and then hang it dry. They also wear well over time.

    Personally, I prefer Ibex b/c more of their stuff is Made in the USA than some of the other brands carrying technical wool. I also like silk base layers and long underwear for providing an additional lighter layer when going w/ another layer of wool would be too much, but you want a little something extra. Silk also does not get clammy like I have found other technical fabrics to do.

    Technical wool is not just a winter fabric for me... I also use finer merino wool jerseys during the summer months, too.

    ReplyDelete
  55. It's definitely nice to cycle in wool in the summer. It seems crazy to me now I ever gone out road biking in a cotton shirt. That's awful.

    I am very happy with my Icebreaker thin shirts. I can layer them any way I like, combine short & long sleeved shirts, depending on weather and they stay dry much longer than cotton, and then dry quicker than cotton, too. Even if cold isn't an issue, it's still unpleasant to ride feeling a sticky residue over your skin, and that happens much less with wool.

    Regarding summer riding: I tend to sweat what I think is a "normal" amount during transport cycling, so wool is a benefit. Among my cycling buddies there is a guy who sweats literally buckets (with salty crust...), and a guy who doesn't sweat at all (weird...), so there is definitely a range. The more you sweat during cycling, the more important the choice of clothing becomes, in my experience.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Regarding washing wool: All the technical wool stuff that April and myself have (hell, we even throw in "Dry Clean only" wool in too!) gets thrown into the washing machine. Separated load, gentle cycle COLD water. We use Kookabura for it, though you can use regular detergent or Dr. Bronners. We also sometimes put a li'l baking soda in, the Kookabura is great but doesn't always get the funk out, ifyouknowwhatimean.

    The key thing is to air dry. I know that you can put the tech stuff in a dryer, but we prefer not to. (Especially the dry clean only stuff!)

    I've used the wool t-shirts on summer tours and they've worked great.

    ReplyDelete
  57. "Unfortunately, I have noticed lately that even stores that used to sell simple wool sweaters no longer do: I could not find a single sweater at our local Gap, Old Navy, or Banana Republic stores that was 100% wool over the past couple of seasons - and I checked at various points in time out of curiosity"

    Not true. At least not of Banana Republic. This winter (before the holidays) I purchased 3 lovely 100% merino thin sweaters there, at a steep discount from the original price. They are surely all gone by now though... I only wished I had bought more of them. I also, wash mine in the front loading washer with cold water, though the tag says to hand wash. This works fine as long as I reshape it while wet and let it air dry.

    ReplyDelete
  58. You people are KILLING ME! I'm allergic to wool. Aside, for some reason, for Smartwool socks, wool cannot touch my body without horrible itching. Get it close enough to my face, and I'm sneezing all day. Technical, nontechnical, cashmere-blend (or pure cashmere, for that matter), angora, alpaca... I'd probably die if exposed to a mink. No animal fibers for me. Nothing is soft enough or smooth enough. Only my feet and lower legs tolerate it.

    Yet I love wool. I love everything about it. I love that I can take two pairs of Smartwool hiking socks with me for a week, wear them round-the-clock on cold days and nights, and they still don't stink. I love that wool wears well and doesn't get clammy. I wear Smartwool socks literally every single day, unless it's hot enough for flip-flops. Right now I have on striped knee socks, which are all I wear for six-eight months of the year. I also love to knit, and wool is the only fiber I'll knit with. I just give away my creations, unless I knit socks (I have a rockin' basic sock pattern, Veloria. Makes beautiful, practical socks on double-pointed needles. Let me know if you want it). I made a gorgeous scarf last winter out of what must have been $75 of orange and variagated orange yarn, and gave it away for Christmas to my best friend. Can't even imagine putting it near my face.

    I hate you all. I'm just saying. The bitterness on this issue is neverending for me.

    ReplyDelete
  59. (adventure! is mostly right. I handwash my wool tights because they tend to tighten up every time I wash them, but they seem to do it less when I hand-wash them. I only do it once every week or two, though.)

    ReplyDelete
  60. Snarkypup, your lighthearted bitterness and hatred is so endearing. I think we should either be friends or committed enemies, whatever it takes to get you to knit me some socks...

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  61. Wool and Technical Wool are the only materials to rely upon for any cold weather sport. The other reliable thing I have learned about wool clothing is that NOW is the best time to buy. Every chain that has real wool will be marking it down in Feb and March. I always buy for next year in the next few weeks.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I'm a knitter and spinner so finding wool yarn has never been an issue for me. The other good fibers for warmth are silk, alpaca, cashmere and angora. Wool has the unique ability to keep one warm when wet. And that's what I like about it the most. A lot of the itchiness has to do with the vegetable matter in the wool and the way it's processed. Philospher's Wool has specially processed yarn that is non-itchy from longer fibered fleeces.

    Rambouillet is as fine as merino, because it's a merino cross. It should be identical in use to merino. I'm just really happy to see all the renewed interest in wool. It's such an amazing fiber to work with.

    ReplyDelete
  63. Velouria -
    As for sizing on the Gaynor Minden tights, normally I'm 5'9" and 132 lbs and I have one pair of small and one pair of medium. I wear the smalls at ballet and the mediums for cycling.

    Hope that helps!
    -Charlotte

    ReplyDelete
  64. I did find a lovely 100% merino v-neck at Banana this season but you're right, they don't seem to offer as many of them as they did in the past and most of their sweaters are now blends. I can't stand the cotton/silk or cashmere/silk blends because I find they give me sweaty armpits. I guess they don't breathe as well due to the silk fibres.
    I bought smartwool and icebreaker socks this year for the first time and I love them but I have not found a need to double up on my tights or anything like that. My overcoat is heavy polyester (looks wool-like but is much lighter) and I find it keeps me as warm as I need to be. I also wear a wool shawl from Virginia Johnson (not as bulky as my other scarves) and I can't say enough about it. It really helps keep the wind at bay but without making me too hot or being overly constricting.

    ReplyDelete
  65. Don't give up on making sweaters? My warmest sweaters are my hand-knit "fisherman" or aran-knit sweaters. I save them for the Jan-March months that are the coldest and have not yet found a comparable store bought sweater for warmth. Add a wool coat and a good base layer and I can cycle in anything. :)

    As for finding pure wool items in stores, it can be a challenge. Eddie Bauer and LL Bean seem to still carry a lot of 100 wool items and stores like REI often carry these garments in simpler styles. A bonus is that they are often made especially for traveling and will stand up to a lot of wear.

    Personally, I'm saving up for a pair of smartwool tights, or waiting until they go on sale. I love the socks as well but the idea of tights is an irresistible concept for this skirt-wearing cyclist.

    ReplyDelete
  66. To those who have found wool in BR recently - that's great to hear and I do not mean to contradict your experiences. Sometimes the stores have different inventory across the country. I have not seen wool in my local BR for a while, but am only too happy to hear that it's not the case everywhere.

    MFarrington - How do you knit them, in the round or as separate pieces? I can't follow a pattern to save my life and need to understand how to do it conceptually, if that makes sense.

    ReplyDelete
  67. My bulkier, aran sweaters are usually knit in pieces consisting of a back panel, front panel (which can be identical for simplicity's sake, especially when doing high-necks), sleeves (also identical) and the neck which just consists of picking up the stitches and knitting upwards usually in a k2 p2 rib. This is done to accomodate the pattern which is often more detailed in these sweaters.


    However, with stocking-knit stitch sweaters, they can very easily be knit in the round and the sleeves are done almost exactly the same way as you would do a mitten thumb. So, basically, you would start by taking a measurement of your waist, start knitting in the round from the waist up, decreasing/increasing as appropriate to get the right fit up to the armpit where you would knit the "gussets" for the sleeves. Place the gussets on stitch holders, and once you are done knitting the main body, just go ahead and pick up the held stitches and knit the sleeves. Once you get the hang of it, simple sweaters like these can be completed in a matter of days and customised to your taste (length, width etc).

    Hope this helps. :)

    ReplyDelete
  68. Veloria, you might also look at sweaters that are knit from the top, down. These are usually available in customizable patterns, based on set ratios (waist to bust to shoulders, as I remember) and are easy to try on as you go. They are knit in the round, and like MFarrington describes above, the sleeve stitches are held on stitch holders, then you go back and do the sleeves afterward. They usually use a raglan sleeve, if I remember correctly, because they are easily adjustable. I think there are zillions of these patterns on the web. I made one years ago and it was very easy. It was a hoody with a pocket in front, but there are lovely modern patterns that work this way. Do not fear the double-points, or knitting in the round, if you do. It rocks in all ways. I taught sock knitting to near-beginners (just had to know how to knit and purl) on tiny double-points with sock-weight yarn for years at my local community center. Easier than you would think. If you can do beautiful hats, you could knit your own socks or sweaters. I recommend Nancy Bush's books on various beautiful socks. Very clear instructions, beautiful results. You won't regret them.

    ReplyDelete
  69. Has anyone ordered any thing from JONESwares, I'm about ready to order a couple t-shirts from them, and just wondering about them.

    ReplyDelete
  70. H&M has 100% wool sweaters in the men's department at least.

    ReplyDelete
  71. I'm glad to hear that wool is working for you now. I can't imagine going through the winter without it. Most of my sweaters and other top layers are thick chunky whatever wool from thrift stores but the bottom layer is always Smartwool, Icebreakers or Ibex. I've been looking for a wool bra, so I'll have to see if I can find that brand you mentioned. Good to know I'm not the only woman who likes wool that much. :) Cashmere is even warmer for me than wool, but of course much more expensive so I own much less.

    ReplyDelete
  72. As someone who lives in the pacific NW, wool is a way of life. I've been living in my wool longsleeves from ibex, icebreaker, and smartwool for the last few months, and a windbreaker or rainjacket over the top is enough for the ride in to school. Lorpen wool snowboard socks are the ultimate in comfort for the lower half, since I typically rock the "rolled up trousers" look

    I want to try joneswares: Several geezers on the ibob list love them, and since the list is populated by folkes who ride many thousands of miles per year, i'm inclined to trust their judgement.

    ReplyDelete
  73. Anon @ 10:24:

    So does ZARA.

    ReplyDelete
  74. I love Icebreaker items. I have a few now which I have bought on sale and their superfine light tshirts are just brilliant on sweaty summer days. (My only gripe is they don't come in 'white' white like a cotton tee.) The long sleeved tees are wonderful in winter. I find I need less layers on top of them than with any other garment type. They breathe when you exercise - they leave cotton tees for dead. I haven't yet got the Icebreaker leggings but I do have a pair of Icebreaker wool trousers which are smart enough to wear around town and warm in winter. Probably not great for cycling on a normal bike as they have wide legs (but find if you have a bike with a full chain guard).

    ReplyDelete
  75. you should check out HASYUN MERINO WOOL base layers at http://www.weebike.com. my friend is importing them from Turkey. I have a long sleeve black shirt, that is great. no smell, warm and transfers sweat extremely well, best thing is there not expensive...they even have merino wool leggings for women..

    ReplyDelete
  76. Hasyun is an up-and-coming top shelf brand that's built in Turkey from Woolmark accredited New Zealand merino wool- and they have been doing it since 1952. Much more affordable than the "name brands" that are importing wool from China! WeeBIKE-Hasyun sponsors five elite road racing teams, two large clubs, a tri team in New England as well as NEMCA.

    ReplyDelete
  77. HI Lovely Bicycle! We met at the New England Bicycle Expo—I work for Alchemist, the sustainable apparel company in Boulder. I am with you on the merino; I am always warmest in my Alchemist wool jersey that you saw in Somerville. http://teamalchemist.com/wool-cycling-jersey.html I love the sweater skirt you knit yourself in the pictures! You should sell some online!

    ReplyDelete
  78. I love your skirt, too! Very inspiring - I think I must knit one like that for myself..
    ;-)
    Best wishes from Elisabet, Bergen, Norway

    ReplyDelete
  79. Having returned to South Florida, after three winters in Fairbanks, AK, I read this article with keen interest... and a desire to add my own $0.02 to others' comments.

    You mention "technical wool" as that layer (and we always layer our garments) which is next to the skin. As much as I love wool undergarments (thanks to a two-year stint in the USArmy, also in AK), I *love* the "wicki-ness" and "non-itchi-ness" of thin polypropylene underwear. Did I also mention that they're (a) inexpensive, and (b) not tasty to moths?

    After three winters, with lengthy periods of -40*F weather, I highly recommend them for the bone-chilling cold of a Boston winter (yes, I was born there).

    ReplyDelete
  80. What weight yarn did you use for this skirt? DK? I haven't knit a skirt before, but now I'm intrigued. Love it!

    ReplyDelete