Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wool for Swimming?

Wool Drying
We are staying on the North Shore for a while, and the weather is unbelievable. Yesterday began with a thick, frigid fog, giving way to blinding sunshine and oppressive heat, followed by a sudden darkening of the skies and a mini-redux of the previous day's violent downpour with a temperature drop of at least 20F - all in rapid succession and repeated every several hours. It was as hilarious as it was frustrating, as we kept scrambling to start one thing after another, only for our plans to be thwarted by the elements. Food was rained on, warm clothing was shed no sooner than it was donned, camera equipment was hastily put away no sooner than it was set up, several pairs of shoes now needed drying, and my hair was a hopeless rat's nest of a mess. Others might have given up at this point, resigned to spend the day under a blanket with a bottle of rum. But we are stubborn - and also perversely delighted by the irony of finally being able to get away in August like normal people (instead of September as in previous years), only to be greeted by Autumnal weather as usual. Maybe freezing, stormy holidays are just "us" and we shouldn't fight it. Also, the closest town is a dry town (!) and there is no rum.

Anyhow, just when I thought the day was shot, something wonderful happened: I went swimming in the ocean. Not the type of tentative Northern New England "swimming" where you stoically spend five minutes in the water before your limbs start to go numb. No, I swam with abandon in the warmest salt water I've experienced around these parts. After yet another storm, the sun came out again at about 5pm and we happened to be near a beach. I took my shoes off to walk in the shallow water, and was taken aback when it did not feel like ice.  I waded further in and it just kept getting warmer and warmer. Maybe the storm brought forth some rare tropical current? Just an hour earlier it had been cold out and I was wearing layers upon layers of wool, including Ibex long-johns and an I/O Bio Merino sportsbra. Deciding that these were decent enough to pass for swimwear, I removed everything else, went right in the water and swam until the late afternoon sun lost its warmth.

Wool Drying
While I'd thought my improvised wool swimsuit would be bulky and uncomfortable, it turned out to be anything but. The fabric clung to my body as well as my synthetic swimsuits and kept me warm not only in the water, but also once I got out and air-dried without a towel in the cooling evening air. Pretty amazing. I liked it so much compared to wearing my normal bathing suit, that I think I'll just keep wearing this if I ever get a chance to swim here again. The beaches are not especially glamorous around these parts, so I don't think anyone cares. But this makes me wonder whether anybody actually makes contemporary wool bathing suits. I don't mean nostalgic/retro 1920's style garments, but a normal, "athletic coverage" type of swimsuit that's a mix of wool and spandex. A preliminary search has not yielded anything promising (though the Ibex website shows young ladies frolicking on a boat in their wool underwear), but I will keep looking. Has anybody else tried swimming in wool?

27 comments:

  1. The Ibex wool sports bra and boy shorts makes a perfect swimsuit! Love them! I am dying to know where on the north shore the water is that warm, maybe you will tell us when you return? Today is gorgeous on the south shore, hope it is there as well.

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  2. I was talking to a local and the water is not usually this warm, so apparently it really is some weird current. Hopefully it is still around later today!

    Looks like I need the Ibex underwear. The IO/Bio sportsbra I have works well as a top, but the underwear is not stretchy enough and could come off, so I don't want to risk wearing them. The Ibex long woolies work really well as a wetsuit bottom though - super warm.

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  3. I recently swam in black wool icebreaker panties when I forgot my bikini bottom in the city and my 3 year old's need to go into the water could not be denied! I felt weird because it was not very me to be wearing what I would have to say were Big Pants in comparison to my regular side tie bikini :) but the fabric worked well.

    I would probably want a blend of wool and lycra given wool's propensity for stretching out in water, but the idea of it seems great and breathable and I am in. Time to boss around designer friends!

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  4. I'm a huge proponent of skinny dipping! There's nothing like it! I don't even own a swimming suit anymore.

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  5. you sew/knit; you should make yourself a wool swimsuit!

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  6. I saw a wool swim suit as part of a historic display at the beginning of the summer and I've been wanting one ever since. I had no idea swim suits were ever made out of wool and thought is was a great idea. I have icebreaker panties and an ibex sportsbra, but I think I'd only wear them to swim in deserted places--I'm not confident that the panties would stay in place and the top might not be opaque enough. Plus, I prefer to wear a one-piece swimsuit. A wool swimsuit with lycra is an excellent idea. Velouria, maybe you could put your design talents to work on it!

    On another note, I'm quite jealous of your trip, even though it is raining. I lived in Boston for a while and spent a lot of time on Cape Ann and on beaches in Maine. Two years ago my husband, son and I flew to Boston for a two week tour of all our old favorite camping and swimming places. It rained every day. At some point it becomes funny rather than infuriating and you make the best of it. Sounds like you are definitely making the best of it! Enjoy!

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  7. "the water is usually not this warm ... "

    Hey who says Global warming is all bad ?

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  8. Emily - Yeah, I don't think that would go over so well here. See above about the dry town laws!


    "At some point it becomes funny rather than infuriating and you make the best of it."

    Yeah, that pretty much describes our situation : ) Fury wastes too much energy.

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  9. Emily - Right on! :)

    Like Gwyn says, you ought to try making yourself a set. There are plenty of sewing and knitting patterns out there fir swim suits.

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  10. FYI in Provincetown there are beaches where people openly go nude, though technically it is not legal even there.

    I have a long way to go before I could sew a wool bathing suit; I think finding the fabric in itself would be complicated. It would need to be a spandex blend for sure in order not to sag, wouldn't it? Anyhow, feel free to give it a try and report back!

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  11. Peppy (the fuzzy skinny-dipping cat)August 9, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    I tried swimming in fur. So nice and warm.

    No, you can't has it to make wool. Mine.

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  12. Dry town? That's a dead give away. I recall the inland fresh bodies of water were exceptionally warm, and might offer some riding off the beaten path. I remember cliff diving there about 15 years ago, but am pretty sure I wasn't wearing wool.

    It's ok, Peppy- keep your fur. At least Coffee isn't so selfish.

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  13. I am so sold on wool -- why did we stop wearing it? I mean, besides the sag and the itch and the smell of tallow of course . . . but modern woolen biking gear seems to have fixed all these. I'd love to see woolen swimwear. Great book a friend passed along recently No Idle Hands: Social History of American Knitting - fascinating!

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  14. Wool was once a popular material for swimsuits, here is a link to a photo of Loretta Young in a wool swimsuit in 1931.

    http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTv1PnFyhafW9goX2UCqE_7vOgB5rRpk4l6wt3zKb_CxY2SX9rrHw

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  15. I'm thinking there needs to be a contemporary version of these, particularly for colder climates. We've noticed that people here will wear wetsuits to go in the water if it's cold. A wool body suit could be just as warm, but less bulky.

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  16. I would buy one of those - maybe not the full length one - but the others are definitely wearable. And the warmth would be nice for us who live near chilly coastal waters.

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  17. Velouria- I love those retro suits. I would love a swim wool shirt to cover my arms. I wear surf rash shirts all the time- but they are not warm. When wet they just make you colder.

    yay for ocean swimming. and sorry it's so cool up there. It was nicely warm here yesterday. now it's foggy warm soup.

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  18. if I am not mistaken the town is question was dry until 2005 and now allows the sale of alcohol but only in restaurants (no liquor stores)....? motif #2?

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  19. I hope you didn't drown last night- it was raining wicked hard, and I was hoping you were somewhere dry and warm!

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  20. I am alive, but with a bad internet connection! The water seems to be warmest just after a bad storm, pretty interesting.

    Anon 1:51 - It's more complicated than that. Until 2005 Rockport was completely dry. Now, a few restaurants are permitted to serve alcohol to seated diners with a meal. But there are still no bars, no liquor stores, and the vast majority of eating establishments do not serve alcohol. The law is that restaurants with a liquor permit must be a certain distance from one another. I think there is a total of three in town and they close at 9pm.

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  21. This girl makes some really cute retro-looking swimsuits on Etsy (I've been wanting to get one for a while):

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheRedDolly?ref=pr_shop

    I'm sure if someone wanted a wool suit made, you might be able to ask her.

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  22. I love those retro suits. I do wish things like that were more available. Not that I am a prude, and would happily swim nude, but it is very strange that we go swimming in teeny bikinis in public, but would never want neighbours or strangers to see us in our skivvies. Bathing suits did used to be made of wool and what a marvellous idea that is.
    I did see the ibex photo on their site of the girls in their bra and panties and they would make great swimwear. A wool camisole would be good. A wool blend with lycra would be important. My icebreaker underwear and camisoles are 100% wool, while ibex adds lycra so they would work better I think. Now I have to have an ibex swimset!
    I haven't tried swimming in wool yet.
    I have a wetsuit for swimming in the ocean because it is normally freezing. I always put wool on after I get out of the water to warm up. I pretty much want to wear wool all the time.
    It's been a lousy summer in the pacific northwest until now. There's been a long ongoing red tide and major algae blooms so have not got into the ocean yet this year:(. The water has warmed up recently and is so cruel. I am sure by saturday when I have time to go to the beach the water will be frigid again.
    We just went on a bike trip for our wedding anniversary and came to a beautiful beach at sunset that I wish I had just plunged into. I had brought my swimsuit on the trip, but left it in the room with my other pannier. I was bummed.
    I've been on torrential rain bike trips and they are not fun. Making the best of it only works if there are enough dry spells. I would not enjoy biking in heavy rain with flooding streets either!
    I hope you aren't camping!

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  23. I don't usually swim in wool, but I live along the Chesapeake. It's normally bath tub temp in the summer. When i go kayaking I will wear exercise tights, though. We get lots of jellies from which I'd rather not be stung. Wear what feels right. I've worn wool in New England waters by virtue of it's what I had (canoe flips, etc) and it's what kept me warm.

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  24. Update: I have been swimming almost every day here over the past two weeks and wearing my I/O Bio wool underwear as swimsuit. If it's cold, I'll also wear Ibex tights, and if it's colder than that a wool long sleeve top over the sportsbra. Works spectacularly, except that the I/O Bio underpants could use more stretch in the fabric. Ibex representative tells me their stuff is more stretchy and works well as a swim suit, so may give this a try.

    Anon 8:42 - Jellyfish and kayaking! Two of my great terrors combined!

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  25. heather - As far as coverage goes, have you looked at the classic Speedo one-pieces? There is a navy racerback one called "Learn to swim" that is all nylon and lycra - flattering, durable and inexpensive. I've owned a half dozen of them since age 12, and they are almost retro-looking.

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  26. I have thought about trying to make my own wool swimsuit, which is how I happened upon this blog - any leads on where to find the fabric? Patterns seem easier to come by.

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  27. I wear an io bio shelf bra tank top with io boy shorts under board shorts at my local pool. really keeps me warm walking from pool to whirlpool and back (winter, Seattle). But it would be cool if someone made a reaul swimsuit.

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