Raise High Your Razors, Wool Wearers!
As I make no secret of being a wool enthusiast, perhaps it is not surprising that most of the questions I get from readers that aren't about bicycles, are about wool. Some are just trying to get their heads around the idea that this traditional, low-tech fabric can be worn on the bike in leu of modern synthetics, and often with better results. Others have specific questions about care and maintenance. Being a natural fabric, wool has a reputation for being delicate - vulnerable to the ravages of moths, washing machines (I offer a solution to the latter here), even everyday wear. Consider, for instance, this reader's lament:
...Following the advice of blogs such as yours and Let's Go Ride A Bike, I stocked up on merino sweaters since I began bicycle commuting. I have also bought a couple of wool cycling jerseys. The wool feels fantastic to wear, I was in love. Unfortunately, after only one season I find that most of my wool tops are ruined with pilling and felting, fit for nothing but yard work! So... what am I doing wrong? Is this a question of quality and if so what brands should I be looking at? Please help me get more life out of my woolens!Well, actually I am happy to tell you, there is a very simple solution to this. So if you notice your wool garment pilling (forming tiny balls of fluff that make it look old and worn before its time) or felting (the stitches losing their structure and instead fuzzing over with a dense, weblike layer), don't throw it out or relegate it to yardwork apparel just yet. Instead, get out your razor and read on.
Firstly, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the quality of the wool you are buying. Rather, the pilling and felting are a result of manufacturers using ever-softer wool to deliver the silky, luxurious feel most customers want. The softer, fluffier the wool, the more susceptible the fibres are to shedding fluff, which then, through friction of movement, gets bunched up and rolled into the unsightly "outgrowths" you see. But not to worry, as these can easily be removed by simply "shaving" them off when you notice them forming. It's a simple method that most knitters are familiar with as the final step to making their work look presentable. And you can use it quite safely on anything from cashmere sweaters to cycling jerseys.
Begin by laying your garment out flat on a hard surface. Use a sharp, brand new razor. Focusing on one area at a time, move the blade lightly and evenly over the fabric without digging into it. This way, you shave off the fuzzballs/ web of felting, but don't touch the stitches underneath.
If this sounds like a delicate operation, it's not really. It is surprisingly difficult to cut into the actual stitches. As long as you have the fabric laid out flat and are moving the blade in parallel to it, you should be able to shave to your heart's content until all the fuzz is removed, without worrying about damage.
When you've finished with an area, remove the fluff that will have built up in your razor blades and move on to the next patch - until you are left with a smooth expanse of crisp woolen stitches.
In the end, your clothes will look as fresh and presentable as it did when brand-new!
How many times can you do this before the garment becomes threadbare? Honestly, I would not worry about that. The cardigan you see in the photos I have owned for 8 years, and it has withstood many a shaving. So wield your razors with impunity, and stay cozy in wool on your bike this winter - judging by the snow we're already getting in November, this will be a wool-heavy season indeed!