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The Life & Times of a Sweater by Quinn Nichols

The Life & Times of a Sweater by Quinn Nichols

Ah yes, the sweater: that cozy staple garment hanging in almost everyone’s closet. It evokes feelings of warmth, and home, and comfort, all of which contribute to a general sense of physical and emotional security. So it’s not that surprising that If you see yourself wearing a sweater in your dreams, it symbolizes self-protection, self-care, and survival — for it certainly does all of these things, and more.  

Although we may be well beyond the season of ugly sweater parties and eggnog, winter is still in full-swing and Spring is still only a figment of the imagination, at least where I live. And if you thought sweaters belonged strictly to the realm of the ugly and the itchy, well, think again! Who ever said sweaters couldn’t be attractive, anyways?

It turns out that the first sweaters — hand-knit or crocheted pull-overs made from wool — were made by the wives of sailors and fisherman, for protection against the cold dampness of sea life.

On that logic, it seems like we should see more images of pirates of old, sporting cozy cardigans at the helm (or is that just me?!)

Cardigan-wearing swashbucklers aside, it’s clear that sweaters have proven their worth time and time again when it comes to protecting ourselves from the elements — and other things —  throughout history (in 1978, an assassination attempt on a Bulgarian defector failed because his wool sweater was too thick for the poison dart!)

If you’re not a sweater convert yourself, perhaps you’re still thinking of that itchy old thing your grandma made for you? You know, the one that you accidentally shrunk in the dryer and now it’s only fit for a garden gnome? Be assured that you don’t have to live like that!

What’s so great about wool, anyways?

With all the materials available to the clothing industry in modern times, why is wool so special? Some of the general benefits of wool include:

  • Durability
  • Flame retardant
  • Water-wicking
  • Renewable resource
  • Excellent insulation
  • Depending on the source, can be more sustainable than using plant materials such as cotton.

Some types of wool commonly used

You probably will have guessed that most “traditional” sweaters are made from sheep’s wool, though cotton and cashmere are popular choices as well. Three common types of sheep wool utilized are Merino, Shetland, and Lambswool. Mohair, Cashmere and Alpaca are also types that you’ll run into when picking out your knit wonders.

Merino wool comes from Merino sheep. This type of wool is finer than other kinds and is prized for its breathable durability (learn more about Merino wool from one of my previous blog posts.) Due to its effective thermoregulation properties, this type of wool is used for all sorts of performance outdoor wear, not just sweaters!

Shetland wool comes from sheep which were originally bred on Scotland’s Shetland Islands. True to that northern climate, sweaters made from Shetland wool are warm and hardy. These are also the sweaters that have been known to be itchy if in direct contact with your skin —  but that just means they’re great for layering over other garments (and modern techniques have mostly eliminated the issue anyways).

Lambswool comes from a lamb’s first sheering. It is known to be smooth, flexible and breathable. Because it is a lamb’s first coat, it is silky soft and also happens to be hypoallergenic. Lambswool is often used for making fine, fleece blankets and other similar products.

Cashmere actually isn’t wool at all, because it comes from a goat — and technically, our little square-eyed friends have hair, not wool (have you seen the eyes of a goat? They’re a bit eerie!) A soft, luxurious fiber, Cashmere is used to make more elegant, draping sweaters that are generally considered higher-end. Sweaters made from the hair of Cashmere goats are often more delicate than those made from sheep’s wool.

Mohair comes from Angora goats (not to be confused with Angora rabbits which produce the light fluffy Angora fiber as most likely seen at your county fair). These guys actually look remarkably similar to sheep to the untrained eye (and a quick image search for baby Angora goats will not leave you disappointed, I assure you!) Mohair is known for its resilience.

Sweaters aren’t just a garment, they’re an identity.

Other than the obvious comfort of enveloping yourself in the cozy glory of a well-made sweater, sweaters can serve other purposes as well. In fact, many people wear sweaters to signify their nuanced “membership” to a certain group (artists, teachers, or hipsters) or to present themselves as classy but totally relaxed, or to indulge a passion for the vintage and the nostalgic (on sunny winter days, cross country skiing in a thick wool sweater can make you feel like you’ve traveled to simpler times! Be sure to follow with hot cocoa and marshmallows. A bit of mint schnapps doesn’t hurt, either.)

Luckily, there are styles to suit every occasion which is partly why sweaters are so wonderfully versatile (not to mention the magical effect of pulling one over your head in the morning and feeling a sensation of home wash over you, no matter where you are.)

You can choose from timeless, neutral colors like blacks, greys, browns and creams for flexibility with layering, bold patterns to express your personal style, turtlenecks for sophistication, belted knit cardigans for class, or a whole host of varying necklines that suit your needs and contribute to the comfort you feel both in your own skin and in your wool!

If you’re concerned with purchasing ethically-sourced clothing, you can get started with some basic information in my previous post, Making Your Wardrobe Healthy.

Bottom line: Everyone deserves a sweater…

...Because it it’s like a heart-warming hug from a loved one. And because they just look good.

Go ahead — your soul sweater is waiting!

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