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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

The ins and outs of wool

Posted by leighann | January 10th, 2012 | Filed under Sustainability, Who We Are
Under the lens. Courtesy of Medical Sheepskins.

Under the lens. Courtesy of Medical Sheepskins.

No two wools are alike.
Obviously, we’re big fans of wool. As a natural fiber, it’s able to keep you dry and comfortable across multiple environments. However, despite its many benefits, wool continues to get a bad rap. The most common complaints: it itches, it’s too much work, it shrinks. Sure, this was true of old military style wools, but this versatile fiber has come a long way since the days of scratchy coats and stiff blankets. In fact, over the past few years, we’ve developed a collection of wools which are durable enough to withstand the modern washing machine, yet soft enough to be worn next to the skin.

Here’s a quick look at our collection of knit and woven wools, why they work and how you can make them last a lifetime.

Wool, Up Close
If you look closely (see above), wool looks a lot like the surface of a reptile. Jamie, our textile guru, likens it to a rose bush with thorns. These thorns, more scientifically known as scales, are the main culprits in giving traditional wool its abrasive texture. When washed, these scales interlock and become tighter and tighter causing, what we call, shrinkage.

Our wool fibers go through an anti-shrink process which pacifies these unruly scales and allows them to soften and adhere to the fiber, therefore creating a washable fabric which is softer, smoother, and much more pleasant to wear next to the skin.

A Merino Ram offers up some of the softest wool around. Not to mention, they're pretty amazing looking creatures.

A Merino Ram offers up some of the softest wool around. Not to mention, they're pretty amazing looking creatures.

Wool Knits

Where you’ll find it: Our M1, M2 and M3 merino collections.
How to make it last: The great thing about machine-washable wool is just that—you can throw it in the washing machine and not have to worry if you’ll end up with a shirt that fits a four-year-old. We recommend delicate or gentle cycle.

Some DON’Ts: No bleach and never, absolutely never use a commercial dryer like those found at a laundromat. As Jamie says: “They’re like pottery kilns. They destroy things.” Best to lay flat to dry (and not on a wood-fired stove either). You can also line-dry.

Wool Jackets

Where you’ll find it: men’s and women’s Highline Jacket, Elimeno-Pea Coat
How to make it last: Since dry cleaning is never a sustainable process, we created a wool that we could wash by hand. Of course, if you’re averse to hand washing or just don’t have the time, look into wet cleaning (also known as green cleansing) which utilizes biodegradable soaps and conditioners.

Otherwise, the easiest thing to do: fill up a bathtub with water and a small amount of soap (dishwashing soap works well). Submerge the jacket and let it soak. After a few hours, give it a shake. That way, you’ll free the dirt that’s been loosened by the soap and water.

Rinse. You can do this in one of two ways: fill up a bathtub with water OR wear it in the shower. We’ve never tried the latter option, but we’re fairly certain it does the job.

And lastly: lay flat to dry. Never hang to dry. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting those unsightly hanger marks.

That’s about it. But if you have any more questions about our wools, feel free to contact us at customercare@nau.com.

To learn more about the sustainability of our wool fabrics, check out our Working With Wool section.

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3 Responses to “The ins and outs of wool”

  • January 19, 2012 at 10:18 am | MerinoFan says

    In the spirit of transparency, can you speak to the environmental effects of the ‘anti-shrink’, scale removing process? Is this where chlorine is added, but can be eliminated?

    Also, I recently learned that Alpaca doesn’t require this scale removing process. Is that true? Are we going to see more Alpaca yarns in the future?

    Love all the education and honesty you are putting out there! Thanks.

  • January 19, 2012 at 11:38 am | Leighann says

    Those are some great questions. Jamie, our Director of Sustainability, is the person to ask. But she’s out of the office this week. As soon as she’s back, we’ll have answers for you.
    Also, thanks for your comment. Part of the reason we started Nau and the Thought Kitchen was to create open dialogue surrounding the many facets of sustainability.

  • January 24, 2012 at 10:37 am | Leighann says

    OK, so I spoke with Jamie about your questions and here’s what she had to say:

    Yes, our anti-shrink process currently uses chlorine to open the scales on the wool so that they can be worn down be the processing. This gives the wool its softer feel. However, we are investigating one company that currently uses a chlorine-free process.

    As for Alpaca, the fiber is far less resilient that other natural fibers. Therefore, if we used Alpaca as a base layer fabric, it would stretch out over time, and this does not align with our core value of creating garments which last a lifetime.

    Let us know if you have any questions. Thanks again- nau

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