Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Some wooly thoughts....

I've been thinking about wool lately, as summer loses its grip and the guy in charge of the weather thermostat has backed off from the "inferno" setting to "pleasantly warm" during the day. Northerners call this kind of weather "Indian Summer," the mild-weather season called "fall" in the South, the time of year where you actually might want to do something outdoors during the day, the time of year where you may want to have a light outer garment on your shoulders when the night temperatures dip into the mid-fifties.

Which brings me back to wool, which is where I was on my last post. I am always surprised at how many Southerners, and people who knit for Southerners, choose worsted weight 100% acrylic for an adult pullover sweater. The stuff doesn't breathe, and as a general rule the wearer will suffocate just as thoroughly in a worsted-weight acrylic sweater as they would in a bulky-weight Lopi item ... probably even more so.

I've always thought sport-weight wool is the perfect choice for a Southern winter garment. It's the right weight not to be unbearably warm on a not-so-cold day; it sheds chill drizzle, and it doesn't absorb body odor the way acrylic does.

If you live in the Deep South, or knit for someone who lives here, consider that any sort of sweater or other woolen garment should be easily shed (or put back on) as one goes in and out of doors. For most of the winter months in the Deep South, a wool cardigan or jacket is an ideal substitute for an actual coat -- lightweight, just warm enough, and easily shrugged off when one enters an overheated office building. Either sportweight or worsted is fine, as long as you can take it off without putting yourself in complete disarray.

In January and February, one might actually get to wear a lightweight pullover all day long as an intermediate layer of clothing. That is our sweater-and-rainjacket season. The sweater keeps you warm, the raincoat keeps you dry. Those of you who live in Seattle should be nodding enthusiastically here. Sound familiar?

But you're not going to have too many Southern winter days where you can wear a worsted-weight, or bulky-weight, 100% wool item -- unless, again, you construct a jacket or cardigan instead of a pullover. The Einstein Jacket that is now so popular among the online knitting community strikes me as the perfect Southern coat.

During the wet months, wool hats always work. And shawls or ruannas are useful in all but the coldest or windiest weather. Wool slippers are always welcome on the drafty floors of elderly Southern homes.

A lot of people stay away from wool sock yarn in the South. Doesn't make any sense to me. Cotton absorbs moisture and stays wet, making your feet miserable and smelly in warm weather. I work at an animal shelter and usually wear work boots to my job, and I wear lightweight wool socks almost year round, except in the very hottest weather, because they keep my feet dry, odor-free, and free of blisters. During the hottest weather I wear commercial Thorlo socks, a good multi-fiber blend which keeps feet dry without being overly warm.

I still vote for microfiber and for wool/acrylic blends for kids' garments (just enough wool so the garment will breathe and the child won't smother) and acrylic for kids' and babies' blankets and afghans, just because they get washed so much. Of course superwash wool is a great choice for the same reasons, but good quality superwash seems more difficult to find than good quality acrylic/wool blends. Microfiber is great because it wicks moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer warm and dry.

So -- it's Indian Summer, and time to think about things to wear during the chill weather. Knitters have their tradeoffs wherever they live. Those knitters up there in the deep freeze have short periods of mild weather where a spectacular shawl or ruanna is just enough to hold the chill at bay -- not much time to show off the dramatic drape of a well constructed wrap. On the other hand, snow bunnies get a long season in which to wear all sorts of terrific sweater designs, and some of you even live in places where one can actually wear a summer sweater -- an absolutely laughable concept in the South.

Sure, I'll make a summer sweater -- just as soon as I'm done knitting my thermal bathing suit.

A number of years ago a knitting magazine -- I think it was Vogue -- did a photo shoot of summer sweaters. It was shot in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and judging by the lighting and foliage, the photo shoot was likely done in fabulously cool March. Models were shown draped across chaise longues on the balconies of ancient buildings. One model in particular was holding a big pink drink as she leaned forward to admire the view from her perch, and the caption read something like:

"Imagine relaxing on a French Quarter balcony as you celebrate the Fourth of July in this stunning tunic ..."

To which I added, "and imagine someone calling 911 as you go into heatstroke ... imagine the ambulance bouncing down the romantic streets of the French Quarter while you struggle for life..."

Obviously none of the designers -- and definitely not the caption writer -- ever spent a summer day in New Orleans.

Seems like many designers never spent a winter day in New Orleans, either. New Orleans is a wonderful city, but it is definitely not a year-round tropical paradise. You have to go to Hawaii for that. Southern summer is ghastly and what passes for winter is chill, wet and clammy. I can't tell you how many Minnesota tourists I've seen arriving for Mardi Gras in shorts and flip-flops, with not so much as a sweatshirt to their name, turning blue in the sleet while they dash about looking for some warm clothes.

The South experiences winter like a beach experiences the tide: a few chilly days, a few shivering wet days, a few mild days, a few sleety days, and so forth as the cold fronts pass across us.

Even though we don't get the long-term deep freeze like Chicagoans, a rainy January day in New Orleans provides an excellent excuse to drag out your woolies.

I have a few days off work, so time to sort through the yarn stash for the collection of Lane Borgosesia "Spectrum," chocolate chenille, black mohair and rust-colored angor I've been saving for a huge, multistrand ruanna. Also time to fiddle some more with the hat pattern I am working on for LaLana Wools.



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