Monday, January 30, 2012

The Vilification of Wool

If you would be so kind as to indulge me, I'd like to take a moment to introduce Jodi Meadows, our guest blogger this week. I've been following Jodi's blog for a long time. I watched her transition from slush reader to full-time writer, to published author. It has been an exciting experience, even from the sidelines. I'm not just a fan of her writing, I'm a fan of HER. But I promised not to embarrass her, so I'll let it go there.

Jodi's first novel (of a trilogy), Incarnate releases out into the world tomorrow, January 31.

Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why...

Newberry Award Winner, Robin McKinley says: "Incarnate has an eerie and intriguing premise..."

New York Times bestselling author, Rachel Hawkins called it, "...lyrical and thought-provoking...the kind of book that stays with you long after you've turned the last page."

Award-winning author of the Shade trilogy, Jeri Smith-Ready called it, "...breathtaking, heart-melting, soul-feeding, mind-blowing..."

And not only is Jodi an amazing storyteller, but she's mistress of all things knitted and wool, and quite committed to the medium, as her guest post will attest. Enjoy!

The vilification of wool in fiction must be stopped.

Bold statement, I know, but how many times have you read about a character pulling out a "rough woolen blanket" or wearing "scratchy woolen clothes?"

My friends, this must stop. Yes, there is scratchy wool, but why wear it when there's so much snuggly soft wool available? Why force carpet wool (it's a thing!) on characters you already mistreat for the sake of plot?

As I write this post, I have within reach no fewer than ten woolen objects -- and none of them are scratchy or rough. Several pair of fingerless mitts knit out of Merino wool, a few knit out of BFL wool, one pair knit from Falkland wool. Let's not forget the Merino and silk hat I'm wearing, or the Corriedale wool I have on a spindle.

Of those, the Corriedale is probably the roughest, but it's still soft enough to use for socks or perhaps a hat if one doesn't have a sensitive head.

Let's do away with adjectives like "rough" and "scratchy" for wool. Some wools certainly are rough and scratchy, but if you want to hurt your characters with wool, why not ruin their favorite pair of mittens? (Doable in a variety of ways, from felting them in the washing machine to the terrible death of wool moths.)

Instead, let's embrace adjectives like "smooth" and "soft" and "warm." Heck, even "squishy" and "snuggly." All these words apply to many breeds of wool.

And did you know that wool is flame-retardant? Indeed, while wool will catch fire, it does not stay on fire. Flames quickly go out.

Another thing: wool is one of the only fibers you want to keep wearing if you fall into a freezing lake and have no change of clothes. (A real danger in fantasyland!) With most other fibers, like cotton or nylon, you're better off being naked. Can you believe it? NAKED. But wool -- wool is warm even when it's wet. Wool will save your life.

Fantasy and YA books often have messages of tolerance. What makes wool any less deserving of that message, especially considering its many virtues?

This is a real issue, my friends. Let's do something to correct it. I've tried to do my part in my debut YA fantasy/dystopian INCARNATE. The protagonist wears as much wool as possible, including mittens, hats, scarves, socks, shirts, and even pants. (But not underpants, because some things are just wrong.) Wool is a comforting.
I challenge you to do the same in your fiction. Let's stop the vilification of wool.

Jodie Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. Her debut YA fantasy/dystopian is Incarnate, coming January 31 from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. Order on IndieBound! Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows

*Kippy is a cat along the line of Crookshanks or the Cheshire Cat--a character in her own right, and often one who steals the show.


Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Jodi, what a fun post!

It just so happens I'm watching the first season of Pillars of the Earth right now, having read the novel by Ken Follett many years ago. In reading your post, I'm reminded of the central role the wool trade plays in that story, and also have a renewed appreciation for Aliena, a great female protagonist, and wool merchant too boot! :)

I'll be sure to avoid scratchy wool in my stories forevermore.

Thanks for being our guest this week on HoF.

Clint Harris said...

I'm glad to see this article and for many years, especially since reading The Wheel of Time, I have believed that classifying wool as "rough" and "scratchy" was just lazy writing. Sure, there are woolen things out there that are scratchy, but in my experience, having grown up in a cold climate, wool is usually only itchy when it's a little too warm to be wearing it, and for me, that was always those blend sweaters and hats my grandma would knit.

I have a scarf a friend brought me from Scotland and that thing was not only amazingly soft, but warm and lightweight as well. I also own a kilt, 100% highland wool, and the weave of the thing feels more like cotton than wool. Soft, durable, and most importantly, it's warm.

When I was a kid, I was in the Boy Scouts and nothing could beat wool for warmth, especially if it got wet. A winter survival expert told us wool loses around 30% of its insulating ability when it gets wet. Which means you still have 70%. But with denim, linen, and other materials, you are going to get cold fast. That's why the old timey deep sea divers used to wear wool caps and underwear in their diving suits.

I freakin' love wool!

Terri-Lynne said...

Clint, I require a picture of you in that kilt. Not request...require!


I have several wool items I bought in Ireland, one being a very homespunny-looking shawl. Or should I say, blanket shaped like a shawl. The thing is massive and warm and ooooh-so-soft. I love it to pieces.

Asakiyume said...

That was great! I am glad Ana is doing her best to combat anti-wool prejudice! This injustice will be overcome!

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

As long as we're sharing favorite wools...

I loooove the boiled-wool lodenmantels of Germany. A better coat has never been invented.

Kim Vandervort said...

Hi Jodi!

I really enjoyed this post! I'm guilty of thinking of wool only as scratchy, and I would imagine this is because I have lived most of my life in warmer climates and have no real personal experience with wool. It's interesting how reading something over and over (such as "scratchy wool") makes a thing true.

I love your pictures, by the way. Are those your own photos?

Also, I loved Incarnate! When's the sequel coming out? The novel has stayed with me, and I am definitely looking forward to the rest of the series (no pressure)!

Terri-Lynne said...

Kim--I took thos pics from Jodi's LJ. She does "Spinning Sunday" every week. The colors and textures of the wool she spins are so evident even in pics.

Jodi Meadows said...

Karin: *high five* Way to go Ken for making wool important!

Clint: Yes! That's exactly what I was talking about, wool not losing as much of its insulating powers. Wool is like magic!
Terri: Yes! Those things are the coziest. :D

Asakiyumi: Yes, it will! One day, wool will be as beloved as pajama pants!

Kim: Yes, those are my photos! Terri asked if she could take a few of her favorites for the post. :D The sequel will be out next January(ish). Yeah. Sorry. :)

Nicholas Andrews said...

Interesting point of view. One of the things I need to do better in my writing is describe clothing. When I do, I'll be sure to give wool its proper due.

Sue Blalock said...

This is something I've been giving a lot more thought to since I started learning to knit. Unfortunately, I have skin sensitivities that make it impossible for me to wear most animal fibers. I can handle certain blends enough to knit with them for others, but I can't wear them myself. This makes me very sad.

It astonished me the first time I went to a yarn shop and discovered all the different blends and colors and weights that were available. I'm still experimenting to see if there's an animal fiber yarn my skin will tolerate, but so far, everything I've tried makes me itch no matter how soft and snuggly it may be.

But for those who can wear wool, it's awesome stuff. My eldest nephew sails, and he loves it when I make him wool hats and scarves to use as part of his winter gear. All the other kids in his class wear mass-produced acrylic knitwear. He loves that each piece he wears is unique and made *just for him*, plus it's wool so it stays warmer when wet.

Terri-Lynne said...

What a fabulous auntie you are Sue!

I admit to having a wool obsession. I knit, as long as it can be a square or a rectangle of some kind. :) I just love the feel and the look and the IDEA of wool. Love, love, love. Jodie's Sunday Spinning posts make my eyes drool.

J.A. Campbell said...

Hahaha, love it. I will try and keep this in mind as I work on my fantasy novels.

Wool will save lives!


batgirl said...

I do Living History (14th c. England) and have mini-lectures on parchment (not paper! does not burn or tear!) and on wool.
Modern N. Americans think wool is itchy because most woolen cloth now is a)inferior with lots of short fibres b)full of irritating chemicals.
Best thing you can do when making woolen clothing is to buy much more than you think you need, then full it. You can full in a washing machine by washing in hot with detergent and a running shoe with the laces pulled out (canvas not leather). Then machine dry with running shoe.
This felts your wool, removing most of the tiny loose fibres and chemicals, and making it considerably more waterproof.
My husband has sensitive skin and can't wear a wool sweater, but he wears fulled woolen hose next his skin, with no problem, in a Pennsylvania summer.

I write historical fantasy, so my characters love their fulled wool clothing. And linen underclothes.

Terri-Lynne said...

Barbara--I'm so glad you clicked in! This is very you, huh? I didn't know that about wool items. I have a beautiful blanket from Ireland that is just, well, scratchy! I'm going to try the method you suggested. It'll shrink some, but better that than too itchy to use, right?

batgirl said...

Go for it, Terri! If you want to go the whole nine yards (sorry!) the rest of the process for good medieval woolen cloth is to brush up the nap with teasles (a dog-brush works too) and shear it down again. My friend Kellii did this on a small scale, making a medieval hood from fulled, brushed, and sheared cloth. It came out as soft and supple as good jogging fleece.

Gemma Seymour said...

I have just one quibble. Wool is capable of making very fine undergarments. I have had a selection of them from Smartwool and Ibex, and I have never been disappointed. Other than that, I applaud you for attempting to tackle this subject.

Terri-Lynne said...

Really?? Wool undies?? I am intrigued!

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Batgirl -- Your living history lectures sound awesome, if only to see you using parchment & wool for your lecture notes!

Gemma -- Great tip on woolen undergarments. I'll have to check into that before the next winter sets in. :)