Letter Re: Fabric Choices in Survival Clothing

I wanted to make a couple of clarifications to Emma C.’s article on fabric choices in survival clothing, specifically with regards to wool. As a full-time Shepherdess of more than 100 heritage breed sheep, my experience in handling and processing wool runs deep. 

It was written that (with regard to socks), Wool does take more care than other fabrics in that it should be washed in cold water and lay flat to dry. While that statement is mostly accurate in general fabric care, there are primarily two things that can permanently change (i.e. shrinkage or felting) wool fabrics: agitation (washing/scrubbing) and temperature.

Washing of traditional woolen items must utilize as little agitation as possible while cleansing. Intense scrubbing will simply cause your wool item to felt.  The soaking method is preferred whenever possible using a mild, easy rinsing type soap. Gently squeezing out excess water by folding the item in half is ideal. Larger items such as pants or sweaters can be folded multiple times, pressing firmly to release the water. Never wring or twist wet wool as you may end up with a hopelessly misshapen garment. When you wash wool, it is the temperature of the water for BOTH wash and rinse that affects wool.  You can wash your wool in hot water, if so desired, but you must also rinse the item in hot water to avoid shrinkage. It is in the variation of the water temperature that causes your wool treasures to shrink so drastically. If you wash in hot, rinse in hot; wash in warm, rinse in warm and so forth. Consistency throughout the cleansing process is key.

While cold wash/cold rinse is generally deemed the rule of choice when washing wool but it is not something set in stone. I personally prefer the hot water method, especially when cleaning my wool. Hot water kills germs and is much safer on the fibers themselves than using chemical disinfectants. Most smartwool blends have already been ‘pre-shrunk’ and are much less likely to be affected by water temperature or agitation. I have multiple pairs of these socks that go into the washer and dryer routinely with no effect on the end product. I could go on about the many benefits and uses of wool, perhaps another time. God certainly knew what He was doing when creating the sheep!

Thank you for such an informative blog. Blessings! – C.A.T.