Tag Archives: wool

The Knitter Who Can’t Touch Wool

I’m allergic to wool. More specifically, I’m allergic to lanolin. It’s not just wool that can give me hives, it’s everything from lotions to soaps. And by “give me hives” I mean “give me some of the worst hives you’ve ever seen, where I get itchy bumps that swell up and get flaky and huge and gross and last for at least a week and can leave a scar when all I did was touch that darn sweater in the store.” This means that I didn’t even try to knit with wool until a couple of months ago.

It also means that trips to the yarn store are downright painful. Not only can I not buy the stuff, I can’t even walk up to the display and run a finger over a skein. Yarn-buying excursions are well-thought-out events. I first check the fiber content by very carefully picking up a skein by the ball band or asking someone to check for me. Wool, especially where it’s labelled by breed, is dangerous. If it’s highly processed, that’s a good sign; superwash varieties are usually fine, percentages smaller than 20% are sometimes okay, and anything labelled “organic” should be treated with great caution. You know how some knitters like to pick up yarn and smell it? Apart from the fact that getting unknown yarn that close to my face is incredibly dangerous, if the yarn has that nice, rich, wooly smell, it means that it has lanolin in it.

Alpaca and angora fibers are usually all right, as long as they’re used in conjunction with other safe fibers. Mohair is like this, too, although I’ve never tested any 100% mohair yarns, so I’m not sure if this is due to processing or the nature of the fiber itself. (As an aside, I’ve considered adopting an angora bunny or two. I grew up with house rabbits, and loved it. The majority of rabbits shed a lot, so I’d might as well get some fiber from all the plucking that I’d end up doing anyway. On the other hand, I also love the Mini Rex breed, which doesn’t shed, and my apartment right now doesn’t allow pets, so we’ll see.)

Once I’ve checked the fiber content, I pick a couple of yarns to test. I rub a skein against my inner forearm, and wait for 15 minutes or so. If I don’t have hives by then, I’m usually all right.

For example, Knit Picks Wool of The Andes ought to give me hives, because it’s 100% wool, and labelled by breed (a cross of Merino and Corriedale). I only bought a little bit of it the first time that I ordered it because I was so nervous. Knit Picks is a relatively safe brand for me, which I think has to do with the fact that they’re using faster, harsher processing techniques; a lot of small producers’ products are especially dangerous for me.

Now, Wool of the Andes doesn’t give me hives, per se, but if I knit with it for too long, it does make my hands very chapped and dry. If I let it go for too long (more than about 30-45 minutes of knitting) my knuckles will actually crack and bleed, which is clearly good for neither me nor the yarn. If I stop to wash my hands and reapply my super special sensitive skin hand lotion, things are better, but the handwashing itself takes a toll. The yarn is better after I wash it, too. In fact, the felted heel patches that I made for my fuzzy pants lo these many weeks gone are perfectly fine. I’ve even touched them to my face and neck with no adverse reaction. I’ve also soaked some Wool of the Andes in dish soap, and that seemed to clear up the itchiness just fine. Unfortunately, soaking whole skeins risks felting the whole thing, so I’ll continue knitting and then washing for now.

So, to those wool-allergic knitters, have hope! Try more highly processed fibers, test carefully before you buy, wash well before you wear, and if you come up with more ideas, let me know.


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Plaids, Linings, Buttons

I ended up ordering the cranberry, olive, pewter, and black plaid wool from Denver Fabrics to use for my winter coat.

I guess one of my goals for this year should be to perfect my plaid matching technique. I know all of the basics, but I can’t remember any project where I actually had to match plaid. I probably just read and assimilated the information from my parents’ old Vogue Sewing or Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book. I did get pretty good at tailor’s tacks and matching darts on the dress that I made to wear to my cousin’s wedding this summer, so I think I’ll be all right.

I also bought some black lining fabric, and I’ll be using up some ugly yellow fleece as an underlining. The yellow shouldn’t show anywhere, and I need the extra warmth!

I think I’m going to be doing a slightly different collar from either version offered with the pattern, making it wider but keeping the notch, so it’ll be warm but still fall nicely. (I never look good in shawl collars.)

Then comes the question of fasteners. The pattern itself calls for buttons sewn on to the outside, and snaps used as the actual closure. I think I could live with that, but it always looks fake to have the buttons just slapped on the outside since there’s no buttonhole there, and it seems a bit silly. Besides, I have an insane fondness for bound buttonholes and was looking forward to another excuse to use them.

My options here seem to be a) sew the buttons and snaps as recommended in the pattern and take it for granted that no one other than me with notice/care, b) make bound buttonholes and sew the buttons on so that they’re functional, or c) make bound buttonholes, but close them off with scraps of fabric placed behind the buttonhole and stitch the buttons to this piece of fabric and place snaps to act as the actual closure. I’ll probably just stick with option a) since it seems like the easiest both in terms of application (I don’t have to make any bound buttonholes), ease of use (snaps are easier to do up than those silly inside buttons that I never ended up using anyway in my old coat), and the ability to change it later if I don’t like it (nothing is cut, so if I don’t like it and want to try the bound buttonholes, I can).  Plus, if I think it seems silly to sew buttons on when snaps are the real closure, where is the logic in adding fake bound buttonholes to the mix?

Another consideration: I’d like a detachable hood.  I can make a pattern for that with very little issue, but how it’s going to be attached to the coat is up for debate.  The original idea was to have it button or snap on.  If I do that, I need to keep in mind that any precipitation falling on the hood should run off the back of the coat and not down my back.  So, if I have the hood snap on the inside of the coat, I need to have a second collar layer to lie on top of the permanent collar.  Otherwise, I can have the hood attach to the outside of the coat under the collar, and the back of the collar will end up inside of the hood.  With a wider collar, this might get annoying.  Next thought:  What if I make the collar itself detachable?  I can make a wide notched collar, a narrow notched collar, and a hood, all to attach to the same snaps on the inside of the coat.  The only question here would be of structural integrity.  It seems that sewing the collar to the neck edge of the coat should add some strength to that seam, but I think I can achieve the same with facing and topstitching.  Final decision pending.

Now I just need to get my apartment perfectly clean and ready for fabric cutting (a feat in my small space, but the drop-leaf table helps, and I can use my bed if all else fails).  Then on to the muslin with shoulder and collar alterations!

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