Wool Musings

The woman to whom I turn (electronically) as a mentor in my quest to mastering the art of artisan bread making also happens to be a fiber enthusiast – weaving, spinning and knitting.  So I know that when she sends me articles to read – whether on bread making or fiber – I will learn a lot.

Today she sent me a link to an article (Feb. 23, 2016) in the Hakai Magazine.  Part of the Tula Foundation and Hakai Institute family, the journal “explores science, society, and the environment from a coastal perspective.”  (Click here to read more about the Hakai Magazine.)

The article is titled, “No Wool, No Vikings: The fleece that launched 1,000 ships.”  It is written by Canadian journalist Claire Eamer who goes on a journey on the Braute, an open hulled boat built in 1994 “in the style used by Norwegian fisherman and Spaelsautraders since the Viking Age,” complete with a linen square sale.  Under the direction of a sailing teacher, a group of Norwegian students and Ms. Eamer sail to Utsetøya, “a little island … where the school’s small flock of sheep, which provides both meat and wool, runs wild for most of the year, hemmed in only by the sea.”  (This picture is of a short-tailed breed called Spælsau (Spæl sheep) “[considered by many] to be the original breed of sheep in Norway.” (Wikipedia)

Ms. Eamer looks at the importance of wool in Viking culture.  In particular, she focuses on the role of the northern European short-tailed sheep – adaptable little sheep (about half the size of a Lincoln or merino), that have been able to modify their diets to the food available locally – including seaweed.  Ms. Eamer joins the students and teachers in herding and rooing the double fleece of the sheep.  (Click here to read a post I wrote a few years ago on shearing sheep and, particular, rooing.)

One sentence toward the end of the article caught my attention:

“Not long ago, researchers found that laundering synthetic fleece floods aquatic ecosystems with tiny plastic microfibers, …”

I searched for its source.  The name of British ecologist Mark Anthony Browne, Ph.D., appeared in many secondary sources, and then I found the study Ms. Eamer alluded to:  Mark Anthony Browne, Phillip Crump, Stewart J. Niven, Emma Teuten, Andrew Tonkin, Tamara Galloway and Richard Thomas,  “Accumulation of Microplastic on Shorelines Worldwide: Sources and Sinks,” in Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 45, Issue 21; pp. 9175-9179 (2011).

According to Dr. Browne et al., every time we wash polyester and acrylic clothes, we put microplastic fibers into our environment.  Horrifyingly, after examining the waste-water from washing a single fleece jacket, Dr. Browne et al. filtered out 1,900 microfibers. One year later, a study by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam came to a similar conclusion.  Deltares advocates for the development of a washing machine filter that would remove the microfibers during washing.  Thor and I recently went shopping for a new washer and dryer and were amazed by all the “bells and whistles” available nowadays.  Would it be too difficult to design and include filter of the kind advocated by Deltares?!

As I poured through articles as each one led to another until my eyes tired and I finally turned off the computer, I reveled (admittedly a little self-righteously) in the feel of the mohair wrap shawl wrapped tightly around me that I knit two decades ago.  I quickly was humbled remembering that I have four articles of clothing made of fleece somewhere in the back of my closet.  Thankfully I rarely wear them, as I can’t wash them ever again.

Got wool?

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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19 Responses to Wool Musings

  1. Pingback: Pisher Award Goes to … | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  2. “Fascinating and alarming,” yes indeed!

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  3. Yes, sadly we have to become almost aggressive with trying to educate ourselves re what we may be (inadvertently) doing, using, buying, eating, etc. that is causing such great harm to our planet.

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  4. bethy40 says:

    I remember reading that article. I heard about it from someone on Ravelry and I passed it on to those I thought would be interested. I love the interconnectedness of fiber artists! It is such disturbing information and I fear it is sadly unknown by many people. The study you found (thank you for the source by the way) was published in 2011 and five years later I know of many people who are entirely unaware of such findings. Thank you for continuing to pass along such information.

    After reading a similar article about how the “microbeads” in many face cleansers pollute the water system with more plastic I now keep a very close eye on those products to make sure I don’t purchase anything containing plastic particles. So much damage that we do is based in ignorance and then we compound it by not caring enough when our ignorance is gone.

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  5. Heidi says:

    Thank you for sharing! Just what I needed to add to my knowledge and insights. I have been doing some research on the history of knitting and textiles in general. It is fascinating and alarming to see the changes that have happened in a short amount of time, considering we have been wearing clothing since leaving the Garden of Eden!

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  6. Optimistically we hope that all the little things we can do as individuals may add up …

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  7. My thanks to whoever started that great article on its way around the world (the author, I guess?!) and those who continue(d) to send it on. There are so many people doing what they can to limit their “footprint” (carbon and otherwise) on our planet, but, sadly, I fear it won’t be enough. And now what do I do with my fleece garments?

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  8. Yes that our very clothing is dumping microfiber synthetic bits into the ocean environment is horrifying. While people on individual and small group levels are endeavoring to change their behaviors to be more green, I am saddened by the feet-dragging of political institutions. Further, I remember from my chem and bio classes that the largest producers of VOX and CO2 are mobile (that is, cars!) not the factories that are generally to be blamed. Yet those gas guzzling urban assault vehicles remain popular. 😦

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  9. I had the same “problem” with rayon shirts: I smelled something no one else seemed to. Of course, once I learned how rayon is processed, I realized that I, like you, had a nose that was sensitive to benzine-related chemicals than the average person’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes … Worrying it is. And disturbing. It seems that, on balance, people don’t care enough about the future to change their present behaviors. That is saddening. I fear that eventually we will have destroyed the planet’s ability to support human life forms.

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  11. I know … More ethical dilemmas with which to wrestle. (I guess I’m fortunately 3 of my 4 fleece items are black!)

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  12. Yes indeed! Always. 🙂

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  13. kaydeerouge says:

    This is such an eye-opener – as Rebecca says we thought it so wonderful that we could wear recycled plastic – so green. It’s terribly sad too – there just seems to be one thing after another that we do to damage the environment. And – Susan – my husband’s fleece is grey, so I definitely never need wash that again – right?!

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  14. Susanne says:

    Interesting post! More incentive to keep on knitting with natural fibres 🙂

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  15. Susan says:

    OH, thank you for putting MORE ‘meat/wool’ on the bones of that article! KWAP…I have one fleece jacket and I guess that puts pay to that. It is so warm…..OK, so I’ll never wash it again 🙂
    It’s only flaming YELLOW, no one would notice the dirt, hahaha

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  16. Libby says:

    Worrying food for thought.

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  17. thetinfoilhatsociety says:

    Maybe my nose is just ultra sensitive, but I think they smell funny too. Especially after being in the dryer a time or two. I have two, both thrift store purchases, and neither gets worn because of the odd smell. No one else smells it but me so I don’t know, but when I first read about this on Kate Davies’ blog it was what I needed to justify stuffing them in the back of the closet never to be heard from again. 🙂 Environmental damage is justifiable-funny smelling when no one else notices it is not.

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  18. This is both fascinating and horrifying. Thanks for yet another post that gets the little grey cells working.

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  19. Rebecca says:

    Oh how funny, we share the same bread and fibre muse! I sent her the article which was sent to me by another digital friend! What glorious connections eh. I too shuddered at the microplastics from fleece washing and was thrilled to read the details of your detecting work. In the late nineties we thought we were being eco wearing fleece from recycled plastic. I have one from my hiking days. It is truly horrible to consider the ongoing damage this kind of fabric is doing. They make fleece to wrap babies in! It was a joy to read your take on this great article.

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