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 traders 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.