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Wearing wool in the summer

 
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It baffled me that there are so many examples in history of people wearing wool in hot weather.  Medieval England wore wool year 'round.  Later on, it was common for men to wear wool suits all year until the 20th century.  Also, there are many examples of dessert dwellers who wear wool.

But I dismissed it as an archaeological misinterpretation.  Wool is hot stuff.  It's winter wear.

Until...

a few years back we had a crazy-hot summer and two things happened.  

1. I was talking about how hot the weather was with someone - because talking about the weather is a major pastime in these parts - and we got to talking about long sleeves in the summer.  I was wearing linen, she was wearing wool.  Wool?  What?  Really?  nah?  apparently so.  Long sleeve merino superwash wool top was keeping her cooler than my linen blouse.  And that got me thinking about the logic of how wool works and it makes sense.  Wool is an excellent insulator, it wicks sweat away from the skin, and produces coolness as the sweat evaporates.  It might just be something to try.

2.  Later in the summer, I was at a medieval recreation and that requires wearing wool.  About two kilos of wool and linen clothing covering from chin to wrist to ankles.   This should be stifling but it wasn't.  If I took the wool layer off and just kept the two linen layers, it was much hotter.  The wool protected me against the heat just as it protected me against the cold at night.  

I would like to learn more about why wool works so well to insulate against heat in the summer and what to look for when choosing a wool garment for summer wear.  
 
gardener
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I love wool socks, and wear them year round, so this makes sense, to me. I prefer wool or silk to cotton, because each is both insulative and wicking, as well as less odor-holding.
 
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We have unpredictable weather here in summer, and I've found wool is better for handling this than cotton - I can just go out for the day in wool clothes and it will keep me comfortable all day and into the evening, where as if I go out wearing cotton or linen, it's fine when the temperatures are warm and there's no cold winds,  but I end up feeling cold and uncomfortable quickly when the weather changes.

The thin merino and wool/silk clothes are really good for summer.
 
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My parents were from the ‘Greatest Generation’ and I often spoke to them about those times (1920’s onwards). Photographs from that period show my relatives wearing pure merino wool three piece suits, cotton or silk shirts and fedora hats, and women wearing wool pleated skirts, cardigans, etc in both summer and winter in Sydney – more subtropical than temperate climate.

The obvious question was: 'Wasn’t it bloody hot to wear wool clothing!'

The answer was a simple ‘no’ – wool clothing back then was either ultra-fine or super fine merino wool, it breathes and is cool in summer and warm in winter.

My grandfather, a farmer in the subtropics, wore a ‘Doctors Flannel’, made of the same super fine wool, in both summer and winter.

Mum said she hadn’t seen cloth of the same quality since the 1950’s: it resembled thick cotton but didn’t wrinkle at all – wrinkles would just fall out when a skirt/suit was put on.

I suspect wool of that quality would be too expensive for the average person these days – although most of our cut is purchased by China, the ultra-fine or super fine merino wool ends up in the European fashion houses for high end clothing.

From a sheep’s perspective: they wear the stuff in the extreme heat of our summer and the cold and wet of winter, with few complaints!

(I’ve spent some time over the years around shearing sheds simply as an observer – fascinating - it’s easy to appreciate the skills of a shearer and wool classer, but the fleece is by far the star: with its fine crimps, glossy cream colour, and clean lanolin aroma ... amazing stuff.)

Super-Fine-Wool-On-The-Sheep.jpg
[Thumbnail for Super-Fine-Wool-On-The-Sheep.jpg]
Super Fine Wool - On The Sheep
 
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I was browsing etsy a few months ago and came across upcycled cashmere underwear. It seriously made me want to make some. When I lived in Asheville I made upcycled clothing and sold it in a shop downtown. Most of it I made from wool and linen, but it would have never occurred to me in a million years to make wool underwear. Cashmere seems to be a thrift store staple so it's really easy to find. I just checked etsy a there are a ton of sellers now. I think when I saw it before there was only one shop selling it.

I would put a link here but the models need a few more clothes on to be permies compatible. :)
 
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If I could afford it, all of my socks would be wool, even in hot weather. I have bone spurs in my toes, and the hotter my feet are, the less they hurt. Roasting is best. Since I can't keep them permanently submerged in a hot spring, wearing wool socks is the next best thing.
 
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wool BREATHES! In the US I never noticed it but when I moved to Japan I really perceived that a natural fiber that breathes will save you during the infernally hot summer rainy season, for example, as opposed to a synthetic that basically acts as plastic wrap. I worked in a job where I had to dress up and I noticed that a crepe wool suit I had was the most comfortable thing I owned, for all weather. That second year I replaced as much as I could with linen and tropical weight wool.
Today, here in my corner of South America we have almost no natural fibers available, believe it or not. My older relatives who are seamstresses tell me that they used to be able to get lightweight wool to work with, when they were young, back when people dressed up (you know those nice old pictures where everyone was beautiful, 50s-60s era). Then synthetics took over the market, it's a shame.
 
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Long-time lurker, longer-time knitter and spinner.

I wear wool socks all year and find they are much better for my feet than any other fiber. If you keep an eye on Sierra Trading Post and similar sites, you can find lightweight wool for cheaper. It's worth the investment, as I've found wool fabrics tend to last longer than anything with cotton in it.

Of course, making your own is best. 😉
 
Carol Denton
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Carina Hilbert wrote:Long-time lurker, longer-time knitter and spinner.

I wear wool socks all year and find they are much better for my feet than any other fiber. If you keep an eye on Sierra Trading Post and similar sites, you can find lightweight wool for cheaper. It's worth the investment, as I've found wool fabrics tend to last longer than anything with cotton in it.

Of course, making your own is best. 😉



Hi Carina, welcome to the forums. You'll find out it's a lot more fun than being just a lurker! I've been spinning about six years and love my Lendrum. In fact, I love the whole process, from raw wool to dyeing to spinning to knitting to felting. It's very satisfying. And, probably like you, I always have a sock project going!
I have 25 elderberry cuttings rooting right now, a lot I know, but I want extra to use for dyeing. The berries for purple and the leaves for green. Black can be made with the roots, but isn't that what black sheep are for? :)
 
Carina Hilbert
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The big problem with using any berries for dying is that they aren't very lightfast (so, they change and fade when exposed to sunlight).  Elderberries are better used for medicinal purposes, but yes, the leaves and all are good dyestuffs.

Spinning has gotten harder for me as my disability issues have worsened, but I've been spinning since the 80s.  The older I get, the more I prefer the natural colors, though I am hoping to get a Polwarth blend dyed by a friend for a special shawl project to knit.  She uses safe(r) dyes, and I will hopefully be able to get enough and spin it fine enough for a nice, big shawl.

Another wool tip while I'm thinking of it: If you don't like it immediately next to your skin, look into things like shawls or cardigans for that extra layer that will trap heat but also breathe.  Helpful things, especially with changeable weather.

Side note: Wool allergy is real, as is lanolin allergy.  Many people, though, who think they're allergic to wool because it always feels itchy think that because of the lower grade wools used these days in commercial processing.  I always ask people to head to a yarn shop and feel the wool yarns there.  If your hands burn from touching, if you have a red mark on your skin where you held the yarn, or if you itch for hours afterward, that's a real allergy.  If you are fine afterward, it's just that your skin is sensitive to the coarser wools.
 
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My husband and I are recent converts to the wonderful world of wool socks!! After moving to Montana, they were a necessity.  I love 'em!!!
 
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I am flabbergasted, to say the least! I never would have thought wearing wool would be cooling. I've never worn it, except for socks sometimes, because it makes me itch. I would love to be able to wear wool if I can get rid of the itch, because I get soooo hot in the summer! Now that I think of it, I don't remember the socks being itchy. Maybe it's time to try it again. Off to the thrift stores I go!
 
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I enjoyed reading this thread.With first hand experience I can say wool will keep you cool.I make and wear felted hats in all seasons.The wool keeps you cool and is water resistant.
 
pollinator
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Jason Hernandez wrote:If I could afford it, all of my socks would be wool, even in hot weather. I have bone spurs in my toes, and the hotter my feet are, the less they hurt. Roasting is best. Since I can't keep them permanently submerged in a hot spring, wearing wool socks is the next best thing.



Maybe it's time to learn to knit!  Seriously though, I love my handknit wool socks and they hold up better than any wool (or other fibre) socks I've ever purchased.
 
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I wish there was cashmere at the thrift stores here in Western Colorado!  It's great stuff.  I used to wear any old size garments for underwear, washed them in the machine, they were wonderful under my loose fitting long sleeved cotton summer summer good will shirts.  No longer available in these parts .

I have found some wonderful brand new wool socks, I think the brand is "darn tough" or somehting like that, made by a small privately owned company inVermont, I think.  Their long socks stay up the calf ALL DAY.  I don't have to pull them up several times every hour.

I wear them summer and winter.  Only problem I have is that my winter boots do not breathe, so the socks get a little damp.  The moisture from my nice warm feet condenses on the boots that are insulated, just not enough.  In the summer, the wool knee socks are fine, as long as I wear long pants overthem to keep the seeds and stickers from getting in them.

Anyway, I am all for wool clothing.  It insulates from heat as well as cold.  I let my Komondor keep her wool insulation throughout the summer, too.


 
pollinator
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I'm glad that all of you are so excited about wearing wool in the summer, but I'm afraid this has not been my experience.  I recall a business trip to NYC I once made in the summer - and summers in the Big Apple do get hot and humid! - wearing a wool suit, and man did I sweat, and sweat, and sweat some more.

Now, I will admit that my suit was probably not "summer weight."  Moreover, it was an older suit, a hand-me-down from my father that I'd had tailored to fit me.  I recall the tailor admiring the quality of the wool, which at the time I took to reflect on its thickness, saying how you don't see cloth like that anymore.

So, I am guessing that to be effective in hot weather, the cut of the clothing, which is to say how it hangs on the body, and the thickness of the cloth are as important as being a good, natural fiber.
 
pollinator
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I can't wear wool in the summer either. After reading, on here I think, about how awesome wool socks are in the summer I pulled out a very nice pair I was given years ago. I was wearing shorts and a tank top which would normally be pretty comfortable wandering around in the garden attire on a hot summer day. With the addition of the wool socks I was way overheated. When I came inside my husband did a double take and asked Whoa, what were you up to? I was so flushed and sweaty he thought I'd been doing some heavy work outside.  

I've found the only comfortable outfit on the hottest days is my own skin.
 
Carla Burke
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Heavy, dense wool is not a good choice, for summer. It does, at least for me, need to be a lightweight, finer twist, and other than as cushioning, I can't see me wearing a heavy felt in warm weather. But, I'm a biker, and there is no better fiber that I've found, to wick away the sweat, in my heavy, protective leather boots - and the same goes for inside my hiking and work boots. If I must wield a shovel, work around my livestock, or go wildcrafting in and around our ravines (think scorpions, ticks, copperheads, big sharp rocks, thorny wild blackberry thickets...) I'm doing it in boots & thin wool.
 
F Agricola
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Matthew Nistico wrote:I'm glad that all of you are so excited about wearing wool in the summer, but I'm afraid this has not been my experience.  I recall a business trip to NYC I once made in the summer - and summers in the Big Apple do get hot and humid! - wearing a wool suit, and man did I sweat, and sweat, and sweat some more.

Now, I will admit that my suit was probably not "summer weight."  Moreover, it was an older suit, a hand-me-down from my father that I'd had tailored to fit me.  I recall the tailor admiring the quality of the wool, which at the time I took to reflect on its thickness, saying how you don't see cloth like that anymore.

So, I am guessing that to be effective in hot weather, the cut of the clothing, which is to say how it hangs on the body, and the thickness of the cloth are as important as being a good, natural fiber.



Howdy Matt,

Forgot to mention – the suits of pre-WW2 were, by today’s standards, much fuller fit – think James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart double breasted suits.

Ones worn by the Brits and Aussies in the tropics were often made from linen or thin wool – cotton was not sturdy enough (rots).

Due to shortages and rationing during and after WW2, ‘austerity suits’ were made to reduce the use of materials. With men’s suits this meant: single breasted not double breasted, removal of trouser cuffs, lapels narrowed, number of pockets reduced, and braces with button flies were common to remove the need for zippers and elastic.

Since the end of the War and austerity, the ‘normal’ designs haven’t returned and the ‘austerity suit’ continues to be fashionable at the cost of comfort.

Suits were, and are meant to be comfortable, not like the ridiculous ‘close fit’ of today’s versions that are almost as close fitting as a wet suit.

Braces and trouser cuffs make suits extremely comfortable – cuffs actually make the pant fall in a very elegant and structured way – standing or sitting.

So, that is probably why people find full wool suits hot – the cut of the suit is not particularly appropriate or sensible – hot in summer, cold in winter.

 
Carol Denton
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Jan White wrote:   I've found the only comfortable outfit on the hottest days is my own skin.



Haha. Ruth Stout's husband said he always knew when Ruth was out in the garden working in her own skin. He could hear cars honking at her as they drove by. :)
 
pollinator
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:

I have found some wonderful brand new wool socks, I think the brand is "darn tough" or somehting like that, made by a small privately owned company inVermont, I think.  Their long socks stay up the calf ALL DAY.  I don't have to pull them up several times every hour.

I wear them summer and winter.  



Darn Tough are my favorite!  I have 4 pairs of their good witch crew.  They are guaranteed for a lifetime but even though that is pretty much all I wear, they show no signs of deterioration.  I wear them all year too...that is if I am wearing shoes!
 
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Wool insulates from the heat as well as the cold, it would seem.  Have you ever seen or worn the wool sauna hats?  They really work to keep your head cooler!  

Example image here:  https://sauneco.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/sauna-hat-umbra3-2-from-sauneco-e1488304900945.jpg

However, my own experience has been that this insulation can work both ways...  If I work up a lot of body heat, then wool will also trap that inside the garment.  It breathes better than synthetic, to be sure, but not enough to  let me cool down.  Theory:  perhaps the old-timers in full wool suits (even lightweight ones) were wearing them on more social occasions when they wouldn't have been as active or raising their core temperature?  
 
pollinator
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Just wanted to put it out there that there are many people on etsy or with their own websites who have sock knitting machines (ye old hand crank) that will make socks to the size and height you want. Some dye their own yarn and offer it in their yarns. Some only crank socks and if you buy sock yarn you can mail it to them and they'll crank the socks.
 
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It is still possible to find "tropical" or "summer" weight wool fabrics on-line. I'm not old enough to know how they compare with pre-1950's fabrics of the same description, but the clothing I've made from them has been wrinkle resistant, and comfortable even in summer temperatures here in Ohio, as long as I wasn't exerting myself (not items I'd wear to do heavy yard work or run in for the summer). I too find that having some light woolen shawls on hand (I'm a lace knitter--so think of things like Shetland shawls) helps me cope with day-night temperature swings, and I appreciate the warmth without the bulk/weight that seems to come with synthetics.

I live in hand knit wool socks from October through April, and can't imagine wearing anything else. Ditto for wool sweaters and outerwear in the winter. As has been stated elsewhere in this thread, wool breathes, and as a result even when I'm doing things like shoveling the drive I never feel clammy.

Is there a list of clothing suppliers that carry summer weight wools anywhere accessible? If not, does anyone have sources to share?

 
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American Civil War uniforms were primarily made of wool. I just found this quote "Wool was the most common fabric of the Civil War, both for uniforms and for everyday clothing. Wool was widely available and durable and often high-quality, with very tight weaves that prevented fraying." (https://oureverydaylife.com/fabrics-used-for-civil-war-clothing-12535459.html). I always found this mind-boggling, thinking of soldiers at battles like Gettysburg in the sweltering heat dressed in wool. I guess they knew what they were doing!

100% wool fabric is available, but it is really expensive and mostly just in boring suiting colors. Here is an example of one place to buy it: https://www.fabric.com/apparel-fashion-fabric-wool-fabric.aspx?fiber-content-range=100percent-wool. Try googling "100% wool summer weight fabric".

Kelly
 
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i was in the Army in the early 90's and they still issued wool socks for summer and winter. when it got cold you doubled them up. i still to this day wear wool but the merino  thicker ones in winter, thinner in summer. the brand i have the most of is ballerstrom. I've been lucky because our local surplus store here in Maine called Mardens has been getting tons of these in different weights, selling them for as little a $2 a pair! i bought enough of them to last me for 5+ years. they are great socks! my feet never feel damp and sweaty in them and they aren't itchy like my old Army socks were. all my long johns are dual layer wool also. socks need to be over 60%wool to really work well. read the content labels.
 
Catherine Carney
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I live in handknit wool socks October-April, and love them. At least 75% wool and then usually nylon for the remainder for ease of care (they wash and dry like the rest of my laundry). I've made socks out of my Shetland wool and they're amazingly soft and warm, but have to be hand washed/line dried, so they're not as practical for my lifestyle. I'm willing to put that kind of care into my sweaters (also from my flock) because they're not generally washed after every wearing.

I think something we need to think about is how to create a demand for natural fiber items, and for high quality fabrics and construction. I want clothing that lasts and is practical. Period. But in order to create that demand we need enough people to vote with their wallets for it, and right now there aren't enough of us....
 
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