Wool Values

The ‘Cross Being’ Qualities of Wool


photo: Mohammed in his Sweat(er)shop sweater

Are you for real?

It is common knowledge that wool, if handled through organic and holistic practices, has incredible sustainable material qualities which are impossible to beat. For examples, see list further below. But what is not always communicated is how wool can be used to connect people to essential relations; a sort of rooting system that spans cultures and time zones. A tipping point in my wool experience and considered a gift, happened during the Sweat(er)shop when I met Mohammed, a security guard at the campus. As I stood outside at the Sweat(er)shop felting wool, I heard:

‘Are you for real?’

And as I was just about to say something about what I was doing, he said:

‘I know exactly what you are doing! I was brought up in a house of wool. I know this smell so well. It reminds me of where I am from, in northern Morrocco where they felt. I used to as a kid lie on a huge cushion at my grandfather’s made of sheep skin after slaughter. I have leather in my home and rugs of wool.’

And after telling him the story of the Sweat(er)shop, he signed up with his family for a workshop.

This moment struck a chord. Although I had read about it, knew it and had seen many artifacts of wool, this meeting created flesh on bone. Wool as a textile transformed into a sensual experience of identity; flowing between borders and histories. Here, on a Dutch scientific research campus of concrete and glass, a multicultural ‘home’  formed itself through wool. Mohammed was both here and there, and in between. A multi-space of meaningful connections.

Wool continued to take me on its trail. I had never heard of the term transhumance until I looked more into the history and peoples of shepherdry. I immediately came across maps on the internet, showing the ancient routes taken by herders to take their flocks to greener pasture in the summer months and back down again in autumn. Large arrows going from south to north in Morrocco, France and Spain… well just about anywhere where shepherdry still exists.


cropped-transhumance-sheep-httparlesmerinos-frenglischtranshumance-html1.jpegIt stuck me that these routes of human and animal were  like contemporary migrant routes of asylum seekers from Africa and the Balkans into Europe, and part of a global movement of those seeking greener pasture elsewhere.  Escaping climate change, war, a lack of employment in over run urban centers, the migrant experience of transversing landscape and water was part of a general lock down of mobility in Europe. With mental and physical borders hardening, both shepherd and migrant are faced with dilemmas to their life-lihood. Although the numbers and urgency are different between the groups, I saw a link with shepherds also afflicted by climate change, private property and truck transport of animals sharing the migrant experience of displacement.

Carte transhumances mediterranee


Was it possible that shepherds from Africa and elsewhere were also migrating to other countries? Where were they heading? And with such a skill set, could they find the same work elsewhere? Could I seek out shepherd migrants who had made it to the northern countries such as The Netherlands, and have them be a significant advisory board and productive force of the Sweat(er)shop for promoting public space? Couldn’t their expertise of keeping landscapes in balance through mobile and rotational animal herding be used to protect the Dutch landscape? Could a migrant shepherd team up with Dutch herders to share information, and together create a custodian system of landscape, animal and social relations?

To be continued…





photo: wool insulation of Sweat(er)shop walls

Material Wonders of Wool

Although I am focused on its social qualities, when partnered with the material qualities listed below, wool becomes an even more essential material.

Please note, organically certified wool, which comes from holistically farmed and sustainable processing is top of the bill. Unfortunately, not all wool processing is sustainable and creates an injustice to such a fine material.

-repels moisture thanks to lanolin

-durable, resistant to tearing and wrinkling, is flexible and retains shape

-flame resistant

-resists getting dirty. Minimal washing is needed in garment care

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 16.53.05

photo: care label for Sweat(er)shop sweaters: hand wash infrequently in a cold canal. Lay flat on the grass in a field of sheep to dry.

-keeps you warm in winter (very high thermal insulation ‘clo’ factor) , cool in summer by creating air between your skin due to natural fiber weave of wool. Can absorb up to 30% moisture without feeling damp. A clo factor of .39 (that of a Sweat(er)shop sweater for example) means if worn inside, results in an energy saving of 25%. (thanks to Kris de Decker, Lowtech Magasine)

-absorbs perspiration whilst keeping air dry next to skin. Wool garments are worn for this reason in desert regions

-lanolin, the oil secreted from sheep glands onto the wool, or in other words, sheep sweat, is a natural source of vitamin D. It is also a moisturizer (used in the cosmetic industry) and lubricator for mechanical engines, and other sensual bodies

-easy to manipulate into a material with little technology such as through felting (massaging the wool with water, (olive) soap and human muscle power)

-is produced as hair from an animal such as a sheep. When sheared, it regrows. Shearing assists a natural process of the sheep rubbing its hair off in warm months, and helps to deter a variety of skin irritants and ailments caused by pests burying in the wool

-wool captures carbon dioxide as it grows

-a natural fiber, wool can be disposed of, recycled or reused safely and with no threat to the environment. Micro fibers do not cause damage to other life forms or the environment as synthetics

-large mobile, time controlled sheep grazing is good for the environment. It deters desertification of the soil. Sheep, as with many other large animal mobile herding, retains the moisture content in soil, warding off erosion and promoting grassland growth. Instead of losing carbon through tilling for crops, grazing sequesters carbon




Sheldon Firth, Holistic Management and Regenerative Agriculture: http://www.regenerateland.com/

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com      Kris de Decker

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