Like many fiber folk, I've had a lifelong love affair with wool. When I was in college, a visit to the yarn shop yielded bulky yarns for Cowichan cardigans; fine worsteds for multi-colored Scandinavian sweaters; bright, softly-spun yarns for hooking rya rugs; and heathery tweeds for a cabled fisherman's vest. Every yarn was a treat to touch, every shelf of that little store a treat to the eye.
A decade later, when I learned to spin, I discovered that there were as many kinds of wool as there are wines, each with its own unique properties: softness, springiness, luster, and strength. Wools to nestle softly against the neck, wools for an elegant suit, rug wools to stand up to years of wear. I bought fleeces or prepared wool and began to make yarns designed for each project, woven, knitted, or felted: shining Lincoln from a friend's farm for upholstery fabric, versatile Romney for a sweater, or the finest Australian Merino wool for a lace shawl.
The January/February issue of Handwoven celebrates the miracle that is wool: the way it keeps us warm when wet, how it springs to shape, how it fulls and felts, the gorgeous range of natural wool colors, how vibrantly it takes dye, and how beautifully it combines with other fibers. There's a weaver's guide to "varietal" wools, with suggestions for finding yarns made from specific sheep breeds, and projects that invite you to weave a Fair Isle-inspired cardigan with yarn from the Hebrides or a cozy ruana with Columbia wool from the Oregon High Desert.
Two handsome rugs commemorate woolen history: Tom Knisely brings you a warp-faced rug inspired by First Phase Navajo Chief blankets, and Rebecca Fox presents her wool-and-leather rug commemorating the Sheep Wars of the American West. Tien Chiu's Celtic Braid cape is elegant and romantic in wool-silk twill, and Norma Smayda's scarves offer three-season warmth for women, while Beverly Jones presents a scarf designed with the guy in mind. Cei Lambert contributed a handsome felted bag, perfect for rigid-heddle weaving or as a tote for your favorite rigid-heddle loom or other crafting project. For those who like the tailored look, Sharon Alderman's latest swatch collection will give you great ideas for handwoven high style.
For the last 20-plus years, I've listened to famed spinning teacher and weaver Judith Mackenzie say that we didn't tame sheep: the sheep chose to be with us. As I think of how wool has shaped our lives and our history, I can only thank those far-seeing sheep who chose to walk with us down the centuries. I hope you'll explore this issue, warp up your loom, and help us properly celebrate the gentle, generous, and omnipresent ovine.