To my surprise, so many claim they're allergic to wool and can't wear knitted garments made out of it. But an actual wool allergy is not currently known.* Many people who think they are allergic to wool have sensitive skin that would be irritated by any kind of coarse fiber.
This is by far the most common cause of a skin reaction to wool and other coarse fibers. Sensitive skin can be so irritated by certain wool that a rash develops.
But there is good news though. Not all animal fibers are itchy. There are lots of wool and animal fibers available that may not cause that reaction. Also the way the fiber is processed makes a huge difference to how irritating the garment will be.
Fine wool sheep produce wool fibers with a very small fiber diameter, usually 20 microns or less. Those sheep account for more than 50 percent of the world's sheep population. Most sheep of this type are Merino or trace their ancestry to the Merino.
Studies have shown that people will complain that the fiber is itchy if more than 5 percent of the fiber in a garment has a diameter of more than 30 microns or an average diameter of more than 22 microns.
This is why some people with sensitive skin may be able to happily wear other animal fibers like Alpaca and Cashmere or the fine wool breeds.
Also wool blends do not irritate your skin in the same way. Blends with cashmere and silk are often soft and smooth enough that they can be worn without causing a reaction.
*A significant minority of us break out in a rash after wearing wool, or have sore red eyes, or even breathing problems. An allergy to wool is actually caused by lanolin, the oil in a sheep’s fleece.
Perhaps the next time you see a woolen item maybe consider this and give that item a chance. Be sure to stop by Artistic Portland to see Karin's beautiful pieces. Not only does Karin create hats, scarves, mittens, and shawls, but she also creates whimsical stuffed animals among other items. Below is a just a small sampling of her work.
This week's blog was written by painter, Jennie O'Connor. Jennie interviewed fiber arts artist Helene Hughart of HH Knits. You can see Helene's beautiful work at Artistic Portland Monday-Saturday from 10-6 and Sundays from noon to 5.
How long have you been a part of Artistic Portland, and what appealed to you about joining the Co-op?
I have been a member from the beginning when we first started in 2013. As a Lead Pre-school teacher, I have worked in a Parent co-op and truly enjoyed it. When I came upon the idea of a co-op for an artistic store, I was thrilled. There is so much one learns from other members and it is nice to share the responsibilities of running a store. I believe customers prefer to touch, feel and see my knitted items rather than just see the item in pictures.
What is your background?
I have a BA in Child development and have worked with children into my late 50’s. When I stopped working, I needed to have a creative outlet. Knitting was something I have done since I was a child and have been doing as long as I remember. In addition I inherited a lot of yarn from my mother in law who was a weaver. Family members needed more of the heirloom Christmas stockings and pointed out that I might start selling my knits. This is when I also started to knit cards and thinking of selling them. I enjoy custom orders and can re-create a stocking without a pattern.
Why do you do what you do?
Knitting is very relaxing and rewarding as you have something to wear or show when you are done.
Describe yourself in one word? Why that word?
Patient, because I had to be that with children and now with knitting as it can take a long time and lots of rows and stitches before you can see the results.
Where do you create?
Knitting can be done almost anywhere, so I can take it with me where ever I go. Most of my planning and knitting is done in my knitting room where I keep all my yarns.
What motivates/inspires your work?
I get inspired by the yarn itself. I enjoy working with natural yarns and yarns that are a challenge to knit with like boucle. The loops in the yarn are easily picked up and increase or decrease your stitches.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
I like custom orders where I create my own patterns.I receive a picture or idea and i have to do draw and do the math to figure out how many stitches to cast on to create an image. This pug is an example of it.
What is your favorite piece you have ever created?
I guess it is the sweater I knitted for my husband when we first met. He still wears it and the yarn is still beautiful without any fuzz. It was a $200.00 sweater just in materials in the 1980’s.
If you could wake up tomorrow with a new artistic skill, what would it be?
As a child, I was fascinated watching lace being made by throwing wooden spools around pins on a cushion. The woman I watched was very skilled and I have one of her pieces.
What do you like to do when you are not creating?
I enjoy walking, gardening and lately have been enjoying birdwatching.