Last winter, it became clear that I would not be able to continue my half marathon training without warmer clothing. Specifically, I needed better coverings for my head and hands. I walked into the local outdoor gear shop looking for the appropriate accessories. Now, some of you will point out the contradiction of a knitter buying synthetic mittens. This point was not lost on me; I felt appropriately ashamed but cold, nevertheless. Actually, I had decided my enemy was not cold, it was wind. Not only that, but who wants to knit mittens to cover sweaty hands during a long run? Not I.
So there I stood, talking to a salesman about the accessories to buy. He showed me some brand name, very expensive hats to block the wind. Neoprene, polypropylene, wind-block fleece, all materials designed to keep you warm. When I said I needed something specifically for a long run-a run lasting about two hours-he quickly abandoned the hats he’d shown me, instead turning to a different line. The answer, he said, was wool. Specifically, a $50 wool hat whose materials had been specially engineered to keep one warm in the cold and provide enough ventilation to prevent overheating. What did he mean by specially engineered materials, I asked. Isn’t that just what wool does? Generations of sheep represent the only technological innovators on this front, as far as I was concerned.
I’m not saying there is no room for technical fabrics. After all, I would never be able to run through the winter without fleece-lined, polypropylene tights. However, it is clear to me that no amount of human engineering can compete with thousands of years of selective pressure on sheep to produce the most effective insulation from the cold.
I need not tell you how I made it through the rest of the winter, of course. I am cheap and unabashedly so. I dug out an old wool hat I knitted years ago and stole the tufted mittens I knit for Aaron. To my amazement, 5 a.m. runs in -15 degree weather were no big deal. Actually, to be completely honest, the 5 a.m. part was still a big deal but the bitter cold was not.
I’ve been considering this experience lately, as it comes time to find Beatrix some warm winter clothes. I decided to design a heavy wool jacket for her as a cheap alternative to a winter coat. In fact, I find some of my heaviest wool sweaters far warmer than my biggest parka. Although my sense of parental guilt will likely drive me to the store this winter to buy her a coat she’ll quickly outgrow, I hope this heavy sweater lasts her two winters.
Last week, I sent the pattern to a handful of test knitters. Hopefully, I will be able to offer it to you soon!
In the meantime, I have some stealth mittens under way at the moment. I will certainly share them with you next week when they have met their intended recipient. Until then, I’ll leave you with the beginnings of Bryant’s Slipover vest (Ravelry link), a project I’m knitting for my cousin Ida. I promised to knit this last year but I found myself sidetracked by other things. Since I will be seeing Ida in Boston next week, I decided to finish it so I could leave it with her! Wish me luck on that one, the gauge is 7.5 sts/in and I’ve not yet reached the waist.