Why You Should Wear Natural Fibers
Natural Fibers Are The Way To Go
There is nothing more idyllic than a flock of sheep bouncing through a sunny meadow. For thousands of years human beings have untilized both animal and plant sources to create cloth, and for thousands of years these sources have served just fine. But with the introduction of petroleum products we suddenly became innundated with acrylic and polyester. What are these materials anyway? And why should you prefer natural materials over these chemical ones? To answer that question let's look at the source and makeup of several different natural and synthetic clothes.
Perhaps the most widely used and one of the most ancient animal fibers, wool is really a wonder. Wool is a wonderful insulator, yet breathes more than synthetics. This means that while you'll be warm in wool, you won't be sweaty or clammy. Wool is also self-extinguishing, meaning that if it catches on fire it will smoulder for a bit before putting itself out. The lanolin in the wool also makes the fiber water repellent, which is why fishermen have worn it for centuries. Wool can be woven into very fine cloth, or spun into yarn to be knitted.
Wool has a reputation as being very itchy, but it really depends on the breed of sheep the wool came from. The finer the hair, the softer the yarn (the pros determine this in microns). The softest wool comes from Merino sheep, of which Australia is the largest producer. This wool feels like butter, and is the perfect solution to a cold winter day. Other soft breeds include Colonial and Blue Faced Leicester. The roughest wool comes from Icelandic sheep. Though this wool is rough, it is extremely durable and won't pill with wear.
This is a relatively new fiber on the market, and you won't see it too much with ready-made clothing. Any handknitter who knows their stuff will have this in their stash though. Alpaca has been used for thousands of years by the natives of South America, and the finest grades were saved for royalty. Alpace is constructed like human hair, and thus proves wearable for those who are allergic to wool. The hairs are long and silky, and have a bit of a cashmere like halo to them. Alpaca is even warmer than wool, and has wonderful drape. Look for a nice cardigan or coat made from this wonderful fiber.
Silk fiber is actually spun from the cocoons of silk worms. Many vegans don't wear silk because the worms are killed in the process, but a new type of silk, called tussah silk, leaves the worms alive and is considered more "eco-friendly". Silk is an incredibly soft and incredibly strong fiber. It's light, and breathes well, making it the perfect summer clothing. Silk can also act as an insulator though, which is why you can find silk under garments for cold weather. Often considered a luxury fiber, silk is worth the investment because if the piece is well taken care of it will last for many years.
An extremely versatile and widely used fiber, cotton can be found in almost every clothing store across the world. The fiber itself comes from a tree, and from there is carded and processed to remove vegatable matter. Cotton is light and breathable, as well as easily washable. In fact, cotton is even stronger when wet, though it does not repel water like wool does. Cotton is considered a staple in the fiber world, and I doubt it's going anywhere anytime soon.
Hemp is sadly one of the most underated and underused fibers in the USA. Due to laws here we can't grow hemp, even though the plant lacks the THC that makes marijuana a drug. The plant requires no pesticides, replenishes nitrogen to the soil, grows extremely fast, and controls erosion. When blended with silk, cotton, or linen, it becomes a soft fiber with excellent drape. The plant is also used for everything from construction to paper making. China is currently producing a lot of hemp, and has already discovered the benefits of the plant as a fiber, food, and construction material. Hopefully we'll be doing the same here in the USA soon!
Polyester And Acrylic
Now we come to the synthetics. The creation of polyester and acrylic are actually pretty complicated chemical processes which boggle my liberal arts mind. Suffice it to say that these materials are a by-product of the oil refining process which results in gasoline. So ultimately this is a product that is dependant on the ever more expensive crude oil. Besides the economic and political ramifications, polyester and acrylic don't breath! You are basically trapped in colorful plastic wrap, and all your sweat is going to stay inside of the clothing with you. Polyester is touted as being stain and water resistant, which it is, but the same principal applies inside as well as outside. You are going to be smelly when you get home from work.
Synthetic fabrics also do not hold up well under an iron, they will melt. Take this principal one step further and light polyester on fire, what do you get? Nothing other than a giant melted glob of plastic, which can be extremely painful on human flesh. This is why babies should never have synthetic blankets. Even those that have been treated to be fire resistant are covered in chemicals which are far from natural.
My point is this, choose natural fibers and support a healthier way of living and being. Sure, they may cost more, but if you take proper care of your clothes and buy off the sale rack and second hand, then you will really come out even. Cheap plastic clothing is not the answer for anyone, not you, me, or your neighbor Fred. Put on the sensous silk or cuddly wool and appreciate the gifts that nature has given us.
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