by Sofi Thanhauser
I want to give 5 stars to the chapter on wool and 3.5 to everything else. The chapter on linen I liked, because I just like hanging out with textiles and talk about old clothes; but as the first chapter, it falsely led me to believe this was going to be one of those non-fiction books that is just one well-researched fact after another. Instead, the next chapter, on cotton, was all about how terrible cotton is and has always been. That’s not my type of book either, but for a different reason. I don’t like just reading about how everything is awful, over and over. The chapter on silk was OK; but then, for synthetics, we get intensive details of various worker strikes earlier last century. I wanted to read a book about textiles, not the history of labor unions.
But then finally, WOOL! It’s interesting Thanhauser ordered her chapters the way she did; one would have expected the ‘primitive’ materials to come first and synthetics last; but I think she put wool last because it was the most positive chapter, where small mills and handcrafters save the day after all that nasty environmental damage and class warfare.
Thanhauser by the Wool chapter has proven herself a super-intelligent, serious researcher; so it was fun to see her discover my tribe of fiber-festival-goers and handspinners. She visits Fingerlakes Woolen Mill in New York, which could stand in for my own friends at Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont or any of hundreds of small-scale mills we all know and love. She visits with people rescuing equipment from the now-defunct American Textile History Museum of Lowell, Mass. And she goes to “Woolfest” in Cockermouth, England. I was seriously planning to go to Woolfest in 2012, before familial hard times hit. It does indeed sound akin to the High Holydays experienced on this side of the pond at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck or (shout-out) the Vermont counterpart at Tunbridge. Alas, “I had to admit it [as do I]: Woolfest was a gathering of old women.” So many gray heads I counted while vending at Tunbridge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Fun fact: the University of Wyoming created a Wool Department in 1907 and for a time was the only university to offer a PhD in wool. Imagine being a Doctor of Wool – I love it!