Hello, friends! We’re thrilled to welcome beloved author Clara Parkes back to the pages of MDK. Clara has been a tireless advocate for the sheep farmers of America for a long time, but her new book, Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool establishes her as a wool warrior of superhero proportions. Vanishing Fleece tells the true story of what happens when a woman buys a 676-pound bale of Saxon Merino wool. It’s a fascinating tale, and also a real-life education about the people, places, and things that turn fleece into yarn. If you’d like to hear the story in Clara’s own voice, we’ve got good news: the audiobook is finally out! We can think of no better companion for 6 hours of knitting—with wool, of course.
—Kay and Ann
Consider the wool blanket: useful and beautiful. It offers warmth and protection that endure long after the giver is gone. A good wool blanket buffers you from the cold winds and hard edges of the world. There’s a reason Linus chose a blanket for his trusty sidekick.
In our house, wool blankets are right up there with electricity and running water. Almost every chair has a blanket within reach. Even our blankets have blankets.
This year I decided that my nephews were ready for their first wool blanket. My brother is so careful with the thermostat that his downstairs rooms tend to have an arctic chill in winter. Since both boys are still young, and I’m no fool—I chose entry-level, machine-washable Pendletons in their favorite colors.
After shooting confused glances at their father, both boys politely thanked me, set the blankets aside, and got back to their PlayStations. I knew the blankets wouldn’t be an instant hit. But nobody is immune to the lure of wool. It was only a matter of time.
Sure enough, later that night I got a text from my brother. He’d run upstairs for a minute, and when he returned, his youngest son Henry was bundled up on the couch in his new blanket. Victory!
As for me, I had no interest in any of the high-tech gadgetry we’re supposed to want at the holidays. No already-obsolete i-whatever—I had my eye on a magnificent new creation from Faribault Woolen Mill, which has been making wool blankets in Minnesota since 1865.
A wool blanket makes the perfect gift. It requires no batteries or grounded wall outlet. It has no moving parts. It never needs upgrading, nor will it become obsolete. As an added bonus, in addition to providing sustainable central heating, it offers a perpetual air filter and fire extinguisher. What’s not to love?
And unlike that new computer, blankets don’t succumb to viruses. Sure, they could be nibbled by moths, but that’s easily stopped with a cleaning and some clever mending.
Wool blankets are vulnerable to ransomware, however, when trusted family members abscond with them. Say, a college-bound son or daughter or niece or nephew. While no amount of money will get you back your blanket, at least you can know that the perpetrator is being sent off with a hug.
Apparently, I Am Not Alone
When I shared photos of my blanket haul on social media, people sprang to action. Cats were disturbed, beds un-made, closets rummaged to retrieve the cherished blankie de la maison. What followed was a glorious parade of pictures depicting multigenerational heirlooms, wedding presents, thrift-store finds, and self-care splurges. I saw blankets that were made during wartime rationing and blankets that survived the wars themselves. And I saw what people chose to take with them on journeys across oceans and continents to start a new life. Best of all, I saw how many of you are rescuing abandoned blankets at charity shops and estate sales. Some of the most collectible blankets came secondhand for under $10.
Even more fun were the labels. Colorful and charming mini-billboards, they dotted the vast acreages of wool sporting alluring names and clever slogans. They showed leaping sheep and snoozing suns. They told of places where blankets used to be made, and of places where they still are. They boasted of wool’s curative properties, and a few even featured a sheep so proud, she was stripping her coat and offering it to you.
Pieced together, the blankets and their labels paint a beautiful picture of our intimate lives, one that is both deeply personal yet universal. What follows is just a slice of what you’ll find when you search the #showyourlabels hashtag on Instagram.
Want to play along? I invite you to hop into the MDK Lounge and share your own pictures and stories.
Eloise Holland felt a twinge of homesickness when she pulled out her Ottawa Valley blanket, having spent most of her life in that very place. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a bucolic sheepscape?
In Belgium, even the sun itself can’t resist taking a quick snooze under Maiike van Geijn’s Sole Mio blanket, which was snapped up for 3 Euros at a thrift store.
There’s no questioning the awesome majesty of the ram on Beverley Rintoul’s Kenwood blanket…
…until you feast eyes on the utopian vision that is Tracy Sadtler’s blanket. (RicolaAAA!) It was a gift from her grandma.
Some blankets need no label. A handwritten number will do. This was Kate Dougherty’s grandfather’s blanket during World War II. Fortunately, both he and the blanket made it out intact.
On the home front, gwennan redshaw shared two blankets sporting war rationing labels used during World War II.
Few labels alluded to what might happen beneath the blanket, but Regina Joskow’s Beacon Blanket came close.
Speaking of things that happen beneath blankets, Siri Larsen keeps this Baron Woolen Mills blanket in her car, not only for emergencies but to insulate ice cream on the way home from the store. (She wins the genius award.)
Sometimes the words are the fun part. Like this one, belonging to Karen of Enchanted Forest Fibers, whose label implores the owner to “wash with thoughtfulness.”
Several labels recalled long-gone institutions, such as Nancy Johnson’s relic from Gimbel Brothers department store, the Pittsburgh institution that closed in 1987.
Or Vicki Wallner’s childhood blanket from the 1970s, which came from the Canadian department store Eaton’s, which filed for bankruptcy in 1999. (Hers was pink, this one belonged to her brother.)
By far the largest and most frequently shared label was that of the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket. First introduced as a form of currency in the North American fur trade (a colonialist history deserving of its own article), the blankets used a “point” system of short black lines along the selvage to indicate the size of the blanket.
Some were family heirlooms, like Nancy Lazerson’s pristine blanket, which graced her sister’s crib, her crib, and her son’s crib.
Others were lucky finds, like Corie’s $2 yardsale score. She felt guilty, she said. But not too guilty.
Also popular were the MacAusland’s blankets, which are still made in Prince Edward Island. Christine Ross’s MacAusland’s blankie is so beloved, they all call it “the miracle blanket” in her house.
While wool blankets may not be able to heal the world, they can, according the Dutch label on Lydia’s blanket, help with your rheumatism.
Not to be outdone, Marja Groenewout’s blanket—also Dutch—doesn’t stop at rheumatism. It also claims to fight gout.
But my favorite—by far—had to be the stripping sheep. Finally, indisputable proof that sheep like to be shorn!
This Dutch blanket, which graced Josh Moll’s godmother’s home for at least 50 years, features a stripping sheep who exclaims, “My new wool is happy for this!”
Keep warm and join the fun! Share your blanket labels in the MDK Lounge.