Virgin Wool or Wanton Wool
A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Wolseley Wool for my Sock Knitting Class where, 8 women, and 1 man (our instructor) were working on the heel section of our sock project. The conversation shifted and turned in many directions during the course of the evening until the queer topic of virgin wool emerged.
Well if you don’t already know Virgin wool is: “Well, it’s very simple really. Virgin wool is wool which has not been used before by anyone other than the sheep.” To most of us this is not a relevant antecedent, however the handmade revolution is adopting and utilizing this designation afresh when woolen items are up-cycled into new garments or whatchamacallits. The other side of the coin is, that identifying wool as “virgin wool” is old school and therefore well established yarn manufacturers continue (or rather persist) on using the term to identify fiber sheared from say sheep (vs. cashmere or mohair from goats, quiviut from muskoxen, vicuna, alpaca and camel, or angora from rabbits) and twisted into yarn for weaving or knitting.
In many instances I’ve noticed that the idiom “virgin” is dropped entirely, at least this is my experience when foraging through yarn at the wool store and studying yarn tag facts.
A daydream unfurled in my mind, I glimpsed numerous shades of chaste sheep bouncing over a white picket fence. So many that I was unable to keep count. Then the haze unclouded and I saw a spattering of fleecy virgin sheep grazing serenely in a pasture among an equal quantity of non virgin sheep. Suddenly all the typical nouns earmarking non virgins flew around in my head: floozies, floosies, trollop, slut, strumpet, tart and tramp – to name a few. It presented a humorous apparition and I immediately saw a farcical skit unfolding.
Picture a pastoral scene of a sheep farm, it’s sheep shearing season and the farmer/sheepherder (whatever they’re called) – he or she is attempting to ascertain which of her sheep are the virgins because virgin wool is the big seller at the market. Suddenly the overall notion of virgin wool went from a mute to a loquacious status in my mind.
Perhaps we have to move into the 21st century with our glosses on tags. In the meantime all we can do is snigger at the antediluvian practices of yarn spinners/manufactures. I hope they’re laughing too as they hunker down on sheep shearing operations this spring. I will say this that if someday I find a tag that says “Licentious Wool” I’m going to give it a try. Discrimination be dammed.