Cotton Ken dumped my clothing stuff sack onto the lawn and divided it into two lumps. "This is a hypothermic, frozen limb, epic undertaking." He pointed to my mangled pile of cotton clothing. "You have to repack. Cotton kills." I shuddered at an image of a motionless mound--me, in a vast white landscape, snow eerily blowing over my lifeless form. I emptied my tip jar and bought my first polypropylene underwear.
The word "fleece" originally meant the coat of a wool bearing animal. Today,"fleece" is also a line of synthetic polymer lightweight cloth, with soft deep pile. Plastic fibers. In the last 50 years, the application of plastics into our wardrobe has exploded. It turns out that polypropylene yarn has good insulation properties and lacks water absorption. Polypropylene yarn can transport humidity to another absorbent layer, where it can evaporate. This is quite attractive to athletes; I opened my closet door to polypro. I wondered how we ever survived without it.
I met Phil while working in Moab. One early morning I walked into the kitchen where I was staying, every flat space held a thrift store pan filled with steaming water. Phil was working at a table, hands gloved, mechanically pounding his fingers rapidly into a steaming vat. "Shower not working again?" I chided. Phil grinned then gave me my first lesson in felting wool. Two days later, Phil was sporting a newly crafted hat; it is one that I still covet.
I learned to drop spin in Montana. I took up weaving in Michigan. A friend, who raises alpaca, taught me to wash and card newly shorn fiber. I learned about process. It is a long path from fibers to a felted hat.
I began to recognize the politics of my closet; the cost, process and sustainability of fibers, natural and manmade. A few years ago I pledged to be proactive in my purchases. Before I buy anything, I do research. I look at alternatives to new, I wonder if I can live without it.