Wonderful Wool – and Other Old Things

Posted on November 28, 2014


Happy Black Friday, all, and may you stay safe in your forays into the shopping chaos. I’d like to make a suggestion for this year: buy old stuff.

I started pondering this with the arrival of the cold weather. It happens that I have my parents’ wool blankets that they bought way back in the 1950s, and I put a pretty thick one between our sheet and comforter, thinking it might actually get too hot.  Not so!  It’s warm, but we don’t sweat like we do under too much synthetic stuff, and then we don’t end up overheated, kicking off the covers and then getting cold again… like we do with more modern acrylic blankets or polyester fleeces. Those are wonderfully soft, inexpensive, and easy to wash, but they just are not as good as real wool. Our wool blanket keeps us comfortable all night.

That goes for fleece jackets, too.   No matter how technically advanced the manufacturers claim them to be, with hollow fibers or wind resistance or whatever, I much prefer my German boiled-wool jackets, or my mother’s alpaca sweater that she bought in 1968 (and it’s still going strong!).

Wool is even good in the tropics! When I was at my first duty station in hot, humid Panama, Army-issue boot socks were 90% wool (10% nylon to add durability). A lot of the soldiers I knew opted for non-regulation cotton socks, thinking they would be more comfortable, but I found that the wool socks wicked moisture away from the foot better and actually did not make my feet hot like I feared they would. At the end of a hot, sticky day in combat boots, I was still pretty comfortable with a wool sock. A cotton sock would be drenched with sweat. I still use my Army socks with hiking boots and most of them are still quite serviceable after some 25 years; I’d wear them all the time if they didn’t clash so much with my civvies.

Okay, wool isn’t for everyone. Some folks are allergic; to others, it’s just plain itchy. But this Black Friday, you might consider items made of other natural materials: metals, glass, wood, bamboo. I find that new items made of these things are often prohibitively expensive, but no matter; old items are every bit as good as new, and if they have some history to them, that’s just an added bonus.

In the kitchen, I have my mother’s old metal potato-masher with the wooden handle, her aluminum egg-slicer, some stainless knives with wooden handles, and steak knives with real antler handles. These have all stood up to a lot of use over the past 40-odd years, something I doubt that today’s flimsy plastic versions will do. I have an even older biscuit cutter which belonged to my great-great aunt; I would not doubt that this item (I think it’s tin) is nearly 100 years old, yet it cuts biscuits just as well for me as it did for her. I have china, glasses and mugs from the 1950s, wooden bowls, platters, and salad tongs from the 1960s, and iron skillets from the 1970s. These things are so much nicer than plastic, so solid, so durable, and probably healthier, too (when did we last worry about phthalates leaching out of glass, or toxic cooking fumes from cast iron?).

This goes for tools, too! My neighbor has several of her grandfather’s tools, made of simple wood and iron or steel: a pitchfork, a coal shovel, a mattock, a cultivator. Even as more modern versions have been purchased and worn out or broken over the years, she still uses her grandfather’s antiques regularly around her property, season after season. The modern stuff just can’t keep up.

So – don’t be shy about combing through thrift stores or so-called “antique shops,” or even the occasional estate sale. Old things are often better.  Youth just doesn’t know it!