Wonderful Wool – and Other Old Things

Posted on November 30, 2015


The holiday season is upon us!  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 last year. 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 60-year-old 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 20-year-old boiled-wool jackets from Germany, or my mother’s alpaca sweater that she bought in 1968 (and it’s still going strong!).

Okay, wool isn’t for everyone. Some folks are allergic; to others, it’s just plain itchy. But this holiday season, you might consider items made of other natural materials: metals, glass, wood, bamboo, clay or porcelain. 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 my mother-in-law’s 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, despite the fact that those tools are over 100 years old now.

So – don’t be shy about combing through thrift stores or so-called “antique shops,” or even the occasional estate sale. There are already several antique items squirreled away in my attic, awaiting this year’s gift exchange.  A little iron, a little pottery, a little wood…  Old things are often better.  Youth just doesn’t know it!