Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wool vs Fleece

A question I frequently see on message boards and/or am asked is "What is the difference between wool and fleece longies?" Well, there are several key differences (it's sort of like asking "what's the difference between pocket diapers and all-in-ones). As with anything cloth diapering related (or perhaps anything in life!), which one you choose is going to be a personal decision where you have to weigh your own values and what is most important to you in your cloth diapering journey! For some, it will be cost, for others, it will be durability, for others it will be ease of use, and yet others may feel strongly about natural vs synthetic fibers. At the end of the day, I just want to shed some light so you understand the differences and can figure out what is best for your family! Here goes...
What They Do
Both wool and fleece are typically used as moisture barriers, and often they are used as extra moisture barriers for heavy wetters. They can be just used on their own-neither requires a diaper with PUL underneath. Both require a diaper of some type (fitted, prefold, leaky pocket, etc.) but said diaper does not need to be waterproof on its own. Both of them can either be used as a cover and clothing in one (longies/shorties) or as a typical cover with clothing over the top.
How They Look
Both can be heartstoppingly cute, especially on a baby's cute little tushy! Both are available in all kinds of colors. Fleece is more likely to be available in a pattern and looks like fabric (you know what fleece looks like-you probably have a pair of fleece pants yourself!). Wool can look like fabric or not, depending on what type you get.
How They Work
Have you ever noticed that if you spill a liquid on fleece, it doesn't soak in, but rather beads up? Eventually, if it sits there long enough, it will soak in, but it doesn't right away and you can sort of brush it off. Well, fleece is a manmade/synthetic fiber and a bit of liquid-repelling is in its nature. Fleece covers take advantage of this property and hold the moisture on the inside (side of the baby's skin) when treated appropriately (more on this later).
Wool is a natural fiber (from sheep, usually, although you can also use alpaca and other fibers-but it's usually sheep's wool as this is the least expensive) which tends to absorb moisture (and can absorb a LOT of moisture before feeling wet!). So wool holds the urine away from the side of the baby's skin instead of against it.
The end result from either is dry sheets! They just use 2 different routes to get there.
Use and Care
Fleece needs to be washed after every use/diaper change.
Wool is washed about once every 4-8 weeks (depends on how you are using it) unless it gets poop on it.
Fleece can be washed with your regular laundry in the machine.
Wool needs to be either hand washed or washed VERY carefully by itself (instructions here)
You need to treat fleece with fabric softener every time you wash it. This helps enhance the fluid repulsion and makes for a better diaper cover.
Wool needs to be treated with lanolin (a natural oil which sheep produce-this oil helps the wool absorb more and also is what makes wool covers self cleaning as long as they are just wet) each time you wash it.
Cost
Wool is going to be a lot more expensive than fleece. Fleece is manmade from plastic, essentially, and so it is cheap and readily available-you can even find lots of cute prints in the remnants section of any store, most likely, that will work for your little one (because you don't need much fabric)! Wool, on the other hand, has to grow on an animal, get removed from that animal, and then get processed (I will probably do a post on this later as it's kind of cool) and dyed, etc. before being made into your garment. However, since you have to wash fleece each time it is used and wool only every few weeks, you could get away with 2-3 wool covers vs dozens of fleece covers (if you were using ONLY wool or fleece covers) and you would also generate a lot less laundry. Thus, it somewhat depends on how you are going to use them!
DIY-Friendliness
If you have a sewing machine and a basic pattern along with a basic sewing skill set, you can make fleece longies and shorties. Soakers are a little trickier, but still doable with some practice. Total time to complete a pair is probably in the 1-2 hour range.
If you are an experienced knitter, you can probably make your own longies, shorties, and covers! There are free patterns available for personal use on the internet. However, if your knitting experience is limited to dishrags and scarves, I don't necessarily recommend trying to make an article of clothing next. It may be frustrating! I am a very experienced knitter (of clothing as well as other items) and it takes me about 10 hours to make a soaker, 12 to make shorties, and 15 or more to make longies. Obviously, that will vary depending on the size of the article in question!
Baby Comfort
Some children are allergic to the synthetic fibers in fleece (or fabric softener!) so make sure you know if your child is okay with having fleece next to their skin before investing much in a bunch of fleece articles! If your child has skin issues with microfiber or other synthetic fibers in their diapers, fleece may not be your best route.
A very few people are allergic to lanolin. If your child tends to break out if you apply lotions, I'd stay away from wool. Some families note that they tend to get itchy with wool. If this is the case for your family, make sure your wool articles are made from a super soft wool such as merino, cashmere, or angora (though angora would be extremely expensive!).
In the summer, fleece may be too hot for your little ones. Fleece works by trapping heat against the body-this is why it is SO warm and lovely/cozy in the winter. This is just a characteristic of this type of fabric and cannot be changed.
Wool, on the other hand, is a natural fiber (basically sheep's hair) and breathes. This means that instead of trapping heat against the body, wool does not transfer heat. It keeps the skin at whatever temperature it was at prior to the garment being put on. This makes it VERY warm and cozy in the winter, but light and cool in the summer. Generally, hand knitted items will breathe a little better than interlock or upcycled.
Any Questions?
As always, feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions or something isn't clear!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wool Basics-Drying Wool and Sizing Issues

I know, for some of you who are experienced wool users, this post will probably seem a bit elementary. That's okay-you can skip it. ;-) For those who are new to wool, there are a few things that you should know which will make your life easier and hopefully prevent any harm from coming to your gorgeous new woolies! As always, if any of this is unclear. let me know and I will clarify!
Heat will make wool shrink/felt. The higher the heat, the worse the shrinkage. Therefore, do NOT put your wool in the dryer (unless your goal is to felt it), and it is also not a good idea to lay your wool garment over a heat register to dry. While this won't cause as drastic of changes, it will do damage over time. If you are in a hurry for your wool to dry, you can put a fan on it, and the moving air should help.
Water/liquid makes wool heavy! I know you have all seen photos of woolies hanging adorably on clotheslines, but this is really not a great idea either. The reason is that the weight of the water will pull down against the clothespins and cause your garments to stretch. Wool does have good "memory" (meaning it will tend to return to its original shape and size unless you interfere with it), but over time this will stress the fibers and cause wear and tear (and holes!) to happen more quickly. The best way to dry wool is to lay it flat, preferably on an aerated surface, with as much support as possible. Ways you can do this are: use the top "row" of a drying rack (this is generally what I do), string cheesecloth or another aerated but supportive fabric (with lots of holes) out and lay it on top of that, or just lay it flat and go flip it every once in a while.
Making your wool dry faster: The more surfaces exposed, the faster it dries (so it will be slower if you have it flat on a countertop, etc. versus something that is aerated). You can use the sun, but watch for signs of fading (depending on the person who dyed the wool-some dye jobs hold up to the sun very well, others do not, so this is going to be an experimental thing). You can blow a regular fan on them; no hair dryer (unless you use the no heat setting) or heat register though! Really, the best way to make your wool dry as quickly as possible is to squeeze as much water out as possible (using the towel squeeze or towel roll method-more than once if necessary!) prior to laying it out to dry.
What if I accidentally shrunk my wool?
All is not lost, as long as the shrinkage and felting are minimal. Get your garment completely wet (soaked), then gently stretch it out to its previous size and either pin it there or use something heavy to hold it there. Hopefully, when it is dry, it will retain this size and shape.
Can I stretch my wool?
All wool has some inherent stretch to it! Hopefully your garment will stretch as much as you need it to just with normal wear. If you want to try to increase the size of the overall garment, you can try-just be aware, there will be some limitations and you may end up damaging your wool. It's up to you whether that is a chance you want to take! You can either use the method above to stretch it, or you can stretch your garment out and then block it (blocking is when you use a steam iron which is hovering just BARELY above the surface of the garment-this will help the fibers relax).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Help! I Have Too Many Options! (AKA Which Wool Do I Want?)




I like to compare the time when you first start looking into wool to the time you first start thinking about cloth diapering-there are SO many types, and brands, and then people start talking in a foreign language, asking you about things like “felting” and “interlock”-and all you know is that you want the best value for your money, and you want something (preferably something cute/beautiful) to keep your precious little one dry! So the purpose of this post is to compare and contrast (in a very basic way-later posts can go into more detail of each type of wool soaker if there is interest-let me know!) the various types of wool so that you can make the right choice for your family. I am going to summarize each type of wool, and then include (probably at the bottom) a "quick and easy" reference chart. Please note that what I say in this blog post is based on my own experience, research, and discussions with my husband (grew up spinning and processing wool) and his mother (a fiber artist with her own studio who works primarily with wool for spinning, felting, knitting, dying, etc.)-I definitely welcome input and stories/experiences from others! And if there is anyone who makes a type of wool that they would like me to try out, review, etc. I welcome the opportunity to do that. Also, if anything is unclear, please feel free to contact me or just comment on the blog post!

Types of Wool

Interlock

Interlock wool is wool that has been machine knitted and has at least 2 layers (you can get it with more)-or in some cases, it has been woven on a loom (machine or hand). There are 2 types of interlock wool-one has a very small amount of spandex (or something similar) integrated into it and the other is 100% wool. The advantage of some spandex is that over time, it is less likely that the wool will lose its shape and it gives the wool a little more stretch/rebound versus the 100% wool. The disadvantage is that you have introduced another fiber type-so it might absorb a little less. Because interlock is almost always machine made, the stitches are VERY tiny and it is very absorptive. Items made from this type of wool usually look like "regular clothes" that you might buy at a store. A nice thing about interlock is that usually items made with interlock can have multiple thin layers (sometimes throughout the whole thing, sometimes just sewn into the "diaper zone"), so some people feel they are more absorptive. The downside-interlock is VERY expensive (even if you buy it yourself and then sew your items yourself)-sometimes up to $30/yard!!! It does last pretty well, and holds its resale value well. Like any machine made item, it is a little less delicate, but it will still felt if not cared for according to instructions!
Closeup of wool interlock fabric. Photo Credit: http://img0.etsystatic.com/000/0/5125962/il_fullxfull.345615636.jpg

Longies made of wool interlock. Photo Credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_hn_qJ9VwnRA/TTcqbBiim3I/AAAAAAAAA78/RPpTag5HTK8/s1600/SB+Knit+longies.jpg

 Hand Knitted or Crocheted Items

This is exactly what it sounds like-items that are crocheted or knitted. These hold their value fairly well, though not as well as interlock. These will be less expensive than interlock due to lower materials cost, but more than upcycled because they take a long time to make (a pair of longies that fits the 6-12 month range takes about 12-14 hours to make on average). The absorption of these depends on several factors:
  1. Type of yarn or fiber used
    1. If the yarn or fiber is not 100% wool, it won't absorb well, period. Superwash wool might be a little easier to care for (it is treated with a chemical that causes it to not felt as easily in the wash, though it still will if you dry it!!) but that same chemical also causes it to not absorb as well. It still absorbs-just not as well as non-superwash wool.
    2. The weight or thickness of the yarn matters. Lighter weights (thinner yarn) means less total wool and if knit on needles too big, there can be a lot of holes which will again lead to lower absorbency. I've already explained that I like to use roving, because it is lightweight (as far as heaviness goes) but very absorptive, super soft, and sticks together well (giving you many of the benefits of felting without the disadvantages-see previous post if confused!); I can also "customize" how thick the garment is based on what you are going to use it for (and can use "thicker" bits of roving in the areas likely to get hit most often). Generally, the thicker/bulkier the yarn, the more absorption you will get.
  2. Size of needle used/size of stitches
    1. If the knitter or crocheter uses a large needle for the size of yarn they are working with, you will end up with large, loose stitches (and a project that is finished MUCH sooner!!)-however, this also means more "holes" between stitches, and again, less overall wool and therefore less absorption. You really want to not be able to see obvious holes between stitches when the garment is at rest. If you stretch ANY knitted fabric enough, you will be able to see some openings/gaps, but you don't want there to be any obvious opening or gapping when it is just sitting there. This is most important in the wet zone, obviously! It's not a big deal if the stitching is looser or the wool thinner in the legs of longies, and some people put lace ruffles or other fancy stitching around the bottom of the legs of longies-hopefully those don't have to be absorbing, so this is fine!
  3. I have been told that crocheted garments don't absorb quite as well as knitted garments. I have not personally tried crocheted ones, so I don't know this for a fact, but that is what some credible sources have told me. I think it has to do with the different type of stitching.
  4. Skill of the knitter/crocheter
    1. Obviously, unless you know the knitter/crocheter you are going to have to trust his/her word on how skilled and experienced he/she might be. You ideally want someone with a lot of experience in knitting and who has made clothing, not just flat items like blankets or washcloths. 
    2. If you don't know the knitter/crocheter, you can look at the stitches to get an idea. If they are fairly even (in a row they look fairly uniform-they won't be perfect, but close to it), it's someone who knows what they are doing. If they are all over the place, probably not so much.
 Hopefully you can see that the stitches here are fairly uniform. Photo Credit: Jennifer Stone (mine).
Versus the stitches here which are multiple sizes and tightnesses. Photo Credit: http://allkindsofknitting.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/dsc02438_2.jpg
Example of hand knit longies (knit by me, using roving)

 

Upcycled

This is by far your cheapest option when buying wool. Upcycled garments are the type that are made by a mama (or you!) purchasing wool sweaters (usually at least 75% wool-again here, 100% wool is better), felting them, and then sewing them into garments. Because you can usually find sweaters at thrift stores for not a ton of money, these will be WAY cheaper than either of the previous options (due to lower materials cost and not as much time to complete). They are always felted because otherwise the wool in the sweaters isn't likely to be thick enough to absorb. According to a local mama who makes ADORABLE upcycled garments, these hold up very well overnight and are easy to clean. The downside is that sometimes getting the fit right around legs and waists can be a bit difficult, and since these are usually heavily felted, there isn't a lot of stretch. They also look a little different (particularly the longies) which is neither good nor bad-just a matter of personal taste! These may not re-sell as well, simply because new ones are just not that expensive. 
Upcycled wool longies. Photo Credit: http://www.etsy.com/listing/119326399/wool-longies-cloth-diaper-cover-soaker


Upcycled wool shorties. Photo credit: http://www.etsy.com/listing/119326090/wool-whale-shorties-diaper-soaker

Hopefully all that makes sense!! I will have more posts in the future on buying used, what to look for, etc. Let me know if there are specific topics you would like to see covered!


Type of Wool
Cost
Ease of Care
Resale Value
Absorbency
Stretch
Appearance
Interlock
Most expensive-ranges from $35-70+ new
Pretty easy-wash every few weeks, lanolize after every wash
Pretty good if well cared for
Excellent-can be customized depending on extra layers and where
Depends on fabric-more if spandex is included.
Looks most like “regular pants” that you might buy at a store
Knit or crochet-
yarn
Mid-range-ranges from $25-45 new (sometimes slightly more)
Pretty easy-wash every few weeks, lanolize after every wash. Must take a little more care to prevent felting.
Fairly good if well cared for.
Very good depending on type of yarn used, skill of knitter, and size of stitches.
Excellent unless it felts.
Shape is similar to regular pants, but the stitching will make them look a little different-still very cute!!
Knit or crochet-roving
Mid-range-ranges from $18-35 new (sometimes slightly more)
Pretty easy-wash every few weeks, lanolize after every wash. Must take a little more care to prevent felting.
Fairly good if well cared for.
Excellent-can be customized by adjusting the thicknesses of roving used.
Excellent unless it felts.
Shape is similar to regular pants, but the stitching will make them look a little different-still very cute!!
Upcycled
Lowest-ranges from $15-35 or a little more depending on the sweater type (cashmere costs more etc)
Very easy! Already felted, so while you won’t want to dry them (this can felt them even further) you don’t need to worry about felting as much during washing.
Unknown
Excellent due to felting
Depends on the original sweater. Generally less stretch than other options, but best to ask the maker for details regarding stretch on your cover!
Shape is a little different for longies and shorties-very cute though!!
 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To Felt or Not to Felt?

Diaper covers, that is! Felting in and of itself is lots of fun and super helpful in many applications. This post is sort of the "pre-post" to the major post I am working on this week, which will compare the various types of wool covers available!
If you do a Google search about felting, you will come up with lots of results, not too many of them helpful. You will find things that tell you to ABSOLUTELY NOT ALLOW YOUR WOOL COVERS TO FELT OR THEY ARE RUINED!!!! and others that tell you that IF YOUR WOOL COVER ISN'T FELTED, IT WON'T WORK AS WELL SO WHY ARE YOU WASTING YOUR MONEY??? And of course, you'll come up with lots of webpages showing tutorials on how to felt, etc. both for diaper covers and other crafty type projects (wool dryer balls, anyone?). My husband's mother has a wool business (she dyes, spins, and knits and all kinds of other fun stuff) and has since he was a young child, so he and his siblings have lots of experience/insight with felting! :-)
So here's the deal with felting. As with just about anything else, felting has both pros and cons. Some types of diaper covers actually need to be felted in order to work, and others will do fine without that step and work better without it (the next post will have more details about that).
Felting is a process by which you force wool to shrink and tighten up-a lot.So much, in fact, that the individual fibers will not ravel even if you cut the material. Basically, felting causes all the little fibers in the wool (or yarn, or....) to stick VERY tightly together. There are various degrees of felting (something can be VERY felted, or not much). The main things that cause wool to felt are heat and friction (rubbing of the wool against itself). This is why you can't just toss your knitted wool covers into the wash and then dryer.
Pros: A felted diaper cover will have fewer (or no) little "holes" between yarn stitches because all of those fibers are tightly connected and "stuck" together. It is also easier to wash because you don't have to worry about not felting it (it's already felted!).
Cons: While knitted or crocheted pieces will have a lot of stretch, felted pieces will not. In fact, felted wool does not have any stretch at all. This means felted pieces will not be as versatile in terms of being able to fit your child for multiple sizes (potentially). It also means that you may have to work a little harder with the wool in order to get it to fit well for your child. Felting is not reversible, so if you accidentally felt a cover that you did not intend to felt, it's felted for life.
Remember when I said in my post that I like to make diaper covers using roving instead of yarn? Part of the reason is that, when divided off properly, roving fibers tend to stick to each other, giving you many of the advantages of a felted cover, but because it is still knitted, it is a loose "stick" and therefore you still have stretch. The other nice thing about roving is that, like felted covers, you can adjust the thickness as desired instead of being stuck with just a certain weight of yarn. You can sew felted pieces together to "double up" the thickness if desired/needed-with roving, you just divide off a thicker strand.
Stay tuned for a post comparing various types of wool covers (the ones I plan to showcase are interlock, knitted/crocheted with yarn, knitted/crocheted with roving, and upcycled felted ones). Let me know if you have questions or want to see something specific covered!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wool Basics-Washing Wool!

This is the next post in a series that I hope will convince you that taking care of wool isn't even close to as difficult as it sounds! :-) For the purposes of this instructional, I'm going to assume that you are not trying to felt your wool (I will have another post eventually on types of wool covers, felting, etc.). Again, if anything is unclear, let me know and I will modify!

When Do I Wash?

Remember, your wool only needs to be washed about every 2-6 weeks (exactly how often is going to depend on how you are using your wool-constantly? Only at night? Rotating through several covers? Just 1 or 2?), not after each time it is wet! As long as your wool has enough lanolin left, the lanolin will neutralize/clean the urine, so just let it dry if it feels damp, and when it is dry, it's clean! When your wool begins to retain a little bit of a "dank" or "musty" or "nitrogen/urine" odor, that means it is time to wash or relanolize. The other time you need to wash is if you have a poop blowout! If you just have a little poop, you can spot clean (addressed later). The big no-nos with wool are: do not wring it out or "agitate" it too much, do not let it get too hot (will cause shrinkage), do NOT dry it in the dryer, do not use bleach, don't stretch it when it's wet, and don't "shock" the wool fibers by changing the water temperature suddenly (ie don't rinse it in COLD water).

Wash Options

Now, I am lazy, so I prefer to wash and lanolize all in one step. This is totally up to you! You will add any of thse to your water for washing. You will want to add a little extra to the "wet zone" (crotch) and any spots that may be particularly dirty. For liquid washes, you do this by just pouring a little liquid on these areas. For a bar, just gently rub the wet bar over those areas. Your options for wash products include:
  • Commercial liquid wool washes (NOT Woolite, I am talking about wool washes designed for wool diaper covers) which you can find at any cloth diaper retailer or website. These usually have lanolin in them-look for one with a pretty high percentage of lanolin. Note that washes with fragrance oil CAN (not necessarily WILL, but CAN cause your beautiful colors to bleed, so if it is scented, try to find one that is scented with an essential oil as opposed to a fragrance oil/perfume).
  • Wool wash bar-these are also available from any cloth diaper retailer or website. You can get them in all sorts of fragrances, and they last a VERY long time. Again, look for one with a high percentage of lanolin.
  • Ivory soap bar-you will use this the same way as a wool wash bar, but you will need to lanolize as a second step after washing. Make sure you get the original Ivory soap, and not one that is scented or has additives.
  • Homemade liquid wool wash-this is the recipe for 1 item. If you are washing multiple covers at once, just multiply the recipe by the number of items. Take 1 cup of VERY hot water (not quite boiling, but VERY hot), add a pea sized amount of lanolin (any solid lanolin is fine; I use Medela or Lasinoh breasfteeding lanolin), 4-5 drops of baby soap or baby shampoo, and if you want to add a drop or two of an essential oil for scent, that's fine (it's also okay to use a scented baby soap or shampoo). Shake VERY vigorously until this mixture is blended. It should be a milky color and you should not see a bunch of droplets in it-if you do, shake some more and/or add a little more hot water. Note that if you do this, you can vary the amount of lanolin and soap if you wish (ie if you are having leakage problems, you can add more lanolin so your cover will be more heavily "lanolized"-or you can just dissolve lanolin and use it during the "rinse" part of handwashing).

Machine Washing

I do not necessarily recommend machine washing because your beautiful wool will last longer if you handwash it (and I don't think the machine really saves that many steps) but it can be done if you stay on top of what is happening with the machine! This only works for top loading machines.
  1. Fill the machine with warm water (not hot!) and turn it off when it gets to the stage of the cycle where it would start to agitate.
  2. Add your wool wash and swish with your hand to stir it in. If you are using a bar, rub with your hands under the running water as the machine fills.
  3. Turn your wool items inside out and place them in the machine. Swish each item back and forth a little bit, and then allow them to soak for 15 minutes.
  4. Set the machine to "spin" and allow it to complete the spin cycle only.
  5. Remove the covers and lay flat to dry.

Hand Washing

I promise, this is not as hard as it sounds!!! No scrubbing boards or back breaking labor involved! :-)
  1. Turn your items inside out.
  2. Rinse in cool (NOT COLD-just slightly cooler than room temperature) water to remove urine salts and any solid waste.
  3. Fill a sink or bucket (preferably one that is large enough to do all your items at once! I often use the kitchen sink) with room temperature water (or slightly above room temperature). If you are using a wool wash bar, place it under the tap as the sink/bucket fills and rub it between your hands.
  4. If you are using a liquid wash, place the recommended amount in the water (follow the instructions on a commercial wash; for a homemade wash, add the whole thing minus whatever you poured onto your wet zone and dirty spots). Use your hand to swish it around a bit and evenly distribute it in the water.
  5. Place the cover(s) in (you will have to hold it under water until it has enough water in it to stay submerged) and let it soak for 15-20 minutes. You can massage the items gently, but don't squeeze or wring them.
  6. Drain the water, place your wool on a towel, fold the towel over the top of the wool, and squeeze or roll the wool to get some of the excess water out.
  7. Refill the sink/bucket with room temperature water and place the wool back in it to rinse for 10 minutes.
  8. Drain the water again, and repeat the towel squeezing. Lay flat to dry.

That wasn't so bad, right? This does take time, but not as much as one might think-and again, it only needs to be done every few weeks!

What to do About Poop

I know, your child probably never gets poop on his/her cover! But mine does. So here is what to do if that happens for the first time! ;-)
Clean the cover as soon as possible to prevent stains.
If it was just a little bit of poop, rinse the cover, and spot clean the area using a little of your wool wash product, some running water, and gentle massaging with your hands, a wash cloth, or a cloth wipe (don't rub the wool against itself as this can cause the fibers to stick to each other and felt).Rinse the area off again, then dry. No need to relanolize.
If it was a major blowout, rinse, rinse, rinse until you get most of the poop off, then wash and relanolize as you normally would.