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Book Review:

  • According to Peggy Hart, the author of “Wool,” most Americans now purchase the equivalent of two pairs of socks per year in wool — a far cry from the days, not so long ago, in which everything, from undergarments to coats (not to mention bathing suits!), was fashioned from this material. Submitted image

  • WEISBLAT


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

“Wool” by Peggy Hart (Schiffer Publishing), 192 pages, $19.99

Like many Americans, I have very little wool in my wardrobe. In my youth, in contrast, I wore a number of garments made from that fabric, mostly in sweater form. I had never contemplated my shift away from wool until I read the new book “Wool” by Peggy Hart of Buckland.

Hart is a textile designer, teacher, and weaver. She works with wool every day. Her book, subtitled “Unraveling an American Story of Artisans and Innovation,” traces the history of wool production and use in this country from the 17th century to the present.

It tells the story of a natural “miracle” fabric that was worn by just about everyone and became a major American industry. Wool declined quickly as a commodity in the late 20th century but has reemerged in art and craft work.

According to the book, most Americans now purchase the equivalent of two pairs of socks per year in wool — a far cry from the days, not so long ago, in which everything, from undergarments to coats (not to mention bathing suits!), was fashioned from this material.

Hart describes a number of reasons for wool’s fall from dominance in clothing, among them improved home heating systems, the emergence of less expensive fabrics, and the rise of the home washing machine, which is friendly to cotton and synthetics but much less so to wool.

I asked Hart about the genesis of the project.

“I didn’t initially start out with the intention of writing a book five or more years ago,” she replied. “I was exploring the history of the company that manufactured the looms I have worked on for the last 35 years.

“I put together a number of talks for weavers’ guilds and textile conferences, and eventually had what I realized were chapters. The next part was figuring out how they went together, what the common topic was. I probably never would have set out to cover four centuries.

“Even now it seems preposterous, but I wanted to follow the entire arc of hand production to industrialization and back to hand production.”

The paperback book is attractively put together and features both black-and-white and color illustrations. Many of these depict equipment used in the production of wool or reproduce vintage advertisements. “Wool” should appeal to those interested in American history in general as well as to fabric enthusiasts.

Peggy Hart will discuss “Wool” and sign copies of her book on Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Belding Library in Ashfield.

She will also appear on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Buckland Public library and on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m. at Sheep and Shawl in South Deerfield.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and the forthcoming “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.