Maybe you’re allergic to wool, or maybe you believe the sheep shearing that gives us wool is cruel. Whatever the reason, you are in luck! While wool may be the best natural fabric for warmth and water resistance, there are plenty of other fabrics that provide some of the same benefits.
Good Alternatives To Wool Fabric
1. Cotton Flannel
Wool is breathable. So is cotton. If it’s warmth that you want, cotton flannel can be your solution. Generally speaking, flannel is woven, then napped. The napping process includes brushing the cotton fibers to make them softer. After the fabric is dyed, it usually gets a second napping. This napping is what gives flannel its cozy feel and soft touch. Because the brushing also creates a thin layer of fluff on top of the weave, it also insulates the fabric, which gives it added warmth.
Cotton flannel is typically considered a cold-weather fabric. That is why those cute family flannel pajamas are such a hit for the holidays. Flannel pajamas will keep you warm on cold nights, especially if you add flannel sheets to the mix.
Once seen as the fabric of outdoor working men and women, flannel has seen a fashion comeback and is widely seen in day-to-day wear. You may see women top a pair of comfy leggings with t-shirt and a plaid flannel shirt worn as a jacket. Flannel, especially the large wide checks known as the “buffalo check” pattern, is even seen in women’s kimonos these days. Men and women wear flannel jackets and coats. If you are worried that flannel is not a trendy fabric, you can rest assured that you will be en vogue if you wear flannel.
If breathability is what you are looking for, bamboo is a great alternative to wool. I like to compare wool and bamboo socks because we have tons of both in our home. Not only are the bamboo socks softer, they also wick moisture and allow your feet to breathe just like wool. Another benefit to bamboo is that it is odor resistant. A local store was selling bamboo socks. The clerk gave me a pair for my husband to try and asked him to wear them for a week without washing them and report back to her his with thoughts. We both thought the request was more than a little weird, but he obliged for the test. After a week of wearing boots to work, the bamboo socks did not smell at all.
Bamboo is a sustainable fiber, too. Wool grows back and in that way, it is sustainable. But bamboo is cruelty free. Some animal rights activists argue that the corralling of sheep and the process of shearing them causes undue stress to the animals. If the sheep get a wound in the trimming process, that would cause physical pain to them. None of that happens with bamboo. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant. Some varieties reach maturity within three months, meaning growers can harvest four times a year. Sheep shearing only happens twice a year – spring and early fall. Shearing in the early fall (some say late summer), gives the sheep enough time to grow another coat of wool to keep them warm before winter hits.
While bamboo offers some antibacterial properties, wool (especially Merino wool) offers more. Merino wool is also naturally flame resistant, but bamboo isn’t. Still, you just cannot beat the comfort and drapability of bamboo, especially for wear in mild climates.
3. Sherpa Fleece
If you want a fuzzy wool look, sherpa fleece is your best bet. It is completely synthetic. One side of the fabric has a brushed, smooth appearance and the other is wooly. It looks freshly sheared, but it is all synthetic. I love a good fleece blanket. At first, that wooly side is my favorite. The bumpy wool-ish fibers give it a texture that provides a good insulating layer. In addition to my favorite sherpa blankets, sherpa is also used to line some jackets. I’ve recently seen it used to line denim jackets. As the temperatures drop, I tend to find myself gravitating to sherpa sweatshirts and cardigans.
The downside that I have seen to sherpa is that over time and after frequent laundering, the wooly texture begins to flatten. That’s when a blanket loses its status as “my favorite.”. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still warm, but the fluffy look is replaced by some flat matting. If you’re like me and the matting bothers you, too, just flip the blanket over to have the smooth side against you.
4. Polar Fleece
If you want the warmth in a synthetic fabric without the wooly look, polar fleece may serve your need. It is warm like wool, repels water to a degree, and is fast-drying.
One of the great things about polar fleece is that it comes in a variety of thicknesses. You can get a heavy weight polar fleece to make a winter jacket or warm blanket, or use a thinner layer to make a lightweight shawl perfect for early fall.
Color variety is another great thing about polar fleece. It also comes in a variety of patterns. Check your local fabric store to see all the offerings for yourself!
Polar fleece also does not need to be hemmed. If you decide to make a blanket from it, you can simply cut the fabric to size and – viola! If you want to give it a finished look or add a decorative border, just add an easy blanket stitch around all sides. This fleece is also great for tied blankets. While you may want to tie together two different colors or patterns of fleece, they should both be the same weight or thickness.
5. Plush Fleece
If you want a synthetic fabric that offers a soft, thick pile, you are looking for plush fleece. It is warm because it is usually very heavy with its plush pile. This is fleece you can run your fingers through. It isn’t great for making apparel simply because it is so think, but it does make great blankets.