Unraveling: What I Learned About Life While Shearing Sheep, Dyeing Wool, and Making the World’s Ugliest Sweater

By Peggy Orenstein

HarperCollins Publishers (2023)

Remember each school year’s first writing assignment, “What did you do for your summer vacation?” The up-to-date version is “What did you do during the COVID quarantine?” Did you grow a sourdough starter and make bread? Learn to play the ukulele? Bring home a dog or cat? Maybe you entertained the world on social media?

Peggy Orenstein wondered about the clothing industry. Where do the materials we wear come from? Who constructs the clothing? Why is color a cultural concept? What are the social and environmental costs of our wardrobe? In Unraveling Orenstein investigates these questions and literally explores it with her own hands.

An experienced knitter, Orenstein dove into the process of knitting a garment from sheep to sweater. She entertains with her escapades learning to shear sheep. “BELLY, CRUTCH, TOP KNOT, NECK, CHEEK, FIRST SHOULDER, SHORT BLOWS, LONG BLOWS, LAST SIDE.” Her California location allowed her to then learn from experts how to spin and dye the wool using natural dyes. She knit what she dubbed, “the ugliest sweater in the world.”

Even if you do not plan to construct a garment from the ground up, read this book for the enlightening historical, economic, social and environmental facts. Orenstein writes with wry humor; her husband quashes her fantasy that spinning will be her ticket to survival after the apocalypse. She writes, “We have been married nearly thirty years, so I decide to ignore him.”

Unraveling helped me consider the ethical and environmental impact of my wardrobe choices. But the take-away from reading this book is to try something new. Orenstein writes, “I will miss the lightness of a beginner, the freedom from expectation on my sense that any result is ‘good.’” What will you try next? Unicycle riding? Juggling? Cartooning?

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