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Dropping Knowledge: Boiled Wool

Boiled wool dates back to the Middle Ages, and quite possibly even before that.

By the editors of MSN Living Jan 25, 2013 10:37PM

Jake Gallagher, GQ Magazine

A boiled wool jacket // Photo: courtesy of GQStep one: Fill a pot with three cups of water. Step two: Bring to a boil. Step three: Toss in wool coat. Step four: Ruin your coat. If boiled wool were easy, we all would have spent this past week in our kitchens converting our beloved jackets and coats into boiled wool masterpieces, but in reality all we'd get is a bunch of outerwear that looks straight out of Baby Gap. But who could blame us for trying? Thanks to a never ending stream of street style shots coming out of Pitti Uomo this season we've all had boiled wool on the brain.

This year at Pitti, it wasn't Nick Wooster or Josh Peskowitz who came out as the street-style king of the week, it was boiled wool. The felt-like texture was popping up everywhere and with good reason, as it's deceptively warm for its weight, is a solid material no matter what the weather, and doesn't have all the itchy properties that normally steer people away from the fiber in the first place. So the question remains, how is such a remarkable material produced?

The process is actually not too far off from the initial recipe up there. Raw wool is placed into boiling water to shrink and constrict the fibers of the textile, giving it the softer and tighter feel that makes for a warmer, more durable end product.

Nowadays, this technique is performed using massive washing machines in equally large factories, but historically the process of making boiled wool would've looked less like an oversized laundromat and more like a witch's brew.

Boiled wool dates back to the Middle Ages, and quite possibly even before that, as craftsmen would boil massive cauldrons of water and toss their wool to take the edge off the raw material. While the procedure has certainly changed over the centuries, the end result is still the same: a warmer, heartier, and more wearable wool with a touch of texture tossed in there for good measure. And that's a recipe we can all work with.

Jake Gallagher writes the blog Wax-Wane. He lives in Manhattan.

More from GQ Magazine:

 Bing: Men's boiled wool clothes

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