Advisor Randy Dewing, from Indiana, sent us a fine, illustrated narrative of an outing that featured an encounter with BURRS ... lots of them, and how Randy removed them all from his All-Around Jacket.
HUGE THANKS to Randy for an interesting and instructive story!
It was a dreary late October  day in central Indiana; the woods ablaze with Autumn color and the sky periodically spitting freezing rain. I was looking at a giant nest atop a bare tree trunk on the opposite bank of the reservoir and wondering whether it was an eagle's eyrie. I was also wondering if my buddy had had enough time to settle in on the far side of this feedlot. The deer weren't moving on their own this afternoon, and my still-hunting drives in the timber hadn't turned up anything bigger than a chipmunk. This long, narrow field, overgrown with chest-high grasses looked at lease a little bit promising. I wanted to see what was in there, at any rate.
I stepped carefully across the narrow band of tilled earth, freshly planted with sorghum that fringed the plot and waded in. Flying columns of mixed scrub and bramble were advancing from the flanks, but in the center the grasses had sprung up around the un-harvested remains of a previous year's corn. The lifeless cobs of the forgotten maize ears hung limply from the sharp-tipped brown stalks, appearing in ragged ranks here and there in the weirdly diffuse light; like the impaled skeletons of some forgotten conquest left as a warning upon a golden steppe. Explorers who brave this tragic landscape are rewarded with a little glade of crab apples in the interior. Certainly it was a place frequented by deer. A series of large flattened bedding sites radiated out in every direction from the central grove like the branches of a family tree mural. When I emerged into the more open spaces thousands of grasshoppers exploded under my feet like miniature pheasant flushes. A red-tailed hawk circled and banked overhead, crying out occasionally. Maybe he saw some deer. I didn't.
My friend didn't quite fall asleep watching the vacant shooting lane while I ambled around in the long grass remembering J. A. Hunter stories and imagining Cape buffalo charges. He was alert enough when I appeared to snort with suppressed laughter and asked me if I'd been collecting samples--and if I'd left any plants behind. I was, in fact, covered--front and back--from my shoulders to the tops of my boots with burrs, stickers, and seeds of various descriptions. My degree is in Bible, not botany, so I'm not sure exactly what I had gotten myself into, but I had definitely become entangled with some tenacious vegetation which wanted to hitch a ride.
Which brings us, at length, to the purpose of this story...
My beloved WeatherWool All-Around Jacket was covered with sticky, clinging seeds. I was able to pull off the strings of thorny creepers easily enough, but I still looked like a vegetable pin cushion. Beating myself like I was on fire didn't have any effect, and rolling on the ground, while tempting, didn't seem to offer much hope of relief. I decided to drive home in my long underwear to spare my car's upholstery. I draped my jacket over a wooden chair in the kitchen as my wife snickered at me. I ignored her and stole some chocolate chips from her baking while she was distracted. I promised to clean off my clothes outside. In twenty years of venturing outside in wool clothing, I don't think I've ever managed to get quite that much "stuff" entangled in my outerwear.
I grew up around sheep, and I have often observed how anything at all spiny becomes hopelessly entangled in a living fleece; matting and felting the surrounding wool into a smooth, flat pillow around the foreign seed pod. Handling our Pennsylvania ewes, I expected to encounter thorny branches embedded in the wool--and I bear a livid scar on my forearm from a piece of barbed wire hidden in a lamb's fleece. I'm pretty sure that ignoring the encrustations on my jacket would encourage the burrs to stick harder rather than work loose. Besides, I treat my AAJ as an All-Around Jacket. I wear it everywhere: to work, shopping, hunting, woods-bumming, and church on Sunday. I don't hesitate to get it dirty, but I work to keep it clean.
How do you keep a high quality wool garment clean? You brush it.
As a guy who likes to wear wool vests, tweed jackets, and felt hats as often as I have a good excuse, I do, of course, possess a clothes brush. (Doesn't everyone?) It turned out that I needed something a little bit stiffer to address this mess--an equestrian's brush, rather than a valet's--but the process is the same.
Knowing how to brush your wool is a self-reliant, manly skill. Regular brushing will keep your wool in top condition--and the actual brushing can be pensive and relaxing after a strenuous day in the field. If you've read this far, you may be happy to hear from someone less verbose... A great online resource for clothes brushing, for those of you without your own English butler, can be found here: https://www.thebutlerscloset.com/blogs/expert-advice-blog/how-to-use-a-clothes-brush-and-cut-dry-cleaning-bills
(This website sells clothes brushes, but I've not used any of their products. One assumes, though, that they know what they are talking about.)
Armed with this wisdom and a pair of stiff brushes, I was able to clean off my AAJ and restore it to a Sunday morning sheen in less than half an hour.
If you are really working hard to remove stubborn soil like this, it's important to pay attention to proper brushing technique:
-Use a stiff brush, with natural bristles. You don't want a brush that can strip rust off your pickup truck. Something that is stiff enough to clean your boots or some dirty dishes--something you might scrub grease off your fingernails with. A brush like this is also useful if you need to put someone to work cleaning the floor in hands and knees.
-Since you are using stiff bristles, use a light hand--especially until you get the hang of it. You don't want to snag the fabric or pull away the fibers that give your wool its fantastic properties.
-Never scrub at your garment. Brush in one direction only with a quick, smooth "flick" that brushes the tips of the bristles across the surface of the fabric.
-Don't jab the bristles into the cloth like a thousand spears trying to pierce the fibers.
-Don't change directions during the stroke. A scrubbing motion will jambs the tips of the bristles into the weave; separating the fibers more than attacking the soil.
-Always brush along the "grain" of the fabric: first upward (from the hem or cuff toward the collar) to lift the nap and loosen the grip of the unpleasant vegetation, then downward to groom the pile evenly.
-Cuffs and collars, of course, will usually present their "grain" at right angles to the torso and sleeves.
-If you walk through the burdock like me, you'll probably need to flick off the more stubborn burrs with your fingertips or thumbnails. You'll find this is easier after a few good passes from the brush.
-After you've addressed all the problem areas, gently brush the whole garment with long downward strokes.
-You want a nice, even finish on the fabric, and you want to encourage the garment to shed water downward.
-Finishing with a damp brush will help to carry away mud and freshen up the color of the fabric.
One word of warning: I have been advised by some well-meaning friends to use strips of duct tape to "peel" stuck vegetable matter off of fabric. I would NEVER attempt this on a good wool garment. If you stick tape to your jacket you will rip off wool fibers and leave behind sticky adhesive. At best you will leave unsightly patches of varied color and texture on the fabric. At worst, you will damage the wool's natural water-repellency. I'm guessing you'll create sticky spots that hold onto dirt. You've seen a carpet after someone duct-taped a cord down and peeled it off, right? I am afraid you will make yourself sad if you take a shortcut with tape. Besides, you'd rather learn an old-fashioned discipline than try a "life hack," right?
If you stuck with me through this rather lengthy field note, I hope you learned something useful about cleaning your WeatherWool. That's how I do it, anyway. I've never had anyone stop me on the street to say, "wow, you've really brushed that jacket nicely!" ...but I think the finished product looks pretty good.
If you have a better cleaning technique, please share it--because staying out of the weeds just isn't an attractive option for me! ...and I need to keep this jacket looking sharp; even if the guy wearing it is a little scruffy.
7 November 2017