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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

Celebrity: Tara Blaise

Tara BlaiseWhether it was yesterday or 30 years ago we probably all remember our mothers admonishing us on damp and chilly days to put a hat on before leaving the house.

It was good advice then and it’s good advice now. Just ask singer Tara Blaise who believes the woolly hat is the best invention of all time.

Blaise grew up in the rambling hills of Aughrim County Wicklow, and as the eldest of six children, heard that familiar caution “put your hat on” more times than she can count.

Human skulls, while hard, protective and durable, offer little in the way of insulation and people tend to lose much of their body heat through their heads. Woolly hats help keep the wind from wicking away that precious, cosy warmth.

Wool is fibre derived from the coats of animals such as sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas and even certain rabbits. As a raw material, wool has been available since the domestication of sheep, perhaps as long as 10,000 years ago – meaning the woolly hat might even predate the wheel.

Speculation aside, what anthropologists do know for certain that woven wool in clothing and fabrics characterises some of humanity’s earliest civilisations.

Not to be confused with fur or hair, wool has two differing qualities from either: scales and crimps. Scales run the length of each fibre and overlap like shingles on a roof. Crimps are bends in the fibre.

Both scales and crimps make wool easy to spin into felt. They allow individual fibres to attach to each other so that they stay together. Fur by contrast, while quite warm, has little if any scale and no crimp and is nearly impossible to make into yarn. That is why clothing made of fur is generally attached to the skin of the animal from which it came.

Because of crimps, wool fabrics have more bulk than other textiles. More bulk means better insulation, thanks to the tiny pockets of air in the spaces between fibres.

This insulation works both ways – against heat or cold. While Tara dons her woolly cap to stave off the cold chill of an Irish winter day, a nomadic Berber in Morocco wears wool robes to keep the punishing Saharan heat at bay.

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