Fibre, alpaca or otherwise, is woven into English idioms in intriguing ways. By Adrian Stewart

Even dyed-in-the-wool optimists, when fleeced by a wolf in sheep's clothing who has pulled the wool over their eyes, can feel as defenceless as a newly born lamb.

Wool is the fabric of our history and is threaded through our literature with legends of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, Odysseus escaping from the Cyclops' cave by hanging onto the woollen underbelly of a giant ram, and Penelope nightly unravelling her weaving to delay suitors until Odysseus’s return. Salome's veils may have been woollen, and so probably was the carpet that Cleopatra used to smuggle herself in to see Caesar.

How many of these everyday expressions do you use without realizing you are talking the language of fibre?

  • CLOSE-KNIT; held tightly together either socially or culturally.
  • Color added to wool before weaving is DYED-IN-THE-WOOL; strongly held opinions.
  • FLEECING someone; swindling a gullible victim.
  • Newly woven cloth was hung ON TENTERHOOKS; a state of nervous apprehension.
  • Looking SHEEPISH; not wanting to meet your eyes.
  • HEIRLOOM; A valuable possession passed down to an heir. Originally the family loom.
  • HOMESPUN; plain, unpolished, simple or rustic, homespun humor.
  • PULL THE WOOL OVER ONE’S EYES; to hoodwink someone.
  • Fabric made of reclaimed wool is called SHODDY; of inferior quality.
  • BELLWETHER; was the lead sheep in a flock and wore a bell; A leader of a movement or activity; also, a leading indicator of future trends.
  • Wandering about collecting tufts of wool caught on bushes is WOOLGATHERING; daydreaming.
  • To SPIN A GOOD YARN; To tell a good story.
  • SPINSTER; colonial women who were unmarried were often consigned to operate a spinning wheel to produce homespun yarns.
  • LOOSE ENDS; when the yarn snaps and the loose ends need to be knotted. As in the project is complete apart from a few loose ends. Or since retiring he has been at a loose end.
  • WEAVING; as in he was weaving in and out of traffic.
  • SHUTTLE; going back and forth as in I will use the shuttle bus.
  • RUN-OF-THE-MILL; commonplace or average, This expression alludes to fabrics coming directly from a mill without having been sorted or inspected for quality.
  • WEARING THIN; if your patience wears thin, you become less and less patient. I've warned you several times about being late and my patience is wearing thin.