Wool is one of the oldest textile used by humans. The term is most often used when referring to sheep fibres however can also be used in reference to the fibres grown on other animals such as alpacas, llamas, camels, and goats.
Very early wild species of sheep had a two layer coat- an undercoat and a long coat. The undercoat was close to the body with fine, downy fibres while the long coat was more coarse and wiry. Over time, people have selected to breed with sheep that have better quality wool resulting in properties seen in modern sheep which have more undercoat and less guard hair.
How It’s Made
Interestingly, when humans first started using wool, the pelts were collected as the sheep would moult their coats in the Spring. As sheep became more domesticated, they were bred to resist shedding so that the wool could be removed more conveniently, with shearing. This is the first step of wool production.
The fleeces are then examined and sorted. The dirty parts of the fleece are removed and the fleece is graded according to various properties. Each fleece is marked according to the fibre fineness, colour, kemp (thick fibres that dye poorly), strength and elasticity. It is these properties which affect the properties of the final fabric that you find yourself stroking at the store. Finer wool (10-20 microns) is soft and luxurious while coarser wool is more scratchy, wiry. Of course, the ratio and type of fabrics that wool can be blended with to create a final fabric also contributes to its final properties.
There are many ethical and environmental factors to considered in regards to the production of any product- whether is be the sourcing, processing, life-span, ability to be recycle or to degrade over time.
Wool is an all-natural, renewable fibre that is considered one of the more sustainable fabrics when it comes to environmental impact. Since it is obtained fro live animals, the ethics of growing this fibre need to also be taken into consideration.
There are many reasons why wool is a friendly fibre as listed below.
Carbon cycle // sheep are part of the natural carbon cycle.
Life span // Wool items have long lifespans as they are worn longer than other products made with other textile fibres.
Care // Require less washing and washed at lower temperatures therefore having less impact on the environment with regards to water and energy use.
Recyclable // Wool is one of the most recycled fibres.
Biodegradable // Readily biodegrades putting carbon and nitrogen back into the environment
Of course, the ethics of growing this fibre needs to be taken into consideration since it is sourced from the intensive farming of live animals; although for many (not all) farms, the wool is often a byproduct of meat production.
On the very current issue about pollution of our oceans, and the role natural fibres, the following link from the International Wool Textile Organisation may be of interest.
Why we love it
Wool is one of the most versatile fibres around, used in both woven and knit textiles and traditional in many different garments.
Resilient and elastic // Its natural elasticity makes wool comfortable to wear and helps to maintain a good appearance for longer in comparison to many other fabrics.
Comfort // Does well to keep the wearer comfortable in both hot and cooler weather. In hot weather, it absorbs and repels water whilst allowing the skin to breath. It is of course well known for it’s insulating properties and is used in many cool weather garments.
Odour resistant // Need we say more!
Recent innovation mean that wool items are no longer hand wash only. Many wool products can now be machine washed and tumble-dried. Wool is however a delicacy for moths, so storing wool items correctly is important. Listed below are the many ways to care for your wool items to be able to get the most out of them for as long as possible.
Airing // Food and cigarette odours can be removed by laying garments on a bed or towel for an hour. Woven garments can be hung in fresh air.
Storage // Hang wovens. Fold knits.
Resting // Rest wool garments for 24 hours before wearing again. This gives the natural resilience in the wool fibre the ability to recover and return to its original shape.
Refreshing // Wool items can be refreshed by hanging in a steamy bathroom. Moisture from the steam helps to remove wrinkles.
Drying // Dry at room temperature, not in direct sunlight or heat.
Ironing // Always use the wool setting with steam when pressing wool
Brushing // For woven garments only, use a soft brush to brush the garment lengthwise to remove surface dirty. Dust and dirt can dull the appearance of wool fabrics.
Favourite fabric shops
The Fabric Store , a New Zealand company, specialises in a wide range of beautiful and high quality merino wool fabrics.