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Material Guide: What is Wool?

In a world dominated by synthetic fabrics, wool has emerged as an irreplaceable textile that transcends mere fabric status. It is a rare material, steeped in rich history. There are diverse types of wool, and utilized in a wide array of applications. Wool provides timeless fashion and unparalleled warmth. Allow this article to guide you through the fascinating world of wool.

What is Wool?

Wool is a natural fiber extracted from the fur of various animals, primarily composed of protein. It is derived from multiple sources, with sheep being the most common. Wool is renowned for its exceptional softness and durability, providing unparalleled warmth. It possesses natural curls and elasticity, making it highly resistant to wrinkles and creases.

The domestication of sheep by ancient humans played a pivotal role in the evolution of wool as a textile material. Its extensive history spans thousands of years. With archaeological evidence confirming its use in clothing as early as six thousand years ago in the Middle East. During the ancient Roman era, Europe relied on wool, alongside materials like linen, as their primary textiles.

In the twelfth century, wool became England’s greatest national asset, consistently leading teh global market. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that British overseas colonization introduced sheep farming to Australia and South Africa. The unique climates of these countries allowed for the production of the highest quality wool. John MacArthur, known as the “Father of Australian Wool,” brought Merino sheep to Australia, establishing it as the world’s largest wool-producing nation.

Today, despite the dominance of synthetic fibers in the textile industry, wool remains a vital raw material. Due to its unparalleled ability to regulate body temperature. Furthermore, thanks to technological advancements, innovative wool products continue to deliver even more astonishing benefits.

What are the Different Types of Wool? 

  • Merino Wool

Derived from Merino sheep, it accounts for one-third of the world’s wool production. Merino wool fibers are fine and soft, with a clean, elegant luster. The curly fibers are much finer than traditional wool, measured in microns, with a diameter ranging from 15 to 24 microns. It can provide a soft and comfortable feel against the skin.

  • Cashmere

Cashmere is the fine undercoat of goats, commonly known as “soft gold.” It is even finer and softer than regular wool. Its diameter is 14 to 19 microns, which is finer than human hair. These fine fibers are incredibly lightweight and gentle on the skin. Cashmere’s breathability allows for year-round use.

  • Virgin Wool

Virgin wool possesses the purest texture and most natural form. It is the wool sheared from sheep for the first time, without any processing or contamination. Luxury brands often favor this fabric due to its exceptionally high quality. The fibers are dense and tightly interwoven, providing a luxurious and pleasurable sensation on the skin.

  • Lambswool

Similar to virgin wool, lambswool generally refers to the wool sheared from lambs aged 7 months to 1 year for the first time. While virgin wool refers to the first shearing of sheep of any age. Lambswool has an even finer and softer touch, offering excellent insulation properties.

  • Angora Wool

Angora wool is obtained from Angora rabbits and is primarily raised in countries such as China, Turkey, and France. It features long and soft fur, which gives it a natural fluffiness and a distinctive appearance. The glossy hair creates a halo effect, adding to its luxurious appeal. However, its unique characteristics require special care and careful storage to prevent damage.

  • Mohair

Mohair is derived from the hair of Angora goats, which differs from Angora wool. It is a high-quality wool with a silky touch and luster. Mohair is known for its strength and elasticity, making it one of the most durable fibers that resists stretching. It is also free of lanolin, making it suitable for individuals with sensitive skin who can enjoy its warmth without worrying about allergies.

  • Alpaca Wool

Alpaca wool comes from the hair of alpacas and is renowned for its exceptional softness. The fibers of alpaca wool are lightweight, breathable, and hollow, allowing for excellent air absorption. This provides warmth without adding weight, resulting in a comfortable wearing experience. 

Additionally, alpaca wool fibers are strong and resistant to pilling, stretching, and wrinkling. Alpaca wool comes in a variety of natural colors, including white, brown, black, and gray, offering a range of beautiful and natural hues to choose from.

  • Camel Wool

Camel wool is obtained from the hair fibers of Bactrian or dromedary camels. It is slightly coarse but of excellent quality, featuring a glossy appearance. Camel wool fibers are highly durable, withstanding wear and tear, making them suitable for long-term use. It is lightweight and provides good insulation while being easy to clean.

  • Qiviut Wool

Qiviut wool is sourced from the undercoat of muskoxen, native to the Arctic regions of North America and Greenland. In the spring, muskoxen shed their fur, which is then collected and processed into qiviut wool. This wool is characterized by its natural curls and air pockets that effectively retain heat. 

It boasts remarkable strength, offering greater warmth than sheep’s wool and surpassing cashmere in durability. Due to its rarity, qiviut wool is considered a luxury fiber and commands a high price.

  • Vicuña Wool

Vicuña wool is harvested from the vicuña, a camelid species under protection due to its rarity. The fibers are extraordinarily fine, measuring approximately 12-15 microns in diameter, which lends the wool a smooth and lightweight feel. 

Vicuña wool fibers are covered in tiny scales that contribute to its ability to trap and retain heat, making it exceptionally warm even in the coldest climates. Its scarcity and the challenges involved in collecting the wool make it one of the most exclusive and costly fibers available.

  • Shetland Wool

It originates from Shetland sheep and is celebrated for its warmth and light, breathable texture. Unlike other wools, shetland wool is not densely packed, yet it still provides ample warmth. The wool is available in a variety of natural colors, offering versatility for knitting and weaving projects. Shetland wool is commonly utilized in creating a range of textiles and garments for the household.

Other Types of Wool

Here are some other types of wool that have undergone specific processes to enhance their properties for better service to people.

  • Felted Wool: This non-woven fabric is created by compressing wool fibers or repeatedly poking them with special needles. It possesses a tight structure, resists unraveling, and is highly resistant to wear and tear.
  • Boiled Wool: It is an example of felted wool, achieved through a process of fulling using hot water agitation. It can be utilized in crafting home decorations, clothing, and various handicrafts.
  • Organic Wool: This is certified wool produced through official certification processes. Only necessary chemicals are used in sheep farming and wool production, ensuring the most natural wool possible, despite the relatively small yield.
  • Wool Chinchilla: It is a blend of wool and cotton, resulting in a thicker fabric. You can use it to create gloves, scarves, coats, and more.
  • Melton: A wool fabric made using a twill weave, resulting in a smooth surface and notable durability. It is commonly employed in the production of jackets, blankets, and others.

How is Wool Manufactured?

  1. Shearing: When spring arrives, sheep no longer need their wool to withstand the cold. Skilled shearers use electric shears to carefully remove the wool, ensuring intact sheets of wool are obtained.
  2. Sorting: To ensure consistency in the final product, the sheared wool needs to be sorted and graded. Sorting is based on the quality, fiber length, and color of the wool.
  3. Cleaning: The wool is washed to eliminate impurities, dirt, and grease. It is soaked in warm water and mild detergents, and sometimes certain chemicals are used.
  4. Carding: This step aims to remove impurities from the wool fibers and align them. Longer fibers undergo the combing process and enter the worsted system, while shorter fibers are processed through the woolen system.
  5. Spinning: Long fibers are finely spun and tightly twisted to create strong and evenly smooth yarn. Short fibers are woolen spun, resulting in a fluffy and rougher-textured yarn with a lower twist.
  6. Weaving: The yarn is interwoven into various textile products using weaving machines or can be used for knitting.
  7. Finishing: The fabric undergoes post-processing such as washing, or dyeing, depending on its intended use.

The Environmental Impact of Wool

The renewable and biodegradable nature of wool is unquestionable. However, some factors in the farming and production processes can have environmental impacts.

Farming requires a significant amount of land, and poor management can lead to deforestation, soil degradation, and even harm to biodiversity. Improper grazing practices can also result in vegetation degradation, impacting the soil and climate. Additionally, the use of chemicals to prevent diseases during farming can cause environmental damage if not properly managed.

To increase wool production, some manufacturers may compromise animal welfare. They may also engage in practices that violate animal protection guidelines, such as hunting and handling predators. 

The wool production process consumes a substantial amount of energy, resulting in increased carbon emissions. The water and detergents used in the cleaning process can also cause damage to water and land.

While wool has environmental advantages, responsible and effective management, sustainable agricultural practices, animal welfare considerations, efficient resource utilization, and responsible producers are necessary. These can minimize the negative impact on the environment.

Pros and Cons of Wool

Pros of wool:

  • Excellent warmth
  • Outstanding wrinkle resistance
  • High moisture absorption
  • Durability
  • Soft and gentle on the skin
  • UV resistance

Cons of wool:

  • Prone to shrinkage
  • Susceptible to moth damage
  • Susceptible to pilling from friction

What is Wool Used for?

Wool is often associated with its ability to provide warmth. When you think of wool, the first things that may come to mind are warm coats, scarves, socks, blankets, and more. However, in addition to these items, wool can be found in various other forms around you.

Formal suits, cozy sweaters, and hats for warmth are examples of clothing and accessories that can be made from wool. When you can’t find suitable materials, why not give wool a try?

Due to its warmth and softness, wool is also ideal for making quilts, mattress toppers, and more. During the cold winter season, being wrapped in wool creates a warm and comfortable environment that brings a sense of peace for a good night’s sleep.

Wool is a versatile crafting material. Creating felted wool crafts and engaging in various handwoven projects can be fun and enjoyable. Wool can also be used in the construction industry as a natural insulating and soundproofing layer for walls. Additionally, it finds suitable aspects in industries such as filtration, soundproofing, and filling materials.

How to Take Care of Wool?

Compared to other textiles, wool is relatively durable. Due to its unique surface properties, it is relatively resistant to dirt and stains. However, when stains occur, it is important to clean them immediately using a clean cloth or sponge and specialized detergent. Avoid vigorous rubbing and instead gently press to absorb the dirt.

Ideally, wool should be dry cleaned for cleaning. If water washing is necessary, use a specialized detergent and gently wash in cold or lukewarm water. Avoid prolonged soaking and hot water as they can cause wool to shrink.

After washing, lay the wool flat to dry and store it in a breathable garment bag. Avoid hanging it, as this may cause deformation. Use anti-mold and anti-insect agents, and regularly inspect your wool items to ensure they are protected from clothes moths and other pests.

FAQs About Wool

What is Worsted Wool?

Worsted wool is obtained through a special processing technique that involves spinning the finest long wool fibers through a worsted system. It results in a smooth and lustrous surface with a soft, natural sheen, and high elasticity.

Is Wool Better than Cotton?

Wool is naturally warm, breathable, flame-resistant, and possesses antibacterial and wrinkle-resistant properties. Cotton lacks insulation and is more prone to wrinkling. However, cotton is generally more affordable and easier to care for. The choice between the two depends on the specific characteristics you require.

How Much Does Wool Cost?

Wool is a valuable material, but the specific cost depends on factors such as the type of wool, the quality, market demand, geographical location, and more. And different types of wool also have varying grades, leading to price fluctuations.

What is the Best Wool?

Determining the best wool is subjective, but there are widely recognized types of wool that are considered excellent. Merino wool is often regarded as high-quality wool, while cashmere is known for its exceptional warmth. Lambswool is very soft, provides good insulation, and is also considered a worthwhile type of wool.

Conclusion

Wool undergoes a fascinating journey from the backs of animals to wardrobes, providing warmth and comfort to people. Sinosilk can offer you customized wool scarves that are both fashionable and warm. Additionally, we also provide silk wool fabric to fulfill your various creative needs.

More Resources:

Wool vs Cashmere – Source: Sinosilk

What is Polyester – Source: Sinosilk

What is the Most Breathable Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

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