White wool is the generic term for any wool that is in its natural un-dyed state. This ‘pure’ wool is more valuable than off-white wool as this may contain dark hairs which cannot be dyed, and therefore cause imperfections in the fabric. White wool fibres are suitable for both spinning into yarns and then being woven or knitted into fabrics or felted into a fabric. White wool fabrics are generally soft and lustrous and dye very easily, as they are usually ‘Virgin Wools’ which means they have never been used and recycled as wool often is. It has a natural elasticity like all wool, because of its natural crimp, is warm to wear and can be treated with many finishes.
How is wool made?
Wool is first developed as a yarn in around 4000BC, many anthropologists believe that this came from a need to survive and keep warm in the harsh weather conditions. Wool fibres are protein called keratin, and are generally range from anything up to 40cm depending on the breed of sheep. Wool is manufactured all over the world with The United States, Australia and New Zealand being the major suppliers of the raw materials. Many years ago Britain produced a lot of its own wool and wool fabrics, and however now this is still done in the UK, the wool market has become global and many woollen garments are manufactured entirely abroad.
Wool fibres have harder outer layer called the cuticle. It’s primary purpose is to protect the fibre and is made up of ‘scales’ almost, which allow the fibres to be flexible, whilst still being tough. When spun together these scales cling to each other making wool fibres very easy to spin together.
The process of making wool begins first with harvesting the wool. Unlike many other animal fibres, the sheep (or other animal) is not harmed in this process. The wool is simple sheared from the sheep. This process usually happens once a year and is still done mainly by hand. The wool fibres are then sorted, depending on their process and then the high-quality and highly durable fibres are used in yarn and garment production. This wool is then cleaned as ‘raw’ wool contains dirt, sweat and grease. Alkaline baths filled with soap and water are used repeatedly to clean the wool. This wool is then spun using a spinning machine and then wrapped around large bobbins. Wool is usually treated with oil here to increase the manageability.
Next the wool fibres are carded which means that they are combed and straightened using a machine with large metal teeth. This procedure removes short fibres and places the long fibres parallel to each other. Thread is then formed by spinning 2, 3 or 4 strands together. These threads can then be made into wool fabrics.
Different Types of Wool-Producing Animals
Although wool is generally thought to come from sheep, many other animals. Various camels, goats and rabbits produce fine protein hair which can be classified as wool. Lamb’s wool is wool that has been taken from a sheep younger than 8 months old. This wool has a softer handle and drape as it has never been cut before. Pulled wool is wool that is a by-product from sheep originally slaughtered for their meat. This wool is generally a lower quality and less durable as it has to be taken from the sheep using lots of chemicals rather than the usual shearing method. Virgin wool is wool that doesn’t go through any processes before the manufacture stage. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is of a better quality however. Merino Wool is wool that comes from the Merino breed of sheep. These sheep have lots of rolls of skin and generally produce large quantities of wool that is of a soft handle.
Main physical properties of Wool Fabric
- Wool is hydrophilic which means that it absorbs dyes easily without the need for added chemicals.
- Wool is a sustainable fabric, it naturally replenishes itself.
- Wool is naturally elastic because of the ‘crimp’ that it’s fibres have, each wool strand can be stretched and still retain its shape
- It is very resilient, the cuticle on the fibres mean that it is difficult to break
- The structure of wool allows it to absorb moisture whilst at the same time repelling liquid.
- Wool can be both warm and cool, depending on its use. The fluffy fibres are a good insulator but the ability to absorb moisture helps the body’s cooling system work better.
- Resists pilling, sagging and breaking meaning that woollen garments typically outlast synthetic equivalents.
- Naturally flame-resistant. Wool usually self-extinguishes as soon as the fire source is removed. Wool and wool blend fabrics are favoured for airline upholstery and by the military.
- Wool can be made shrink proof as it shrinks very badly.
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