Wool – A Reliable Yarn

WOOLY SHEEPWool has been a favorite textile since Cro-Magnon Man domesticated the first sheep around 12000 BC. The human love affair with wool continues to the present day. We use the versatile fiber in wool carpet and wool rugs, wool blankets and wool clothing such as wool coats, wool sweaters and wool socks. It’s flame resistant, a marvelous insulator and completely biodegradable.


What Is Wool?

Wool is a textile woven or knitted from the dense fleece of sheep, goats and other mammals with coats that are springy and warm.

Wool has many properties that make it useful. Wool is the most flame resistant of all textiles. Wool has wicking properties that pull moisture away from the fiber core, which keeps you dry on a drizzly day. Wool crimps, which means pieces of wool will stick to one another. Finally, wool is an extremely elastic textile that can stretch as much as 50 percent when it’s wet and as much as 30 percent when it’s dry.

Wool is also a natural fiber. In contrast to synthetic fibers created by chemical processes that rely upon petrochemicals as their raw materials, natural fibers are derived from plant and animal sources. Natural fibers are a renewable resource. Research has shown that individuals who wear natural fibers like wool or use them in their households typically suffer from fewer skin rashes or other allergic reactions linked to synthetic fibers.

Wool fibers are divided into grades on the basis of fiber diameter and crimp. The highest grade sheep wool is called Merino and comes from Merino sheep. Merino wool varies from ultra fine Merino wool whose fibers have a diameter between 13 and 15 microns and carpet wools whose fiber diameters vary between 35 and 45 microns. Lamb’s wool is also highly prized for the fineness and softness of its fibers.

Does Wool Only Come From Sheep?

Although sheep fleece is by far the largest source of wool textiles, wool fiber can be obtained from the fleece of many other animals as well including goats, rabbits, alpacas, llamas, yaks and even camels.

Cashmere wool, a very strong, light, silky fiber, comes from the downy undercoats of Cashmere goats while mohair comes from the hair of the Angora goat. Another type of Angora wool comes from the silky coats of Angora rabbits. Alpaca wool is wool harvested from a Peruvian cousin of the camel called an alpaca or a vicuna.

What Are Some of the Popular Products Made from Wool?

Commonly found wool products include:

Wool carpets: Pure wool carpets are a terrific choice for people who want to create a healthy and environmentally friendly atmosphere in their homes without sacrificing style or comfort. Wool fibers can be dyed in a variety of different shades. Wool rugs and wool area rugs are also great for areas of high foot traffic because they’re naturally spring and resilient. The natural lanolin coating on wool fibers also makes them naturally resistant to dirt and spills.

Wool upholstery: Wool fabric is a popular choice for chair covers and other types of furniture upholstery.

Wool mattresses and wool blankets: Wool has been used for centuries in many parts of Europe as a traditional mattress stuffing material, and is becoming an increasingly popular alternative today to synthetic batting. True wool allergies are very rare although some people are sensitive to the chemical processing agents that are used to prepare wool products for the market. When wool batting compresses, it can be removed from a mattress and refluffed. Wool blankets provide warmth throughout the cold months.

Wool clothing: Wool coats, wool sweaters and wool socks are terrific cold weather gear. Wool’s warmth, flexibility and strength allows this textile to resist tears and provide great warmth. Smart Wool is a brand in high demand among aficionados of extreme sports like mountaineering, skiing and snow boarding. The crimping properties of wool fibers create air pockets that act as a natural insulation layer. Because wool doesn’t collect moisture, it rarely becomes infested with molds, bacteria or dust mites. It’s a very elastic material, which means it provides some support for people affected by joint disorders such as arthritis.

What Is the Wool Production Process?

Fleece is typically sheared from sheep on a yearly basis. The object is to shear the fleece with as few strokes as possible to preserve the integrity of the fiber.

After shearing, the fleece is washed to remove organic debris and other impurities such as the oily residue known as lanolin. Lanolin is an important secondary market for sheep owners since it’s used in many personal care products like cosmetics.

After washing, the fibers are graded and then run through toothed rollers in a process known as carding. At this point wool can either be twisted into the yarn used in knitting or spun into finer yarns of various thicknesses and gauges. At this point, wool yarn can either be knitted or woven into a fabric.

What Countries Produce Wool?

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, China is the country that produces the most wool on an annual basis. In 2009, China produced close to 387,000 metric tons of wool. However, China uses much of the wool it produces. The world’s two largest exporters of raw wool are Australia, which produced 382,000 metric tons, and New Zealand, which produced 165,800 metric tons. Other top wool producers include the UK and Iran (67,000 metric tons each), Morocco, Sudan and Argentina (roughly 55,000 metric tons each.)

Wool is making a comeback in a big way among people who appreciate textiles thanks to its affordability, sustainability and hypoallergenic properties. The fabric breathes making it a natural temperature regulator, and it’s fire retardant at a time when tighter restrictions are being placed on materials that can be used in the hospitality industry and interior decor. Wool has been around for a long time and it’s a fully contemporary fabric.

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