Wool is a textile fiber gleaned from sheep and goats, and at some places, even from camelids and angora rabbits. It is a natural filament that thoroughly absorbs moisture and insulates against rough climate. Hence we prefer clothes, blankets, and other things made out of wool cloth to keep ourselves warm and comfortable.
Once the raw wool is sheared from the animal, yarn is created by carding the wool mechanically. The grades of yarn are decided from the two different systems they are subjected to, the woolen and worsted process. These processed yarns are then turned into fabric, clothing products, felts, woolen materials, etc. Felts are non-woven but pressed fabrics produced from wool or a mixture of wool and other fibers. It is a result of woolen fibers being boiled in hot water and rubbed together under pressure.
Though woolen and worsted yarn processes are different, they commonly require the wool to be disentangled and cleaned to produce a continuous web. Their distinctive names apply only during fiber processing and yarn formation but not in the finished garment. Hence their nomenclature applies only to their initial processing stage. Once ready, the finished cloth is therefore just considered under the woolen category among other fabrics. The feature of woolen yarn is that they can be easily knitted and are stretchy with a fluffy character, thus a good insulator, while the worsted yarn is in contrast. They are combed to lie parallel, unlike woolen, hence stiff, strong, and durable. Here worsted yarn demands long fibers and more mechanical processing than woolen, hence significantly more expensive.
Australia is the world's largest producer of raw wool, growing about 30 percent of the total world supply while the US stands as the major consumer. China, Argentina, and New Zealand are other biggest players in the wool business worldwide.
Following are the main characteristics of wool:
Wool exhibits a property of extreme flexibility because it can bend 20,000 times without breaking, unlike cotton breaking after 3,000 bends, silk after 2,000, and rayon with the least 75 times. Its natural elasticity hence makes it more tolerant and durable. When under pressure, it stretches well to spring for retaining its shape back. If taken good care of, woolen cloths last long and hold colour until a certain limit.
Wool absorbs up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling muggy or sticky. It also acts as a temperature regulator in cold and warm conditions by wicking moisture away from the body. This versatile quality makes it an item of regular clothing for people from desert regions where it’s hot in the day and cool at night. Mainly processed woolen yarns are also used in the fabrication of certain summer collections like suits and jackets. Wool absorbs dyes deeply, so the colours stay strong except fading under extreme conditions.
Wool hugs heat to its fibers, making it the best-known fabric insulator. To some extent, it is waterproof, too, with liquid stains, spills, or snow running off the fabric. Even when wet through, wool keeps the person warm since it retains 80% of its insulating value.
Wool garments are fairly resistant to stains and greasy substances. It is wrinkle-free but might bring in irritability depending on its micron count and the person’s skin sensitivity. It also stands strong against wear and tear. Research says that fibers that possess more than 30 microns in diameter are functionally rigid hence may cause allergic reactions on the skin. Wool clothing exclusively developed for close to skin wearing doesn’t hold more than 5% fibers greater than 30 microns, making it a very skin-friendly choice. Wool is also considered perfect for baby blankets and clothing items.
Wool is popular among interior designers for its natural flame repellant nature. When exposed to continuous flame, it scorches or gives out smoke, while when the flame is removed, the combustion subsides on its own. This makes wool a self-extinguisher. Hence woolen blankets and sheets are often recommended to smother small fires.
Natural and Renewable Resource
Every year, sheep are sheared in the early spring so that the shaved fleece can be regrown for the coming winter and followed by summer. This cycle satisfies our demand for wool and the animal’s protection from the harsh climate as well. It is taken care that enough fleece and time is left for the sheep so that they prepare to insulate themselves during extreme weather. Less than 1 inch of wool on their body may cause sunburn and quiver. Full fleece also has the disadvantage of overheating their body, causing weakness and other health issues. Hence this animal fiber is a perfect boon for us while being genuinely renewable.