- Resists wrinkles. Wool springs back quickly after stretching.
- Resists soiling. Fiber forms a complex matting.
- Retains its shape. Resilient fibers return to original size after washing.
- Resists flames. Fibers do not support combustion.
- Wool is durable. Multi-part fibers resist wear and tear.
- Repels moisture. Fiber sheds water.
- Fabric is comfortable in all seasons. It keeps a layer of air next to the skin.
The quality of wool produced by each breed of sheep is different and so is suited to a variety of uses. Sheep are sheared annually and their fleece is cleaned and spun into wool yarn. Knitting converts the yarn into sweaters, beanies, scarves and gloves. Weaving changes the wool into fine fabric for suits, coats, pants and skirts. Coarser wools are used to make carpets and rugs. The fibers can also be used to make blankets and comforters (duvets) which are warm and naturally cosy.
Wool from annual shearing is very versatile and is a wonderful green renewable resource. It is used for roof and wall insulation in some buildings. It is also used as an insulator for some chilled box food home deliveries.
If the animal has been killed for meat, the entire skin can be used with the wool still attached. The un-sheared fleece may be used to make floor coverings or to produce decorative winter boots or clothing.
Wool is a natural fiber produced by sheep (and a few other animals) that is harvested as a crop by humans. It’s made from a protein called keratin which is also found in human hair. Wool can be spun or woven to form material. This textile fabric is then stitched or formed into clothing, shoes and accessories. Wool is a natural product and is renewable as sheep regrow their coat each year.
The video below shows how wool from a sheep’s back is turned into fabric that can be used to make clothes. The raw wool is first cleaned before being carded (untangling the fibers). It is then combed and spun to create a continuous length of wool yarn.
The primary characteristic of wool is that it is an excellent insulator. A woolen sweater will keep you cozy and warm by trapping air between its fibers. It also allows moisture (perspiration) from your body to evaporate (wick) through the fabric. This helps keep your skin dry and comfortable. Wool can be worn in both winter and summer conditions as these insulating and wicking properties help you maintain a steady body temperature.
As the price of wool has fallen, farmers have found new markets for their product. Wool insulation is now sold as to builders as a quality roof and wall insulating product. Wool fleece is also made into wool insulation cool packs to keep fresh food chilled in home box deliveries.
There are environmental benefits to using wool fiber rather than synthetic. Wool is a naturally renewable product; sheep grow a new fleece each year. This is true for all wool producing animals. The most common commercially produced wool crops are sheep, goats and rabbits. Wool from the various animals have different properties. Apart from sheep (which are the majority flock) there are goat and rabbit wools. Of note are Cashmere goats that produce a fine silky wool known as cashmere which is 3 times warmer than sheep’s wool. There are Angora goats that produce a fine, soft wool which confusingly is called mohair. Then there are Angora rabbits that produce a soft, fluffy yarn known as angora.
When wool fabrics are discarded they can be recycled by being made into other products. For example, old woolen clothing can be remanufactured and made into roof insulation. If they are not suitable for recycling they can be added to compost. The wool fibers will decompose into fertilizer and so save adding to unproductive landfill.
Wool sweaters are ideal for winter as they are provide insulation and at the same time allow for natural wicking of moisture. A synthetic fabric can trap your sweat next to the skin and make you feel sticky and uncomfortable.
There are many different types and grades of wool. To name just a few, the wool for your sweater can come from sheep, goats, rabbit, llama or yak. You may know specific breeds of these, such as angora (rabbit), cashmere (goat), mohair (angora goat) and merino (sheep). Each one differs in softness, durability and washing characteristics.
Sheep’s wool is the fiber most commonly used as it is often a by-product of meat production. The cheapest and coarsest fibers are used to make carpets. Only the longer and better quality wool staples are turned into clothing.
Research by the University of Leeds, UK (published 21/04/2016) found that using a 100% wool duvet (or comforter) rather than a synthetic one results in a better night’s sleep. The natural insulating and wicking properties of wool fibers control each sleeper’s microclimate. The keratin protein molecules in wool are able to absorb up to a third of their own weight in water before the fabric feels damp. Partners sharing one duvet produce moisture and heat at different rates, but the amazing thing about wool is that each fiber responds individually. So both partners under the same duvet are able to maintain a comfortable sleeping micro-environment.
The study looked at the thermal insulation and moisture management properties of woollen duvets compared to other materials. Dr Ningtao Mao, of the University of Leeds, said “The results showed that wool allowed 67 per cent more moisture to escape over an eight-hour period than a feather/down wadding, and 43 per cent more than polyester. Wool was able to cope with nearly double the amount of perspiration per hour than feather/down and around 50 per cent more than polyester.”
Wool is a renewable, sustainable fiber and is classified as an eco-textile. It is an environmentally-friendly, natural, recyclable material.
The fleece of wool-producing animals regrows each year. Providing animals are well cared for, a fiber crop can be harvested for many years without harm to the herd. Wool fleece is hardwearing in use and has excellent thermal properties.
Natural wool fibers are biodegradable. They can be recycled when they have outlived their original use. Old, discarded pure wool garments can be added to garden compost heaps. Here they will break-down after time into a useful weed-supressing mulch.
The use of natural fibers (such as the wools discussed in this article,) is an environmentally-friendly way of insulating homes and cool-boxes. Wool fibers are harvested with a low environmental impact. Other forms of insulation are usually oil-based and their production and use intensifies global climate change and increases atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels.
So, not only is wool fiber a cost-effective insulation material, by using it you are also helping to reduce global warming and slow climate change.