What is it?
Although it is most commonly associated with sheep wool is in fact any fabric derived by harvesting animal hair and then spinning it into yarn which is then woven to create garments and other textiles. Types of wool include:
Merino Wool: One of the world's most common types of wool and extremely fine. Merino sheep were originally bred in Spain but now most production takes place in Australia .
Cashmere Wool: Cashmere is one of the most expensive and luxurious types of wool
Mohair Wool: Mohair wool comes from angora goats which have incredibly thick, wavy wool.
Alpaca Wool: People in South America have been breeding alpacas for their wool for thousands of years
Camel Wool: Camel wool is incredibly insulative, but it is also less durable than other types of wool.
Virgin Wool: Also known as lamb's wool, virgin wool is made from a lamb's first shearing.
Angora Wool: Angora wool comesf rom a special breed of rabbit that produces incredibly fine and soft hair.
Llama Wool: Generally to rough to be worn next to the skin Llama wool is great for outerwear garments.
Qiviut Wool: Produced from a type of must ox native to Alaska.
Wool is known for it's durability and good thermal properties due to it's bulkiness and natural 'waviness' (crimp) which natrually traps air. The more crimp that wool has the warmer it is. Wool is also naturally flame-resistant and instead of burning it chars and extinguishes itself making it useful in flame-retardant products.
Prior to the farming revolution around 11,000 years ago sheep did not have a fluffy wooly coat and it is only over thousands of years of selective breeding that we have ended up with the soft woolen products that we know today.
Wool has a long history and was an important commodity of the Roman empire and centuries later in the colonial era it was exported by the europeans to other continents. Today Australia and New Zealand are responsible for producing most of the world's wool.
As a naturally occuring material wool inherently has a relatively low environmental impact, provided they are free range animals and subjected to humane treatment. However even in the rare situations where sheep production is ethical it requires vast amounts of land for sheep grazing. Unfortunately the capitalist economy has trod all over animal welfare and has little or no care for the environment. Soil degredation is a big environmental problem in the industry, and fecal matter and toxic chemicals used to kill parasites often pollutes local waterways.
Some companies such as Patagonia use recycled wool, this practice dates back hundres of years and involves shredding wool garments back to their individual fibres for reuse. Aided by modern-day quality controls, the wool goes through a meticulous sorting of materials into color categories prior to shredding. By selecting and blending colors of dyed wool fabrics and garments, it is possible to completely eliminate the dyeing process, saving water and chemicals and eliminating the resulting wastewater.
How is it made?
Wool-bearing animals are sheered. Some animals only bear wool once a year and others produce wool multiple times over the course of a year
2. Cleaning & Sorting
Next the shorn wool is cleaned and sorted into bales. Most large wool producers use chemical catalysts to clean the wool but less intensive organic methods are also used.
3. Carding, Spinning & Weaving
Wool fibres are 'carded' into long strands which are then spun into a yarn ready for weaving.
The finished textiles can be expose to different processes to develop different attributes.
- Fulling: Immerses woolen textiles in water to make fibres interlock.
- Crabbing: Permanently sets this interlock
- Decating: shring proofing products
- Dying: Adding colour to finished wool products
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