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Wool Fabric Information
Wool is a natural fiber, shorn primarily from sheep as well as goats and llamas, that has long been used to create warm and durable clothing and blankets. Modern uses of wool extend beyond winter attire, as wool can be found in carpeting, insulation, felt and luxury suits.
Wool is different than fur: it has characteristic bends, or crimps, along the fiber, has the capacity to stretch when woven and grows in clusters known as staples. The crimps let the fibers bunch together, which results in a bulkier material that also acts as a superior insulator. Fine wool, such as Merino, may have dozens of crimps per inch, while rougher wools may only have a handful. Wool fabric has the unique ability to stretch much further than silk, cotton, or other natural fibers and regains its original shape after being stretched. It has an extremely high absorbency rate and is flame retardant, which makes it useful in firefighters' uniforms and carpeting in trains and airplanes. Wool also does not build up static cling; the fabric will not cling to the body or produce a spark. Wool is naturally absorbent, and can absorb almost 1/3 of its own weight.
Wool has existed since the domestication of sheep and goats, and wool fabric was readily available to the general populace long before silk or cotton, fabrics that were considered luxuries reserved for the upper classes. Wool was one of the most prominent trading goods of medieval times and greatly impacted Europe's economy. England became central to the production of wool fabric beginning in the 1200's, and its protectionism of the material only grew throughout the ensuing centuries. England guarded her wool furiously; American colonies were forbidden to trade wool with anyone but England. Today, of the one billion sheep in the world, only thirty million are in England. Australia, New Zealand and China have emerged as the producers of the majority of wool in the market. Through selective breeding and improvements to the fibers, over 60% of today's wool production is used for apparel.
Wool is put through a time-honored cleaning and classification process in order to ready it for weaving. Grease wool, or the wool straight off the sheep, contains lanolin, dirt, skin cells and various other particles, and must be cleaned by hand and subsequently in a soapy bath. The lanolin retrieved in this process is popular in lotions and hand creams. The cleaned wool is separated and the fluffy fleece is set aside from the other, less valuable remnants. Fleece of varying qualities are then sorted into similar groups and packaged for sale. The quality of wool is determined by the crimps, fiber diameter, color and strength, with the fiber diameter being the most important factor. A wool fiber with a diameter of less than 25 microns is considered fine and suitable for garment use, while the thicker grades are relegated to carpeting, insulation and rugs.
Wool fabric has come a long way from the scratchy, oversize sweaters of the past. Superfine Merino wool makes ultra-expensive suits, while synthetic blends such as silk/wool or cotton/wool add shine and breathability to this classic material. Wool fabric works well in skirts, shirts, pants, coats, hats and other winter accessories, as well as industrial uses such as insulation and commercial carpeting. Wool may also be used for blankets and, when treated with lanolin, resists odor, water seepage, and bacteria. Wool can also be harvested organically, which reduces the chances for wool allergies and any adverse reactions to chemicals. Wool fabric's soft feel, great features, and fabulous drape make for a very pleasant experience.