Wool is known to have been used by nomadic tribes of Asia Minor (Mesopotamia) as far back as 10, 000 years ago: their sheep provided them with food, clothing and shelter. Sheep and their precious insulating wool came to Europe via the Persians, Greeks and Romans as they extended their empire–the Romans established a wool plant in England near what is now Winchester in AD50. In turn, as Britain expanded internationally, so sheep were established in its colonies.
Wool has a different chemical construction to other fibres, it is a protein fibre composed of more than 20 amino acids, calcium, sodium and fat, which influence its texture, elasticity, staple and crimp formation. The length of the staple–the tufts of wool which make up the fleece–affects the price of the fleece and the use to which the wool can be put, e.g. a long staple of 51 mm is needed to spin worsted yarn.
There are two types of wool yarn: woollen and worsted.
The general term describing fabrics woven from yarn spun from the shorter staple fibres–too short to comb, these fibres don’t lie as flat and so are softer, more ‘fluffy’. The weave of such fabrics is not as distinct, and used for less formal jackets, skirt, upholstery, curtains, rugs, blankets.
The general term for fabrics woven with yarn spun from the longer staple fibres of combed wool. Worsted yarns are tightly twisted and produce a crisp, matte, smooth cloth with no nap that is tightly woven in strong, definite weaves,such as twill. Worsted fabric is stronger and wears better that a woolen fabric of the same weight and weave, and is namely used for men’s overcoats, suits, jackets and upholstery–it is also more expensive.
The processes to create wool yarn:
* Combing: combing separates out the shorter fibres; the long fibres are laid parallel to produce a combed sliver called a ‘top.’
* Drawing or roving : a few of the long fibres are combined to create a stronger yarn.
* Spinning: creating yarn, long fibres from the shorter ones , worsted yarns are further twisted
* Ply : twisting two or more yarns into thicker and stronger ply yarns- i.e 2,3,4 ply.
* Treatments: for purpose, wool can be treated against moth damage and shrinkage.
Properties of wool
+ Insulation: the air pockets caught between the woollen fibres insulates against heat and cold, providing warmth in winter and protection from the heat in summer. as clothing and in room and loft insulation
+ Breathability: naturall, for summer clothes, fleece for babies etc.
+ Fire resistance: it is naturally non-flammable.
+ Absorbency: wool absorbs water ,keeping the skin beneath it dry and a comfortable temperature
+ Water repellence: it both absorbs moisture and repels liquids.
+ Elasticity: it has greater elasticity than any other plant or animal fibre, and springs back to shape.
+ Sound: wool absorbs sound, a thick felted wool is one fo the most soundproofing of materials.
+ Durability: each wool fibre is made of millions of ‘coiled springs’, interlocking molecules, which stretch and give rather than breaking.
+ Shrinkage: Wool when it’s spun and woven will shrink with steam – heat and moisture combined, which makes is very easy to manage and shape to form.
+ Versatility: In every weave an weight possible the uses for wool are varied , wide and all encompassing.
+ Dirt resistance: its ability to absorb moisture prevents the build-up of static so wool. The crimp in the fibre and the scales on the fibres prevent dirt penetrating deeply.
Wool may be woven into many different fabrics, such as broadcloth, baize, chevron, flannel, damask, velvet. It is sometimes mixed with viscose or silk for much-appreciated extra warmth. It is also naturally nonflammable–this, together with its versatility explain why wool is so popular when it comes to upholstery, and remains the fibre of choice for rugs and carpets, whether woven or tufted.