What is Wool?
Wool is a textile fiber obtained from sheep and some other animals, including cashmere and mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, angora from rabbits, and other types of wool from camelids.
Wool fibre is a highly organized structure whose main histological components include the cuticle, cortex and medulla. Wool fibre is a natural fibre and its characteristics such as diameter, crimps and length are essential parameters of the wool trait, as well as important indicators of the spinning efficiency of the wool.
Extraction of Wool from Sheep Step by Step
The steps involved in wool production are as follows.
- Shearing – The process of removal of the woollen coat or fleece from the animal is called shearing. This is done without harming the animal by using shearing tools such as scissors, hand blades and electric shears. Shearing is usually done during the hot season. This allows them to grow back hair by the time winter arrives. The amount of wool produced by one sheep varies from 1 to 3 kg.
- Scouring – Wool taken directly from the sheep is called raw or grease wool. The raw sheared wool is washed with detergent and alkali in tanks to remove grease, dust and dirt. This is called scouring. Nowadays it is done by machine.
- Sorting and grading – After scouring the damaged or inferior wool is removed. This process is called sorting. The process of sorting the wool according to the length, colour and texture of fibres is called grading.
- Carding – Before wool can be used for making fabric it is disentangled and cleaned. The intermixed fibres are separated to form continuous fibres. This process is called carding, the wood fibres are passed through a series of metal teeth to straighten the fibres.
- Making yarn – Carded wool is twisted into a rope called silver. The silver is stretched and twisted into a thin yarn. Spinning for woollen yarns is typically done on a mule spinning machine.
- Washing and finishing – Woollen yarn is woven or knitted into fabric which is then used to make finished products such as clothes, table cloths and bags.
Animals Yielding Wool
Wool fibres are obtained from sheep, goat, angora rabbits, goats, alpaca and even camels.
- Sheep – Most sheep have two types of hair from which the wool is obtained. The outer coarse hair is known as Kemp. The fine, soft undercoat close to the skin is the true wool from which wool fibre is obtained.
- Cashmere goat – The fine soft fibre obtained from the undercoat of the cashmere goat is called cashmere. The outer coat hair fibres are quite coarse and high quality cashmere is obtained by “dehairing” or combing. Cashmere goats are found only in mountain regions of china.
- Yak – Yaks are found in Tibet and Ladakh. Their coats consist of outer long coat hair and an undercoat of soft and silky wool. The colour usually ranges from brown to black.
- Camel – Camel fleece consists of a soft, fine undercoat and an overcoat of long coarse hair that grows up to 15 inches long. Camel wool is considered a healthy natural product. It has excellent thermal insulation properties.
- Angora rabbit – Soft white fibre called a goraw wool is obtained from the angora rabbit. Stiff, long, guard hair growing through the soft coat has to be removed before the fur from these rabbits is combed out. The soft white fur obtained is then spun into yarn that is used to make sweaters.
Properties and Quality of Wool
- Durability – Wool is a hard fibre that remains that retains its nice appearance for a long time.
- Absorption of moisture – As a fabric wool draws moisture from the body and absorbs it inside its fibres. Heat is generated as the moisture is absorbed so that the garment stays warm without feeling wet.
- Resistance to dirt – Wool fibres have an outer layer of scales that reduce the ability of dirt and dust to penetrate the fibre.
- Resistance to fire – One of the properties of wool is that it does not burn easily. When subjected to flames, it will smoulder instead.
- Repel nature – Even though wool absorbs moisture the scales on the outer layer of each fibre repel liquids.
- Insulating nature – Tiny gaps are present between the fibres. These are filled with bubbles of air, which heat up as the moisture in the centre of the fibre heats up, making wool a perfect insulator.
A summary of the conversion of fleece into wool fabrics is shown below.
- The fibres obtained from animals are called animal fibres, for example wool.
- Wool is obtained from the fleece of animals such as goat, sheep yak, alpaca, llama, lamb.
- The wool yielding animals have a thick coat of hair which traps a lot of air. Being a poor conductor of heat, hairs keep these animals warm.
- The fine soft hair fibres are used for making wool.
Frequently Asked Questions on Wool Fibre
What are characteristics of good wool?
Wool is the most durable fibre because it has a natural crimp which helps it to maintain its shape. Wrinkles may vanish when the robe or cloth is steamed. Good wool is very soft and hardy; weak wool is rough. If you buy a wool cloth, catch a handful of it to assess its consistency.
Where is wool made?
Wool is made from follicles found in the skin, which are tiny cells. These follicles are located in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis and press down into the second layer of skin called the dermis as the fibres of the wool expand.
Is wool a natural Fibre?
Wool is a stock of completely natural fibre. Every year sheep grow a new fleece after shearing, which can be shorn off the following year again. Natural fabrics, for example fur, are completely biodegradable. Wool is a naturally occurring protein, similar to that found in human hair.
What is the process of Fibre into wool?
The different steps for turning fibres into wool are as follows: Shearing: the sheep’s fleece is separated from its body along with a thin layer of skin. Scouring: The hair-sheared skin is washed vigorously in tanks to absorb oil, dust and soil. The fibres are straightened into yarn, combed, and rolled.
What is the softest wool fabric?
Merino, which comes from the sheep of Merino, is the best and softest wool of sheep. It is the most common breed of sheep used for clothing and provides the most luxurious wool, famous for its fine staples at about 20-25 microns in diameter. Superfine merino can sometimes be as small as 17 microns and have a soft hand feel.