Guide to Wool
Wool is a brilliant material used in so many everyday items such as clothing, accessories and soft furnishings. Often when we think of wool, we think of the kind of wool that comes from sheep. There are in fact many animals that provide us with wool including goats, rabbits, camelids (such as llamas and alpacas) and there are also many different breeds of sheep that yield various types of wool. Wool fibres tend to be curly and that helps give them that characteristic spongy feel and warmth and the fabrics made from wool are pretty resistant to wear and tear. This makes the material perfect for our products - check out our beautifully soft cashmere jumpers and our classic tweed jackets.
Here at Amor Cashmere and Tweed we love wool! So we thought we would share some of our knowledge with you...
Types of Wool
Alpaca – a fine silky wool made from alpaca hair that is very soft yet also durable. Angora fibre – the downy coat from the Angora rabbit. Very soft, thin fibres make a light, warm and silky fabric due to the hollow core. The fibre is around 12-16 microns so very lightweight. It also has the best heat retention of all natural wool. Cashmere – soft twilled luxury fabric made of fine Kashmir goat’s wool. Fine texture and is also light and yet strong. Clothing made from cashmere is much warmer than the equivalent in sheep wool. Cashmere has a high moisture content and as the humidity changes in the air so does its insulation, making it comfortable in all climates (even warm ones). Chiengora - wool spun from dog hair and is 80% warmer than wool and not elastic. Lambswool - taken from the sheeps first sheering and some of the highest quality sheeps wool you can get. Lambswool is hypo-allergenic and really soft, smooth and elastic. Llama – very soft and naturally lanolin free. Loden - favoured by sports persons and it is characterised as slightly 'greasy' due to its ability to shed water easily. Melton - is a smoother and thicker wool that produces a solid cloth. It is durable and wind resistant and often used in outerwear garments. Merino - soft wool of the merino sheep; any soft merino-like wool or wool and cotton cloth. Superfine merino wool has good colour and is very soft and dense with a fibre diameter of 18 microns. Medium merino is a heavier fleece but also soft handling. Mohair - fabric made from silky hair of angora goats and known for its sheen. It is durable, lightweight, breathable and drapes well. Pashmina - fine goat's wool fabric used for making shawls. Romney – variable quality and can be coarse with a harder texture. Fineness is 33 microns. Shetland - lightweight loosely twisted wool fabric. Tweed - rough twilled wool often used for outerwear as it is durable and water resistant.
The quality of wool is determined by the diameter of the fibre as well as the crimp, yield, colour and staple strength. However, it is the fibre diameter that is the element that is most important and the finer the wool the more valuable it is.
The fibre diameter is measured in microns and the wool is also separated by styles and graded depending on the purpose of the wool. Generally wool finer than 25 microns is used in clothing and garments. The fineness of the wool fibres depends on the breed of sheep, and the age, nutrition and health of the sheep.
Ultrafine Merino = Less than 15.5 microns Superfine Merino = 15.6 – 18.5 microns Fine Merino = 18.6 – 20 microns Medium Merino = 20.1 – 23 microns Strong Merino = more than 23 Comeback = 21- 26 microns Fine Crossbred = 27 – 31 microns Medium Crossbred = 32 – 35 microns Downs = 23 – 34 microns Coarse crossbred = more than 36 microns Carpet wools = 35 – 45 microns
People have used wool to make everything from baby clothes to sportswear, and from cushions to doorstops. So why is wool so great?
Wool is water resistant. The wool fibres are very absorbent and can take up to 20%(sometimes more) of their weight in water before it comes through the garment. Historically sailors and fishermen would have worn tightly knitted woollen garments that help to protect them from the extreme wet and cold conditions. The reason wool has water resistant properties is because untreated wool has fatty lanolins from the original animal that are almost waterproof. Even as the wool is made finer it still has some water resistance. This is what makes tweed so good for outerwear.
Wool fibres have water repellent exteriors (hydrophobic)and the interior of the fibre attracts water (hygroscopic). This means that it attracts moisture, such as sweat, away from the body and helps reduce odours and keep you warmer and drier. Merino wool is particularly good for its wicking properties and is used in many sporting garments such as base layers for skiing.
Wool fibres are packed together to make lots of air pockets that give wool it's insulating properties. This means the wool fibres keep warmth in during winter and out during the summer. As animals use their fleece for protection in both dry and damp, hot and cold weathers, it makes this material perfect for us to use.
The breathable properties of wool give it a great advantage over other materials. As wool absorbs and releases moisture into the air, it still contains heat within its fibres. This warmth acts to prevent condensation and helps maintain the temperature above the dew-point in damp conditions.
Wool is great on its own but can also be blended together with other fabrics and materials to that you get a mix of properties to best suit a particular purpose. Some wool suits are blended with synthetics for flexibility or sturdiness and other items such Kevlar are blended with wool to improve it's performance in wet conditions.
Each year animals will be sheared for their fleece and each year they grow it back, meaning that wool is a renewable source. Wool is also sustainable and biodegradable which is better for the environment than synthetic alternatives which contribute to global pollution. It's the natural choice.
Natural wool has hypo-allergenic properties which means that wools like merino can be used for baby clothes and blankets and also for people with allergies.
Wool has natural fire-retardant properties and when it is exposed to fire it will not melt like other materials and it can self–extinguish once the source of the flame has been gone out.
Caring for Wool
Having purchased your beautiful knitwear, it is important to know how to care for it. Wool does not need washing as often as cotton or synthetics, so make sure it really does need a clean. In most cases it is safe to hand wash wool or wool blends and some can be machine washed on the delicate or wool cycle. Always read the washing instructions on the garment label.
If hand washing you can soak the garment in cool water for a few hours before washing as this helps to prevent shrinking. Gently spot clean the garment if there are areas that are heavily soiled and rinse in clean cool water. Use an appropriate wool detergent or cleaner and fully dissolve a small amount first in warm water before adding more cold water and then placing the garment in. When washing the garment be gentle and soak and squish the garment. Do not rub the wool against itself as this can cause felting. Heat, agitation and too much detergent do not do wool any favours and wool is very good as cleaning itself - even just with water.
Once washed, you can gentle roll the garment in a towel to remove excess water. Do not ring or twist the wool as this can distort the clothing. Then lay the garment flat to dry in the desired shape or size.
Once dry you can store your knitwear. Always store clean wool garments as insects will feed off of the dirt or sweat on a garment. You can even store them in an airtight bag in a cool dry place.
If you have a very prized woolen garment, such as a Harris Tweed jacket or a John Laing cashmere sweater, it would be wise to consider having the item professionally cleaned / dry cleaned by a company you trust.