What is wool: origin, types, qualities, garments

It makes up some of our sweaters, our blankets or even our upholstery fabrics... Focus on wool, this naturally insulating fiber that comes from the hair of certain mammals.

  What'est-ce que la laine : origine, types, qualités, vêtements

If synthetic materials are increasingly used to imitate its properties at a lower cost, wool is truly the natural fiber synonymous with quality which now accounts for just under 2% of total global textile production. used in clothing , furniture and even in the building as a thermal component, it began to be exploited by the principle of shearing sheep around 1500 BC in the countries of northern Europe, due in particular to the climate cool that prevailed in this region. The wool trade then spread around the Mediterranean to become one of the main textile activities in Europe until the 18th century. th century.

What is wool?

Wool is a natural animal material consisting of the hairs of certain mammals, woven into a textile. It is formed in certain species or races in the form of a fleece capable of protecting the animal from bad weather, as in the mouton , the goat , the old (alpaca) or the Lapland angora . It is indeed a good thermal insulator, as it traps almost 80% of air in its own volume and easily absorbs humidity (1 kg of wool contains approximately 150 g of water). Relatively elastic, it quite easily returns to its original shape.

The wool fiber most often comes from sheep's fleece , but it can also consist of hair from goats, rabbits or alpacas for example. When the wool is of another origin than that of the sheep, its name changes as with the cashmere from the cashmere goat or the alpaca issued from old alpaca . Depending on the animal, the hairs can be more or less long and more or less soft, which impacts the properties of the garment produced.

A sheep being sheared

How is wool produced?

The first step in the manufacture of a woolen piece is the mowing , either harvesting using an electric mower or scissors. Sheep are shorn in all seasons, depending on climate and management requirements. In temperate zones, animals are shorn in the spring, generally when grazing, and at the start of the dry season in tropical zones, long enough before winter in the mountains.

Naturally greasy, the fleeces retain dust and plant debris. This wool, called 'raw wool', is first washed and dried to be then folded, rolled and baled (from 40 to 90 kg on average) before being transported to the sales centers, then to the textile factories. The wool collected in Europe goes, in the vast majority, to Asia and mainly to China. Then she goes to spinning (or spinning) to transform discontinuous and irregular filaments into a continuous yarn that must have certain qualities required for its destination. It will then be knitted, crocheted or woven.

Knitted wool cardigan by Stella Pardo

What can you do with wool?

There are as many types of wool as there are ways to use it. The most common is the merino wool coming from merino sheep , which is often found mixed, when it is very fine, with other fibers such as cashmere , l' alpaca or the silk . There are several categories of merino wool: ultrafine, superfine, fine, medium fine, medium and heavy. The smaller the fiber diameter, the more popular the merino. In any case, merino wool is gentle , soft, luxurious and can be worn in all seasons. We also know the mohair from the coat of angora goats , the lamb's wool which is a new wool very fine obtained during the first shearing of young animals between six months and one year, or alpaca, which comes from the fleece of llamas and is a fiber as soft as it is fine. We also know 'baby alpaca' wool, which is considered a top-of-the-range yarn because of its great softness.

The clothes that can be produced with wool are multiple. When thinking of woollens, how do you avoid pulls traditional irish knitted where the winter coats very warm in woolen cloth? We also produce socks in wool or cashmere, due to their breathability, which will wick away moisture and keep feet dry while preventing bad odours. Soft and supple, it is also used in the manufacture of costumes which can be worn summer and winter depending on the weight. It is also often found mixed with other fibres.

What are the limits of wool?

Defenders of the animal cause such as the association PETA denounce the abuse generated by wool production activities, particularly in the very large farms found in Australia and New Zealand. At the forefront of this mistreatment, the fact that the sheep bred for merino wool have an overabundance of wool (genetic selection), but also that the shearers are often not paid by the hour but by the quantity of wool harvested, which which can lead to animal abuse. To be sure to buy organic wool or wool produced as ethically as possible, it is advisable to turn to eco-responsible labels such as RWS or GOTS .

Source journaldesfemmes.fr