For most of us wool is not just wool. Wool is warmth as well as style – the ultimate in comfortable trendy everyday wear.
Wool is the coat of sheep. Almost all those who know anything about wool must have heard about the softest and finest of all wools – the Merino wool – ultimate in luxury, made from the fur of the Merino sheep. There are so many other different types of sheep all over the world and in its 10-12 years of life span sheep gives us all the wool that the world wants and more.
But it is not sheep alone that gives wool. Coats of goats and rabbits are also called wool; cashmere or mohair from goats, qiviut from the undercoat of musk oxen, and angora wool from rabbits.
The manufacturing process of wool is costly and makes wool expensive when compared to other fabrics. Australia, Newzealand and China produces most of the wool in the world with Australia leading the production.
How is wool made
The sheep is sheared once every year and the fur is taken to be sorted into different categories according to their quality. The fur is then cleaned and dyed to the desired colours. Then it undergoes a process called Carding which pulls the fibres straight. It is made into yarn which is then woven/knitted into wool fabric.
Types of wool
According to their composition the wool is categorised as the following types
100% Wool or Pure Wool – new wool with little or no mix/blend
Virgin Wool – New wool that has never been used.
Recycled Wool – Reused or reprocessed wool. This is made from wool scraps left from the cutting of 100% wool garments
Performance wool – This is wool which uses a Merino wool blend which is not 100% pure wool.
Sheep can be categorised according to the kind of wool/fleece they give. Fine wool sheep which as the name suggests gives the finest of wool; Then there is the long wool sheep and carpet wool sheep. The carpet wool sheep gives a coarse fur which is best used in making carpets. The wool differs greatly even among the fine wool sheep which is the most commonly found sheep type.They differ in colour, shine, fiber length and size
Worsted wool fibers are the finest and smoothest and make for the best fabric.
What are the special characteristics of wool
- Wool is warm – an understatement if any. Do you know that the wool keeps you warm by trapping the warm air inside; it can even feel warm when it is wet.This insulating quality makes it, the must have fabric in cold climate
- Interestingly wool can keep you cold in warmer climates.
- It is waterproof. well almost. Most wool fabric has a natural lanolin on their fibers that makes them waterproof.
- It is moisture wicking and can take a lot of water before it feels really wet
- Wool fabric dyes easily. You can dye it in different vibrant colours. It is colour fast as well and retains the colour to a degree.
- It is also somewhat fire repellant and stain resistant.
- It is a resilient and strong fabric.
- Wool fabric drapes well . It molds your body as per your shape when worn well fitted.
- It is stretchable. It stretches without damage to its fibers to a great extents because of the flexible elastic nature of its fibers
- You can clean it. Home laundering as well as drycleaning works.Hand washing of woolen garments is perfectly alright so long as it is marked so in its label and some precautions are taken.
Some characteristic of wool which bugs me
Shrinkage – this is a pain; You buy a sweater and after one or two washes it wouldn’t fit a 10 year younger you.
Dry cleaning label on most wool clothes. I donot like dry cleaning because of the chemicals and the money. But with expensive wool clothes there may not be an option out of it
Some woollen clothes irritates skin – especially allergic prone people with sensitive skin. You have to be careful with woollen clothes in this way.
Appearance of small wool balls on the surface of woollen fabric – it is also called piling and it is irritating and unsightly – this piling usually goes off after some washes
When washing most woolen clothes stretches out of shape; though It is relatively easy to bring it down to its original shape with some manipulation. Washing by washing machine is mostly out of question
Spot cleaning wool
The time to remove stain from wool is as soon as the stain occurs. Donot wait. Blotting the area with a clean towel by dabbing the area gently ( never rub) works for removing fresh stains . If you are using a spot cleaner or detergent remember to take it off by blotting with a wet cloth. But donot rub too much or too long.
How to care for woolen clothes
Pure wool is quite easy to maintian. It is quite resistant to heat and if the above fabric care label symbols are taken care of, will remain in tip top condition for many many years.
Always brush the wool garment after each and every wear. This will remove small dirt.
Empty all pockets and hang for 1-2 hours to shake out the wrinkles and then store flat.You can also make sure that the garment donot get too much dirty with sweat and body oils by wearing a slip / petticoat between the wool fabric and your body.
I never ever stretch woolen fabric or clothes made of them when they are wet. They have an elasticity which stretches the fibers and when they are wet they are extremely susceptible to damage. They may permanently remain stretched. So no wringing or twisting of woolen clothes to remove water after handwashing.
When washing woolen clothes (which is marked ok to hand wash) if I am sure that the garment is going to bleed I set the colours with a small soak of water mixed with some vinegar. Some people also recommend salt solution.
I always use extra gentle liquid ph balanced detergent ( designed for woolen fabric) and cold water for washing woolen clothes – not the generic detergent. Also like silk give a final rinse with a water mixed with a few drops of hair conditioner. Remember that ike hair wool is a natural fur and will shine with this pampering
Woolen clothes stretch which is bad when storing it.Hanging wool garments inside a cupboard for a long time also will stretch the fabric fibers permanently.The edges of the hangers will distort the shoulder area. Fold and lie flat for storage.
Never ever hang the wet woolen cloth for drying after a wash or hold it by the shoulder area. Lay down flat to dry after the wash after absorbing extra water with a clean towel. This will prevent stretching somewhat. You will get special mesh screens to lay the woolen clothes to dry so that it can dry from the top and underneath. Towel racks can manage if you donot get these.
A quality drycleaning center can be your ally in keeping premium woolen clothes in excellent condition. Ensure that they donot come out with that chemical smell. That means that the center is not up to the mark. A good quality place will clean your woolen clothes with enough steam and appropriate cleaning solutions making it clean and smell good too
One easy hack to take out wrinkles out of woolen clothes is to hang them in a shower area overnight. The humidity in the place will naturally iron out the wool fabric like magic.
I always keep small moth balls and nice smelling herbs inside a perforated pouch and keep this near my woolen clothes ( without touching the clothes of course) Exposure to sunlight ( not too long) can also prevent mildew growth and kill moth larvae. I have read somewhere that keeping the garment in the fridge for some time ( 48 hours or so ) also can kill the larvae. Sunlight will do for me. My fridge is overcrowded as it is
Some have success with storing wool with cedar chips/blocks or the items itself in cedar chests.
Do not despair when you see tiny holes in your woolen garment made by those hated moths ( insects) They are totally repairable. Most probably you have got some spare thread with the garment which matches the thread. With some practice you can repair the hole by weaving into the fabric with the thread and fill the hole.It will look almost as if the hole was not there. The woolen cloth was made by weaving – so repairing by weaving is an easy and understandable solution
Special care for special wools
Performance wool – Garments made of this blended wool should never be exposed to high heat from an iron – it will end up looking shiny. Dry cleaning also should be done carefully on this wool.
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