OR WOOLEN: TYPES OF WOOL FABRIC
simplify a complicated matter, there are two major kinds of cloth made from wool
fibers: worsted and woolen. What's the difference? Well, worsted wools feel firm
to the touch and have minimum fuzziness and nap. This is because they are made
from longer wool fibers, and undergo a more intricate manufacturing process than
woolens. Good examples of worsted fabrics are gabardines and crepes and make for
good wool suiting fabrics.
By contrast, woolens have a random arrangement
of fibers that gives them more bulk and a soft, fuzzy surface. Homespun, tweed,
flannel wool, and Shetland wool are well known varieties of woolen yarn fabrics.
That was the broad classification. There is another kind of classification
of wool based on the age of the animal from which it is sheared. Hence, wool from
live sheep, called fleece, is superior to pulled wool, which is removed from dead
animals. Therefore, pulled wool has more humble uses in blankets, felts, and flannels,
for instance. A third kind, lamb's wool, comes from lambs under eight months old,
and is often used in fine woolens.
Even a layperson has probably heard
of Merino wool, which is the finest quality wool - extracted from Merino sheep.
Here's an interesting trivia: the fibers of Merino wool are so fine that a string
of them a mile long would weigh only 0.01 ounce! Though the breed originated in
Spain, the finest Merino wools now come from Australia, where sheep breeding has
attained new heights. However, South America and South Africa also produce Merino
wool. England, New Zealand and South America also breed sheep by crossing Merino
sheep with other types.
In the US, too, wool comes from crossbred sheep
such as Corriedale, Southdown, Shropshire, Dorset, and Hampshire. While domestic
wools come from the Eastern and Midwestern states, territory wools come from the
Rocky Mountain plateau states, and southwestern wools from Texas, New Mexico,
Arizona, and southern California.
However, and this is an important fact:
not all wool comes from sheep. Certain wools are made from specialty fibers from
rare animals. Examples include mohair from goat kids, cashmere from Cashmere (Kashmir)
goats of India and Tibet, camel hair, horsehair, and the hair of the llama, musk
ox, cow, Angora goat, Angora rabbit, and even the common rabbit.
can see, therefore, wool fabric types are enormously varied. Even so, we'll give
you an idea of some of the popular types:
Flannel wool is
a soft, lightweight fabric with a nap on one or both sides
is tightly woven wool twill with a high sheen. It makes an excellent wool suiting
Homespun is a loose, strong, durable woolen woven either
by hand or machine
Tweed is a rough textured wool, originally
homespun and slightly felted
Virgin wool is wool that has never
been processed into fabric
Cashmere comes from the down of the
Kashmir goat. It is an expensive, sensuous fabric and can be blended with silk,
cotton, or other kinds of wool
Alpaca fleece is very rich and
silky with a brilliant sheen
Mohair comes from the Angora goat
and is highly resilient and lustrous.
Vicuna, a fabric named
after an animal of the same name of the llama family, is the softest coat cloth
in the world. Since the animal is killed to obtain the fleece, rigorous conservation
laws protect it. Naturally, therefore, the fiber is rare and highly expensive
OF WARMTH: A HISTORY OF WOOL FABRIC
heard of a place called Tarentum? Well, in Roman times, this town was renowned
as a wool-producing center of some repute. As you can imagine, therefore, wool
and human civilization go back a pretty long way. In fact, the earliest European
woolen textile, dating back to 1500 BC, has been found preserved beneath a bog
Wool as a raw material has been easily available ever since
man first began to domesticate sheep and goats, and scholars have found evidence
of the use of felted or woven wool in clothing and other apparel in some of the
earliest European civilizations. In fact, wool was being used in Asia Minor as
far back as the Stone Age -- about 10,000 years ago - and inhabitants of the Mesopotamian
Plain used sheep for food, clothing and shelter. As man learned to weave, woolens
became established as items of export from Babylon.
However, the extraction
of raw wool can't have been an easy task before the invention of shears - which
were probably discovered in the Iron Age - because, rather revoltingly, the wool
was plucked out by hand or by bronze combs. Nevertheless, in the glory days of
Tarentum, wool was a major component of garments across Europe, since both cotton
from India and silk from China were considered luxuries. In Tarentum, breeders
had selectively bred sheep with a superior fleece, which required special care.
As sheep-rearing spread, so did the popularity of wool. Between 3000 and
1000 BC the Persians, Greeks and Romans carried sheep and wool across Europe.
In fact, the Romans 'globalized' sheep, as it were, as they built their Empire
in Spain, North Africa, and the British Isles. As early as 50 AD, Romans established
a wool plant in modern Winchester, England.
The Saracens from Arabia followed
the Romans into Spain in the eighth century AD and set up a thriving wool trade
with North Africa, Greece, Egypt and Constantinople. After the Normans conquered
Greece in the 12th century, they introduced wool weaving to Italian centers like
Florence, Genoa, Palermo and Venice.
Meanwhile, in Spain, the wool trade
was still flourishing, so much so that it helped finance the voyages of Christopher
Columbus and the Conquistadors. So jealously did the Spanish royalty protect the
trade that anyone exporting sheep without royal permission risked the death penalty
until 1786. That same year, King Louis XVI of France imported nearly 400 Merino
ewes to cross with sheep on his estate at Rambouillet. The result, of course,
was the celebrated Rambouillet breed, known for its fine, long-staple wool.
its cue from Spain, England too banned raw wool exports. In 1377 King Edward III
banned the import of woven goods and domestic weaving of foreign wools. Instead,
he invited Flemish weavers fleeing the Spanish invasion to settle in England,
thus creating a hugely successful English wool-manufacturing industry. So successful
that by 1660, wool textile exports formed two-third of England's international
Elsewhere in the world, the warmth of wool was spreading as well.
Columbus brought sheep to Cuba and Santo Domingo in 1493, and Hernando Cortez
took sheep with him when he explored parts of modern Mexico and southwestern USA.
Now you know why Navajo and other Southwest Indian tribes are noted for their
beautiful woolen rugs and wall hangings.
Coming to North America, however,
the history of wool is slightly more complicated. England's King Henry VIII (yes,
the much-married monarch) began a chain of reactions when he seized flocks of
sheep belonging to monasteries and redistributed them among his favorites. The
resultant unemployment among shepherds caused many to be imprisoned for debt and
was a major factor behind many of them eventually deciding to immigrate to America.
Naturally, England tried to prevent the growth of a wool industry in North
America, but by 1665, a few smuggled sheep had grown to flocks that totaled about
100,000. So great was the new industry's potential that Massachusetts even passed
a law requiring young people to spin and weave. Interestingly, the eldest unmarried
daughter in the family performed most of the spinning duties, thus giving birth
to the word "spinster." Also, spun yarn was wound on a reel (called 'weasel')
that made a popping sound when a pre-set yardage was reached. Hence - 'pop goes
England's kings wouldn't give up, however. King George III
made wool trading in all colonies a punishable offense, with the offender's right
hand liable to be cut off. Despite this and other draconian measures, however,
the wool industry prospered in America. Both the 'gentlemen farmer' Presidents
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson bred flocks of sheep, and inventions like
the spinning jenny, combing machines and water-powered looms caused the industry
to grow rapidly.
Inevitably, at the turn of the 18th century, pioneers
carried the industry to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which have become
some of the world's most successful wool-producing regions today. For a long time,
in fact, Australia's economy was dependent on wool production, and even today,
it contributes about 25% of the world's wool, while New Zealand comes in second
with about 18%.