Back when I was about seven or eight years old, my father and his brother tried raising sheep on the land that they farmed together in an attempt to make money from the wool. After a couple of years, they gave it up because the sheep munched the pasture grass so close to the earth that there wasn't much left for the dairy cows which were of top priority. Shearing the sheep was dirty messy business, but fun for the kids to watch, and that's what I remember most about the bawling baa-ing sheep.
Because of all the synthetic fibers available now, wool is far less important than it once was, but don't count it out. Wool is an amazing fiber and has characteristics not found in anything else. People wear clothing made of wool to keep warm in cold climates, and people wear it to keep cool in hot desert areas. In addition to its excellent insulation qualities, wool absorbs and retains water vapor making it naturally flame resistant.
Wool comes mainly from various kinds of sheep, but can come from other animals as well such as llama or rabbit, the quality of the wool varies depending on the particular breed. The system of processing the wool is similar.
First, the sheared wool must be cleansed of the dirt and debris contained within it. The cleaning process may remove the oil (lanolin) or may not depending on the purpose for which it will be used. Then it will be examined and divided according to quality. The next step is to separate the strands into strings (carding) and twist them into 'ropes'. It's more complicated than this, of course, but I've listed some resources below if you wish to find out more details about the preparation of raw wool and the system by which it becomes a finished product.
About 60% of wool is used in apparel, and the rest is used in carpets, blankets, piano hammer covers, upholstery, insulation, body armor, and much more. We now have a process by which wool can be made washable without shrinking, and without losing the qualities that we so treasure.
I once wrote a science-fiction story that included a futuristic shower where a busy person could simply walk through the shower stall fully clothed and come out totally cleaned. The Japanese came close a few years ago by marketing a wool suit that could be washed in the shower and be ready to wear in just a few hours with no ironing needed. Of course there was no human being inside the suit as it was being cleaned, so maybe the future hasn't arrived quite yet.
Wool is one of the most versatile fibers on the market today. Let's understand it, how it is used, and how we can benefit from it.
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Filed under: Products we use