Wool is nature’s own technical material, and so far no one has succeeded in producing a synthetic fiber with the unique characteristics of wool.
Wool usually comes from sheep. Other types of wool used include camel wool, mohair from the Angora goat, alpaca wool from the Alpaca, cashmere from the Cashmere goat and angora from the Angora rabbit.
For 2.5 million years there have been sheep in Europe and Asia. Before the Ice Age, sheep were as big as oxen. Sheep were tamed by man around 9000 BC in Southeast Asia, and they were the first domestic animals to provide their keepers with food and clothing. Wool is considered our oldest textile material and has been used to make clothes for 10000 years. Wool has been an important commodity, and has signified prosperity and power well into the 19th century.
Today there are about a billion sheep all around the world, divided into more than 200 breeds. The largest producing regions are in Australia, New Zealand and South America, and the most common breeds are Lincoln and Merino. Merino sheep produce exceptionally fine and crimpy wool.
Merino sheep have their origins in North Africa, and probably came to Spain at the end of the 12th century. The trade in this soft and fine wool was significant for Spain, a country which controlled the wool market for centuries, and which for a long time banned the export of Merino sheep. The breed was named Merino in the 15th century after the royal sheep inspectors ‘los Merinos’.
The wool fiber’s crimped structure traps large quantities of air and provides good heat insulation. Air between the fibers reduces the heat conduction within the material, and therefore has an insulating effect against both heat and cold.
Merino wool can have up to 40 crimps per centimeter, which provides a high degree of insulation. The crimps in the fibers also mean that there are fewer contact points between the material and the skin, another benefit when it comes to trapping air.
WOOL WARMS EVEN WHEN MOIST
During increased activity level or temperature, the body generates perspiration to cool down, thereby raising the moisture level. Wool is hygroscopic, or able to absorb moisture from the air, and so can absorb moisture vapor from the body.
Wool can absorb both between the fibers and inside of them, so it feels dry against the skin even when moist. Wool fibers can absorb up to 30% of their dry weight without feeling damp.
Wool also creates warmth when moist. When moisture is absorbed, it is an exothmeric process – so-called
”absorption heat”. Heat evergy is released when water molecules and the fiber’s molecule groups, which have the opposite polarity, collide. The force of the collision is so intense that heat is created. The process continues until the fiber is saturated with water molecules.
WOOL WICKS AWAY MOISTURE
When humidity is higher inside the wool garment than outside, the wool works hard to absorb the moisture and transport it through the material until a balance is reached. Since moisture is transported to the outside of the garment, heat insulation increases and you stay dry.
WOOL IS EASY TO CARE FOR AND SELF-CLEANING
Wool is self cleaning and does not smell. The creatine in the wool naturally breaks down bad smelling bacteria from the skin.
The core of the wool fiber consists of two types of cells that absorb different quantities of moisture. As a result, one type swells more than the other and they move in constant friction. This gives the wool fiber a mechanical, self-cleaning effect.
Moisture on the surface of a textile promotes the growth of bacteria, but the outside of the wool fiber stays relatively dry. The surface of the fiber is water repellent, which prevents bacteria growth and its consequent bad smell.
Wool garments do not need frequent washing, but rather can be aired out in humid weather with good results. The water vapor passing through the garment will remove soil particles and odors.
TREATED WOOL CAN BE MACHINE WASHED
The surface of the wool fiber is covered with small scales and as a result wool clothes can felt when washed. The scales can be eliminated with treatment and the wool material is then machine washable.
THE FINENESS OF THE WOOL FIBER IS DEFINED IN MICRONS
The number of microns, i.e., the measurement of the wool fiber in thousandths of a millimeter, is used to indicate quality. Fine wool is between 17 and 23 microns. When wool is perceived as itchy, the reason is that there are coarse fibers in the wool, which do not yield to the skin but rather stick in. The finer the fibers, the softer the feel of the textiles. Coarse fibers in excess of 28 microns may itch.