THE MANY BENEFITS OF FELT AND WOOL No other fabric can boast nor combine as many natural, favourable properties which work so well under a variety of challenging conditions. In addition to being a natural, sustainable material, the inherent qualities and properties of wool give it unique desirable advantages. For example:
Thermal - Wool fibers release heat when in contact with moisture. The fibers contain a large amount of air, which insulates from heat and cold. The core of a wool fiber is hydrophilic and absorbs heat radiated from the body in the form of water vapor. Furthermore, it can store water vapor up to 35 per cent of its own dry weight yet it remains dry to touch and speeds up the body's own cooling system.
Food safe - Wool and felt bowls for example, can be used for food (bread, fruit) without concern.
Floats and is water resistant - It is naturally hydrophobic so it floats and repels water.
Durable - The interlocking protein molecules in wool fibers have the power to elongate, stretch and recover, creating an extremely robust fabric that will last for decades. Wool fibers contain proteins whose chemical structure gives the wool its characteristic elasticity, strength and airiness.
Static resistant - The retention of moisture within the fabric prevents a build-up of static electricity.
Wrinkle resistant - Wool is the most resilient fiber because it has a natural crimp that helps it keep its shape. Wool items can be stretched and squished yet still bounce back to their original shape.
Renewable and sustainable - Wool is a renewable resource that can be shorn from sheep annually. It is biodegradable and kinder to the environment than oil-based synthetics, which contribute to global pollution. Wool is sustainable. Wool from free-grazing sheep, treated ethically throughout their long lives, represents a traditional small-scale industry. Today, many small organic farmers are returning to this sustainable industry to create clean and healthy wool that is produced without stress to the animals or the environment.
Dirt resistant - The crimp and the scales prevent dirt from penetrating the surface of the wool fibre and the static resistance also helps to resist dust and lint from the air.
Exfoliating - Wool and felt cloth is mildy abrasive and is an excellent exfoliator and deep pore cleaner.
Reduces noise - Wool absorbs sound and reduces noise level considerably. Wool is also an ideal material used in such places as concert halls to attain the best acoustics possible.
Neutralizes odor - Studies show wool has the ability to absorb and neutralize odors better than other fibers. Its chemical composition allows it to neutralize bodily substances. According to comparative tests wool has the highest absorption capacity of any fiber.
Is comfortable - Its' elasticity means garments fit well, yield to body movement, and recover it's shape. It absorbs moisture, breathes and doesn't feels damp.
Is versatile - Wool knitwear and carpets are made from many types of wool varying from extra fine (suits and knitwear) through to broad fibres that give carpets their strength and character.
Easy to dye - The scales on the surface of the wool fibre tend to diffuse light giving less reflection and a softer colour. Wool holds colour well as the dye becomes part of the fibre.
Is fashionable - Wool comes in a wide choice of textures, weaves and weights, and is suitable for any style required. No fabric drapes like wool fabric. It is alive, flexible and tailors easily.
CHARACTERISTICS OF WOOL
Wool's scaling and crimp make it easier to spin the fleece. They help the individual fibers attach to each other so that they stay together. Because of the crimp, wool fabrics have a greater bulk than other textiles and retain air, which causes the product to retain heat. Insulation also works both ways; Bedouins and Tuaregs use wool clothes to keep the heat out.
The amount of crimp corresponds to the thickness of the wool fibers. Fine wool like Merino may have up to a hundred crimps per inch while coarser wools like karakul have as few as one to two crimps per inch. Hair, by contrast, has little if any scale and no crimp, and little ability to bind into yarn. On sheep, the hair part of the fleece is called kemp. The relative amounts of kemp to wool vary from breed to breed, and make some fleeces more desirable for spinning, felting, or carding into batts for quilts or other insulating products.
Wool possesses much greater ability to return to its natural length after being stretched than any artificial fiber. In water or steam, wool can stretch to about twice its length without breaking. Because of elasticity, woolen garments may be stretched or crushed without losing their shape. Also, this fiber felts readily, by heat, moisture, and pressure being applied during the manufacturing processes.
Wool fibers are hygroscopic. This means wool has the power to readily absorb and give off moisture. It can absorb moisture up to one-third of its own weight. Synthetic fibers can only absorb 2-3 percent of moisture before they begin to feel wet. Additionally, wool absorbs sound and reduces noise level considerably like many other fabrics. Wool is generally a creamy white color, although some breeds of sheep produce natural colors such as black, brown, silver, and random mixes.
Wool is harder to ignite than most synthetic and cotton fibers used in equivalent products (higher ignition temperature); it has lower rate of flame spread, low heat release, and low heat of combustion; doesn't melt or drip; forms a char which is insulating and self-extinguishes; and contributes less to toxic gases and smoke than other flooring products when used in carpets. Wool carpets are specified for high safety environments such as trains and aircraft. Wool is usually specified for garments for fire fighters, soldiers, and others in occupations where they are exposed to the likelihood of fire.
Wool is static resistant as the retention of moisture within the fabric prevents a build up of static electricity. Woolen garments are much less likely to spark or cling to the body. The use of woolen car seat covers or carpets reduces the risk of a shock when a person touches a grounded object.
PROCESSING Fine Merino shearing has a high level of a grease which contains valuable lanolin, as well as dirt, dead skin, sweat residue, and vegetable matter. This state is known as "grease wool" or "wool in the grease". Before the wool can be used for commercial purposes it must be scoured, or cleaned. Scouring may be as simple as a bath in warm water, or a complicated industrial process using detergent and alkali. In commercial wool, vegetable matter is often removed by the chemical carbonization. In less processed wools, vegetable matter may be removed by hand, and some of the lanolin left intact through use of gentler detergents. This semi-grease wool can be worked into yarn and knitted into particularly water-resistant mittens or sweaters, such as those of the Aran Island fishermen. Lanolin removed from wool is widely used in cosmetics products such as hand creams.
After shearing, the wool is separated into five main categories: fleece (which makes up the vast bulk), broken, pieces, bellies, and locks. The latter four are pressed into wool packs and sold separately. The quality of fleece is determined by a technique known as wool classing, whereby a qualified wool classer groups wools of similar grading together to maximize the return for the farmer or sheep owner. Prior to Australian auctions, all Merino fleece wool is objectively measured for micron, yield (including the amount of vegetable matter), staple length, staple strength, and sometimes color and comfort factor.
Various types and natural colors of wool, and a picture made from wool. The quality of wool is determined by the following factors, fiber diameter, yield, staple length, color, and staple strength. Fiber diameter is the single most important wool characteristic determining quality and price.
Merino wool is typically 3-5 inches in length and is very fine (between 12-24 microns). The finest and most valuable wool comes from Merino hoggets. Wool taken from sheep produced for meat is typically coarser and has fibers 1.5 to 6 inches. Damage or breaks in the wool can occur if the sheep is stressed while it is growing its fleece, resulting in a thin spot where the fleece is likely to break.
GRADES Wool is also separated into grades based on the measurement of the wool's diameter in microns. These grades may vary depending on the breed or purpose of the wool. For example:
< 17.5 - Ultra fine Merino 17.6-18.5 - Superfine Merino < 19.5 - Fine Merino 19.6-20.5 - Fine medium Merino 20.6-22.5 - Medium Merino 22.6 < - Strong Merino Or < 24.5 - Fine 24.5–31.4 - Medium 31.5-35.4 - Fine crossbred 35.5 < - coarse crossbred
In general, anything finer than 25 microns can be used for garments, while coarser grades are used for outerwear or rugs. The finer the wool, the softer it will be, while coarser grades are more durable and less prone to pilling.
The finest Australian and New Zealand Merino wools are known as 1PP which is the industry benchmark of excellence for Merino wool that is 16.9 micron and finer. This style represents the top level of fineness, character, color, and style as determined on the basis of a series of parameters in accordance with the original dictates of British Wool as applied today by the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) Council. Only a few dozen of the millions of bales auctioned every year can be classified and marked 1PP.
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