Learn all about the different types of wool and how they are produced. Wool products are not only made from the wool of sheep but can be made from the fur of different animals. Sheep, rabbits, camels and llama all give their fur to be woven into different types of wool fabrics. Wool is made by shaving the hair from animals and spinning it into yarn or thread. It can then be woven into many types of wool textiles.
Types of Wool
Wool has some very unique properties and these attributes make it especially suitable for being woven into warm fabrics. The natural wave in wool, called crimp, makes the weave trap air in the fabric giving it warmth and insulation.
Properties of Wool
Wool does not burn in a fabric burning test and this makes it effective in reducing flammability. When sheep were first domesticated, different breeds of sheep were bred for different qualities of wool. The merino is the most popular member of the sheep family for giving wool.
While wool competes with cotton and linen within the natural fiber niche, wool has totally different attributes. It is an animal product that consists of 97% protein and 3% fat making it very different from cotton and therefore is quite unique. Wool fabric can be identified by the Woolmark which is considered a mark of quality.
The Australian wool industry is the world’s leader in wool production, followed by China and the United States and New Zealand.
Types of Wool by Animal
The 9 different types of wool listed here comes from the fur of different animals and as such they have different characteristics.
Merino wool comes from the Merino sheep. This breed of sheep originated in Spain but nowadays has its largest population in Australia and New Zealand. It is a very soft wool and when used in fabrics, it is ideal for regulating body temperature. Merino wool is popular for sports clothing because it suits both hot and cold climates for warmth and keeping body temperatures regular. It is a fine, shiny type of wool.
The Shetland sheep from the Shetland Isles, belonging to Scotland, provides a wool ideal for knitting. It is a lightweight wool that is durable as well as being soft. Shetland wool is available in a wide range of natural colors.
Lambswool is also known as virgin wool. This name is given to lambswool because it comes from the lamb’s first shearing. It is more expensive than other types of wool because each lamb only produces one ‘first shearing’. Lambswool is very soft, smooth and hypo-allergenic. It is hard to wrinkle lambswool making it ideal for many clothing items.
Mohair comes from the angora goat. It is a durable wool that drapes very well. Mohair is usually woven in a plain weave. It is lightweight but very warm and makes up beautifully into suits, dresses, scarves, cardigans and baby clothes.
This wool, as the name suggests, is made from the coat of the alpaca. The alpaca was first found in Peru and its wool was used by the Peruvian people to make ponchos and decorative blankets. There are two breeds of alpaca that give their wool for weaving - the Huacaya and the Suri. Huacaya wool is thicker and used for knit fabrics and Suri wool has a silky texture and used in woven fabrics. Alpaca wool today is used for many different items including high-end suits, coats, blankets, and bedspreads.
Camel's hair is a warm, luxurious fine wool with a natural golden brown color. It is usually blended with other wools that are less expensive. The softer hair from the camel’s undercoat is used for clothing, while the course outer hair is used for backing carpets and upholstery.
Angora types of wool are taken from the Angora rabbit. It is soft and fluffy and has the ability to retain heat. The fibers are fragile so Angora wool is often combined with other fibers to strengthen it. Angora wool products are very expensive.
Cashmere has a high natural crimp. It is soft and lightweight, but also very expensive because the fibers are combed from cashmere goats, not sheared. Each goat produces a very small amount of wool. Cashmere is not as durable as sheep’s wool.
The Vicuna is a relative of the llama and a member of the camelid family. It was a highly prized animal by the Inca of South America. Traditionally, the fine wool from the vicuna was only allowed to be worn by the Inca royal family. It is a very expensive wool because the animal can only be shorn once every three years.
Types of Wool Treatments
Fabrics made with wool fall into two categories. These categories are defined by the length of the wool fiber. Worsted fabrics have a smooth surface and are made by twisting longer fibers together. Shorter fibers make wool fabrics that are fuzzy and tufted. Wool can be further defined as carpet wool with long coarse fibers or apparel wool which is finer wool for making garments.
Boiled wool is a stretchy, felted wool that is produced by undergoing a washing process. This makes the wool thicker and water-resistant. It is especially used for berets, jackets, coats and outdoor clothing.
Super wool refers to the fiber count in the quality of the wool. Super wool can be classified as Super 100, 110, 120, 150 and higher. The higher the number the finer the wool. This is a measure rather like the cotton thread count.
Wool Chinchilla is a wool fabric with tufts or what is known as nubs on the surface of the fabric. These tufts are created on a special machine called a chinchilla machine.
Organic types of wool are taken from sheep that have been bred without using harmful chemicals. The sheep have been raised in a natural environment on pesticide-free grazing using organic farming methods.
Melton is a tough, warm brand of wool. It is wind resistant and a very weatherproof wool. The melton wool fibers are thick and woven into a twill variety of fabric. It is a popular choice for woollen jackets and heavy blankets.
Types of Wool Fabrics
Wool can be classified according to the type of fabric it is made into. Distinctive fabrics lend themselves to clothing that requires the strength, durability and warmth of wool.
These wool fabrics fall under the following categories.
Gabardine is a strong, woven fabric with a twill weave. This weave gives the fabric a ribbed surface on one side and a smooth texture on the other side. This hard-wearing fabric is used to make trousers, jackets, coats and suits. Gabardine has been used to make bags because it is a very strong fabric.
Jersey is a knit fabric made with wool yarn. It is perfect for knitted sweaters, cardigans and other knit garments and is especially popular for Winter clothing.
Batting made with wool fibers is superior to cotton batting. It is used to insulate quilts and other bedding.
Broadcloth is a very strong fabric with a dense weave that is made from wool.
Bouclé is a unique wool fabric due to its curled bobbled texture. It gets its name from the French word bouclé meaning loop.
Wool tweed is a very popular fabric and is named after the Tweed River in Scotland where it was first made. It comes in different patterns and is a very durable, moisture-resistant, fabric. Tweed is also very warm.
The distinctive herringbone weaving pattern gives this type of wool fabric its name. It reminds one of the skeletons of a herring fish. This fabric is very popular for making trousers, jackets and coats.
Loden is a wool fabric that is water resistant and therefore very popular for coats.
Lincoln wool is a high-quality wool fabric that is expensive. It is admired for its appearance and popular for making suits and other clothing.
Wool is felted through a washing process. Wool felt is very popular for craft projects and making hats and jackets. Most types of wool felt are soft and durable.
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Tartan is a traditional Scottish cloth with very distinctive stripes and traditional colorways. Many tartan patterns are attributed to particular families and the Scottish kilts were made from tartan cloth. Tartan may make up into jackets and skirts too.
Flannel is a brushed fabric that generally has a napped surface. Sometimes the brushed surface is on both sides and this makes flannel a very warm fabric for nightwear.
Wool sharkskin has a distinctive two-toned look with a twill weave and smooth surface. The two-tone is achieved by alternating the warp and the weft with two colors.
Woollen fibers woven with a soft tufted pile give this fabric a velvet-like texture.
Types of Wool - In Conclusion
The types of wool fabrics are very broad and offer many different textures and designs. Wool fabrics cover many different areas of clothing and interiors, but wool is probably best known for giving warmth and comfort on cool days.
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