Fabric Dictionary: What is Wool?

If you’re looking for a fabric that can keep you warm in winter, cool in summer, and all-around comfortable, wool is a win. It’s a natural fiber, which makes it highly appealing to many users, and offers comfort and convenience in many designs. Is wool the right fabric for you? Take a look at these key qualities of wool fabric and how they can impact many of your designs.

What is Wool Fabric?

Wool fabric is a fabric made from the natural fibers in the fleece of animals. Most of the time, fleece is made from sheep, but it can also be made from other animals, including goats, camels, and rabbits. Typically, wool fabric comes from Australia, China, the United States, and New Zealand, which hold the spots of top producers of wool fabric in the world.

The qualities and properties of wool may depend on the animal it comes from.

  • Alpaca wool is typically medium-weight and is often used in bedspreads, coats, and blankets.
  • Angora does the best job of wicking away moisture and retaining heat, making it the ideal fabric for hats, gloves, and coats.
  • Cashmere, usually obtained from goats, is soft, luxurious, and lightweight.
  • Merino wool is the softest type of wool. It regulates body temperature well in both hot and cold weather, making it an ideal choice for athletic clothing lines.
  • Melton wool, which contains very thick wool fibers, is wind-resistant and more weatherproof than other types of wool.
  • Lambswool, which comes from a baby sheep’s first shearing, offers a smooth, soft fabric that can be used in a variety of clothing. Lambswool is typically hypoallergenic.

The Properties of Wool

While the specific properties of the wool fabric you use may depend on the animal it comes from, there are several things that the different types of wool fabric have in common, regardless of where they come from.

Wool is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial.

It can easily resist bacterial or microbial growth. This makes it ideal for items like coats, hats, and gloves, which may be worn multiple times before washing.

Wool helps maintain body temperature (even when wet!).

Just as wool helps regulate the temperature of the animal it comes from when it’s still fleece on the animal’s body, when woven into a fabric, it’s perfect for helping to maintain body temperature. Even as it gets wet, it can still help insulate and protect the body, which makes it ideal for athletes or people out in rainy weather conditions.

Wool is naturally thick and fairly heavy.

Because wool must be woven together, wool fabric may be heavier than other types of fabric. While it’s not typically heavy enough to weigh the wearer down, it may have less drape and flow than other types of fabric.

Wool usually feels soft.

While some types of wool may be scratchier or heavier than others, modern wool fabric is usually soft and comfortable. Some people may have trouble with itching under some circumstances, so wool may be best used as an insulator in some clothing designs, with another layer between the wearer and the skin. Using hypoallergenic options, like lambswool, can also prove helpful in decreasing the itchy feeling.

Wool is a durable, reliable fabric.

Wool is perfect for use in designs that are intended to stand the test of time: winter coats that may be worn for several years, or athletic apparel that may need to be worn hard and frequently, for example.

The Pros and Cons of Wool

Interested in using wool fabric in your designs? Consider these advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

Wool has a number of benefits. It is:

  • Breathable
  • A natural fiber
  • Biodegradable and renewable, which makes it eco-friendly
  • Anti-wrinkle
  • Stain-resistant and easy to clean when it does get dirty
  • Comfortable

Cons

While wool has multiple benefits, it does also have drawbacks. Carefully consider whether those details might be deal-breakers before adding it to your brand. 

  • Some types of wool are fragile, so they may have to be combined with other fibers.
  • It may be scratchy and uncomfortable to some users, especially against the skin
  • Wool may require hand washing, rather than using a washing machine
  • Heat and moisture can cause wool to felt, which may ruin the appearance of the clothing item

Choosing high-quality wool–and making sure that you choose the right wool for your specific project–can make it easier to get the results you’re after.

A Short History of Wool Fabric

Wool fabric has been around for quite some time, with the first wool garments made between 400 and 300 BC. Wool was initially plucked from the sheep by hand, but in the Iron Age, the first shear was created. By medieval times, wool trade had become considerably more common, with England and Castile exporting a great deal of wool to other areas of the world. In the mid-20th century, wool production decreased somewhat, with some users discovering that synthetic fabrics and fibers were easier to maintain. However, the rise of superwash wool, or washable wool, helped wool maintain its place on the market.

How Wool Fabric is Made

Turning fleece into wool is often a long process. First, the fleece has to be sheared from the sheep. Then, it is scoured, or cleaned; carded to remove any impurities; and combed. The fleece is graded according to its type and quality. If the final product is intended to be a specific color, it may be dyed. Finally, it is spun into yarn. That yarn is then woven into the wool fabric, often on large looms.

When to Use Wool Fabric in Your Brand

Wool fabric has a number of purposes. It is generally used in fabrics that need to hold up to heavy use. In fact, wool is often used in blankets, saddle cloths, carpets, insulation, and even upholstery due to its ability to stand the test of time. Consider using wool for clothing that:

  • Needs to keep the user warm
  • Needs to help the user maintain temperature control, such as in athletic fabric
  • Has a warmer, heavier build

Is wool the right choice for your brand? Continue your fabric exploration by checking out Tencel fabric or organic cotton and its impact on your clothing line.

Contributor

StartUp FASHION is an online community where independent designers and emerging brands are coming together, helping one another, forming friendships, collaborating, letting off steam, sharing victories, and belonging to a network of people who get it; who are doing it too.We’re a place to access and discover the tools and information you need to build your fashion business. We help you define your path and give you the guidance, encouragement, and resources to follow that path.

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