Wool has long been one of the most popular fabrics. Originally clipped from sheep, goats, and other animals, wool is made into many different types of clothing and is particularly useful as a garment that insulates the wearer against both heat and cold.
Sheep are a common source of wool, but other animals such as goats, alpaca, and llama also produce it. Sheep’s wool is usually referred to as “wool” or “sheep’s fleece,” while wool from other animals is referred to as “sheepskin.”
The wool of sheep is primarily composed of keratin-based proteins that make it elastic and strong, making it ideal for the manufacture of a wide variety of textiles. It is also breathable and moisture-absorbing, which is why it’s so effective as a clothing material.
When woven, wool has a natural waviness called “crimp.” This waviness provides the fabric with insulative properties, which is why it’s often used to create clothing such as jackets and hats that help protect against both cold and heat.
In the nineteenth century, most of the processes involved in the manufacturing of woolen cloth were mechanized, allowing a reduction in human labor. However, the shearing of sheep still required skilled human hands and judgments about the value of different grades of wool.
A variety of other steps are necessary to convert the raw wool into a finished fabric. These include shearing, cleaning and scouring, grading and sorting, carding, spinning, and weaving.
First, the wool is sorted into different grades, which are determined by a human hand and are usually based on length, fineness, and color. These grades are arranged into four groups: lambs’, pulled, virgin, and worsted wool.
The wool is then scoured in a series of alkaline baths that remove any dirt, sand, or dried sweat from the fibers. Then the scoured fleece is carded, which straightens and blends the individual fibers into a uniform strand. The resulting yarn is spun into woolens, such as homespun, tweed, and flannel.
Next, the wool tunic is scoured again to eliminate any remaining soil particles. This process is repeated a few times, until the fibers are combed into a soft, smooth pile that is suitable for spinning into woolens.
After the fleece is scoured, it’s then cut into pieces that can be shaped into the desired fabric. Then the scoured and shorn wool is tanned with a chemical that gives it a deep brown or blackish tint and makes it softer to the touch.
A number of other shrinking processes may be applied before the fabric is pressed and inspected for quality, and then cut into bolt lengths. In some cases, the fabric is steamed and dampened to allow it to be pre-shrunk before it’s cut.
The resulting fabric is then inspected for blemishes, creases, and other defects. The fabric is then folded and steamed again to further reduce the size of the creases and blemishes, and to ensure that the final fabric is clean.
Afterward, the fabric is rinsed and dried to prevent mildew, which can occur when the scoured and shorn fleece becomes wet from exposure to the sun or moisture in the air. If the fabric does become mildewed, it can be treated by soaking in a solution of mild detergent and water for several hours or even overnight.