Wool has been used to make garments since the dawn of civilization.
It usually consists of fiber from the fleece of sheep, but it may also
consist of hair from goats, llamas, and rabbits. However, sheep wool
fibers are more elastic than hair because of their crimp and overlapping
surface scales. Finer wool has more crimps per inch, and the scales
enable the wool fibers to stretch. Today, Australia is the leading
producer of wool.
Most sheep are sheared each Spring. The resulting fleeces are graded
by length, color, fineness, and quality, and then cleaned. Their
fibers are carded and spun into yarn that is used either for knitting
or for weaving into fabric. Wool is frequently dyed, either as
unspun wool, as yarn, or as woven fabric.
Wool fabrics are very versatile and comfortable. Wool absorbs
moisture, and it is flame resistant, elastic, and water repellent.
Wool fabrics are classified as either woolens, from woolen yarns, or
worsteds, from worsted yarns. Woolens have a soft, fuzzy texture,
and are made from yarn that is loosely spun. Worsteds are strong,
smooth, and lustrous; they are made from yarn with a high twist.
Both of these fabric types are available in various textures,
weights, and weaves.
Some popular types of wool fabrics are as follows:
Woolen fabrics are soft fabrics with some nap and stretch. They
are suitable for dresses, skirts and jackets. Heavier woolen
fabrics are a good choice for coats.
Worsted wool fabric is a high quality fabric. It has a harder
finish than woolen fabrics, and is smoother and stronger. This
fabric is often used for men's suits.
Wool Challis is soft and lightweight. It is comfortable and is
often printed with a paisley or floral pattern. Wool challis is
well-suited to dresses or shirts, and it resists wrinkles.
Wool jersey is great for casual wear. Besides being quite
comfortable, it is useful for designs that require draped fabric.
Wool gabardine is a water-resistant fabric that is especially suited
for pants, coats and shirts.
Boiled wool is a knitted wool that is felted. It is often used
for unlined jackets that are bound on the edges with foldover trim
instead of a traditional hem.
The American Wool Council is a division of the American
Sheep Industry Association. It is involved in the entire process of
wool marketing, from fleece to fashion. Its objective is to facilitate
the sale of American wool fabrics and products. www.SheepUSA.org
IWTO is the international body that represents the interests
of the world's wool-textile trade and industry. IWTO members include
wool growers, traders, primary processors, spinners, weavers, garment
makers and retailers of wool fabrics and fibers in its member-countries,
as well as all kinds of organizations related to wool products and the
wool business in general. www.IWTO.org