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Fabric Fibers: Cotton | Linen | Silk | Synthetic | Wool

wool - sheep shearing 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.

tailored wool suit close-up 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.
separating raw wool fleece fibers spinning wool into yarn on a spinning wheel
weaving a wool rug on a loom

Wool Resources

  • American Sheep Industry Association
    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.
  • International Wool Trade Organization
    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.

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Wool Fabric - Wool Fabrics Guide