Wool is one of the oldest fabrics around, and for good reason. With its moisture-absorbent, fire retardant, downright durable and renewable status it is a hard fabric to beat when it comes to making things last. But how does wool actually get processed, and just what makes this fabric sustainable even after all these years?
Wool from our furry friends, sheep, transformed from a cottage industry in 4000 B.C. to a global industry. Australia, Argentina, China, South Africa, the United States, and New Zealand are the major suppliers and consumers of raw wool globally. To date there are around 200 types of wool created from only 40 breeds of sheep.
Creating the wool that we see in clothing, bedding, and in pillows takes four steps. First, the sheep are sheared once a year in spring or summer. Second, the wool is graded and sorted so any stained or damaged wool can be removed from the pile. The grading assesses the strength, fineness, diameter, length, waviness, and color of the wool. The sorting classifies wool into five areas: fleece, broken, pieces, bellies, and locks. The wool is then thoroughly cleaned and then dried to cleanse it of excessive lanolin (aka wool grease) which is beneficial in smaller amounts for its warmth and water-resistant properties.
Next it is "carded" or combed to create a flat sheet that can be transformed into yarn. The third step, yarn-making, requires carding and combing into woolen or worsted yarn. The final step is the transformation of yarn from a material to a product such as fabric, knit-friendly yarn, or garments. Some examples of wool items include clothing, wool balls in place of dryer sheets, blankets, rugs, mattresses, and even pillows to keep us warm and healthy.
Wool has taken on the name "green" lately because of its natural properties. It is renewable, hypoallergenic, durable, absorbent, and somewhat fire resistant. The majority of mattresses today fall under strict regulations to be fire resistant, which equates to extensive chemical use in most cases, but some suppliers are working with wool in place of chemicals to help de-toxify bedrooms. Wool is actually able to absorb 30% of its weight in moisture, which is what helped it grow in popularity in the first place. Add to that its low rate of flammability (since it smolders) and its hardcore versatility and we have ourselves a long-lasting and naturally healthy product. It is also one of the few fabrics where in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer don't play center stage.
So do you love wool a little more now?