Wool is a completely natural textile fiber, like cotton and silk. Chemically it is however quite different from cotton, as the latter consists mainly of cellulose, whereas wool is made up of protein and a small percentage of lipids. It is obtained mostly from sheep, but can be procured from many other animals – such as cashmere and mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, hide and fur clothing from bison, and angora from rabbits.
The first applications of wool go back many, many years ago – long before recorded history. In the West, it was woven into cloth in the Bronze Ago about 4,000 years ago. Elsewhere though, cavemen have been known to clothe themselves in woolly skins of the wild sheep killed for food, offering protection from the elements as far back as 10,000 BC.
Thanks to its characteristics as the most versatile fabric there is, it can keep you cool in the heat of day, keep you warm at night and absorb rain without drenching you. It’s also a very easy to care for fabric, especially given the many advancements in the modern era.
Production of wool
The biggest wool producing and exporting countries are Australia, China, New Zealand and the United States. Argentina rounds off the top five. Wool accounts for about 3 percent of the global textile market, although total value accounts for more, thanks to dying and other modifications down the line. Annually well over 1 million tons of raw wool is produced, of which 60 percent goes into apparel.
There are two main types of woven cloth: woolen and worsted. Yarn for the former is usually procured from short-fibred wool, intermingled. The latter uses longer-fibred, which are separated and laid parallel to each other. Because of these differences, raw wool must first be graded and sorted. Next up is a cleaning process with a soap solution to remove grease and dirt. The short-length fibers go through machinery for scribbling and carding to produce continuous ropes spun into yarn. Longer fibers go through a comb resulting in ropes of parallel fibers. Weaves and twills are used to weave the yarns into fabrics.
The obvious use of wool or indeed any natural fabric is for clothing, but additionally it can be found in anything from blankets, sleeping bags, rugs and carpets to insulation and upholstery. It is used in instruments, can be found lining the cages of hamsters, guinea pigs and other pets because it absorbs odors, and it plays a part in damping in loudspeakers thanks to its acoustics properties. It is prized for its durability, comfort and resiliency.
Some modern cloth diapers use felted wool fabric for covers, and there are several modern commercial knitting patterns for wool diaper covers, as wool fiber exteriors are hydrophobic whereas the interior of hygroscopic; the former repels water, the latter attracts it.
Lanolin, known for its ability to moisturize and soothe skin and hair, is a byproduct of wool production and an active ingredient in many skin, hair care and cosmetic products.
Wool is among the most popular commodities to trade, standing out in the agricultural commodities segment. The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) offers two different futures contracts on wool – a greasy and a fine wool futures contract.
Key factors affecting demand for wool include rising interest rates, changing consumer tastes, population growth, increased general costs of living (such as petrol and energy costs) and the relative prices of substitutes. fibers, such as cotton, and synthetic fibers. The rise of synthetics like polyester are influencing the demand for cotton. Due to the better quality and easy to maintain state of polyester many manufacturers are switching to this fabric, causing a significant decrease in the demand for cotton.