Thursday, September 23, 2010
The Wonderful World of Wool
What is Wool?
At the most basic level wool is a protein fiber from an animal. If you want to be technical it is a bunch of amino acids joined together by peptide and cystine links.
Sheep wool is the most common type of wool but other types exist. Merino wool, for example, comes from the Spanish Marino, a type of sheep originally found in Spain.
After wool is removed from the sheep (don't worry, it's done humanely), it is sorted by quality. Where the wool grows on the animal is one indicator of it's quality. The higher quality wool comes from the sides and shoulders versus the lower quality wool that comes from the lower legs. Wool is also graded with a number. A suit made of Super 140 wool is generally better than a suit made from Super 100 wool. A lower S number is coarser than a higher S number.
Wool is required by the FTC to be labeled with the source and percentage of wool (e.g. 100% Virgin Wool Made in USA). See the label pictured to the side for an example.
Shrinkage is a potential problem when caring for wool, especially when cared for improperly. Moisture, heat, alkalies, reducing agents, oxidizing agents, and mechanical action are all things that can cause shrinkage in wools. One type of shrinkage is called relaxation. Relaxation occurs when wool contacts moisture or steam and is easily corrected by a professional. Another kind of shrinkage, called felting, is much more serious and normally not irreversible.
Felt shrinkage occurs when a combination of the factors that contribute to shrinkage occur. Incorrectly washing wool is the easiest way to damage it permanently. Washing is combination of moisture (water), mechanical action, heat, and an an alkali (soap). Even professionals have to take great care with wool because a number of things that are used to treat spots and stains effectively on other garments can damage wool.
Caring for Wool
Caring for wool is best left to a professional dry cleaner. Dry cleaning is generally best for cleaing wools although hand washing is an option. Care must be taken to eliminate mechanical action and cool water should be used. After hand washing, make sure wool is dried flat and kept out of the sun.
Wool is a great fabric that will last a long time as long as it is taken care of properly. It is found in suits, sweaters, and many other things that people wear every day. What is your favorite wool garment?