While many synthetic and blended fabrics serve useful purposes, there is simply no replacement for the luxuriant feel and versatility of pure wool. The fabric we know as wool is made from the natural fibers that come from the coats of a variety of animals.
Wool is one of the world’s most durable and efficient insulators for clothing since nature designed it to protect the animals from which it comes from weather and climate. Because of its popularity and efficiency, wool is the most common textile after cotton and synthetic materials. Popular pure wool sweater designs use a variety of types of wool.
The highly valued characteristics of wool make it a popular choice for everything from coarse and heavy items to the lightest and softest of fabrics used for sweaters and other clothing.
Australia produces more than 25 percent of all the world’s wool. It leads all other providers in the variety and quality of wool from its providers. If you are considering wool for a DIY project or any purpose, you’ll find the following pure wool buying guide useful.
From Animal Backs to Human Clothing
The harvesting of wool and processing the fibers into useful fabrics is a centuries-old process. It starts with shearing the animal of choice and then follows the steps to turn it into usable yarn.
Modern techniques enhance the many types of wool and the options for its use. For example, the spinning process used to create the yarn will produce either worsted fabric (with the air squeezed out) or woolen fabric, the fuzzier, lighter fabric that retains air between the fibers.
Beyond these steps, a series of choices in production (such as crabbing, decating, and fulling) will determine the ultimate quality of the wool and its usefulness for various purposes.
Where to Start
The production process used for the raw wool is determined by the ultimate use of the final fabric and the animal that produces the wool. Each type of animal produces wool with distinct qualities and advantages. The many types of wool allow many options for popular pure wool sweater designs.
The following are the nine basic types of wool:
- Cashmere. Topping the list of the most desirable wool is that produced from the underbellies of cashmere goats. This wool is distinctive for two reasons. First, it is not sheared: it is combed from the goat. Secondly, it has a natural crimp that gives it extreme softness and light weight. The added steps and limited supply of cashmere make it one of the most expensive wools.
- Merino. Close to cashmere in softness is the fine wool that comes from Merino sheep. It is a favorite choice for athletic clothing due to its usefulness in warm and cold weather. This is a primary product of Australia and New Zealand.
- Shetland. A favorite for use in knitting, the Scottish Shetland Islands are known for this rugged yet soft fabric. It boasts a large range of natural colors and is both lightweight and useful for providing warmth.
- Melton. This wool is a prime example of specialized wool. It is usually produced as a twill weave that helps make it wind-resistant and efficient at wicking water. It’s warm and tough wool that is commonly found in blankets and heavy-duty outerwear.
- Mohair. The Angora goat produces the popular mohair fabric that is known for its use for lightweight clothing. It is commonly produced as a plain weave that makes it suitable for a variety of everyday clothing choices. Mohair is the wool of choice for many suits, dresses, scarves, and creating pure wool sweater designs.
- Alpaca. A member of the camel family, the alpaca produces a soft and smoother fiber that was once reserved for use only by royalty. This wool is naturally free of lanolin and is a popular choice for use with sensitive skin. There are two varieties of Alpaca: Suri and Huacaya, and they produce distinct wool fibers. The Suri is softer and lends itself to woven fabric, while the Huacaya is commonly seen in knitted items.
- Lambswool. Each sheep produces only one “crop” of this “virgin wool” from their first sheering. It is hypoallergenic, very soft, and resists wrinkling. Its limited sourcing makes this one of the more expensive wool options.
- Camel Hair. Two varieties of fibers come from camels. The softer underbelly fibers are common in coats and outerwear, while the thicker and coarser outer hair is frequently found in items such as carpets and upholstery where added durability is desired.
- Angora. Not to be confused with the goat that produces mohair, the Angora rabbit produces a fluffy, soft fiber that has the best wicking and heat retention properties found in any natural wool. The fragile nature of this wool means it is often blended with other types of wool for strength. It is also one of the most expensive wools.
The use and care of your woolen products will be determined by the type of wool selected and the type of final processing used.