Strictly speaking, the fibers that grow on the sheep fleece. The Textile Fiber Products Identification Act of 1960 states that wool means the fiber from the fleece of the sheep or lamb, or the hair of the Angora or Cashmere goat (and may include the so-called specialty fibers from the hair of the camel, alpaca, llama, and vicuna) which has never been reclaimed from any woven of felted wool product.
Sheep are reared in nearly every country in the world. However, for the top end of fine woolen and worsted industries, the most important source is Australia, followed by New Zealand, South Africa and various parts of South America south of the Equator, and the U.S.A. Three quarters of the sheep of Australia, the world’s largest producer, are Merinos. For the worsted trade, sheep are usually sheared only once per year in middle to late spring. A good shearer can shear at least 125 sheep or a day working with motor driven hand shears that look like oversized barber’s cli ers. The fleece is rolled off` the sheep in one piece with long, smooth strokes.
Wool Sorting and Qualities
Wool fleeces are separated into different classes, each class as homogeneous as possible, before baling and selling. Once fleeces are delivered to the buyer, they must be sorted as the fibers on a fleece of wool vary considerably in length, diameter and general condition from one part of the sheep to another. Sorting is a highly skilled manual process whereby each fleece is divided into various “qualities”, and itinvolves sight and touch. The sorter divides the fleece into various “matchings”, the real difference between which is the average fiber fineness or diameter. He looks for length, waviness and character of tip, and feels the wool for luster, handle, density and strength.
The wool sorter’s “matchings” are given quality numbers: 120’s, 100’s, 90*s, 80’s, 70’s, etc. The higher the number, the better the quality of the wool fiber. The better the quality, the rarer the fiber, thus making the finer quality fleeces much more expensive than the lower qualities. This cost factor, together with the more careful manufacturing processes to bring out the full luxury potential of the fibers, combine to price finished cloth in the higher qualities in an extremely elevated range. The result, however, is an exceptional cloth.
The quality numbers applied to fibers are also defined by diameter measured in microns, and often the higher quality numbers are preceded by the term “super” when describing a clothmade of a certain quality fiber. Accepted standards are as follows:
Super 70’s 21 Microns or Less
Super 80’s 19 Microns or Less
Super 90’s 18.5 Microns or Less
Super 100’s 18 Microns or Less
Super 120’s 16.5 Microns or Less
Advantages of Wool
Wool is said to “breathe”. lt absorbs and evaporates moisture. Synthetic fabrics have little absorptive power and cannot breathe unless blended with wool.
Wool provides superior comfort in both hot and cold weather.
When one goes outside in cold weather wearing a wool suit, the absorbing process of the wool fiber begins immedia tely. As the moisture in the air combines with the wool protein, a small amount of heat is actually generated. This heat slows the transmission of body heat materially and permits the wearer to stay warm much longer than if wearing a suit of synthetic fibers. Also, because of the natural of the wool fiber when it is in the finished fabric, it is bulky and lofty and air does not move freely. Thus, the air becomes entrapped among the fibers and becomes an ideal insulator.
The paradox that wool is also cool in summer becomes believable when we realize that the wool fiber itself in the cloth acts to slow down the transmission of heat from the body to the colder atmosphere in winter, and from the atmosphere to the body in summer. The lightweight summer tropical worsted fabric allows the penetration of the air through the weave, but yet the thirsty wool fiber still performs admirably as it absorbs perspiration that does not evaporate in the circulating air.
Wool fabrics for suitings are extremely comfortable, performm g much better than their synthetic counterparts in both winter and summer. They do require a little more care than their “blend” cousin and indeed the finer the quality of the wool cloth, the more care and relaxation between wearings it will need. However, for the sheer pleasure of wearing and its outstanding look of elegance and its good tailoring qualities, pure wool must represent the majority of garments in the wardrobe of the discerning dresser.