A sheep in a field.

Fabric focus: wool

We look into the wonderful world of wool.

Wool is a yarn made by spinning the fibres from animal fleece (usually from sheep), but it can also be from goats, llamas or camels. Wool is naturally stain and wrinkle resistant. It is also moisture absorbing and known for its warmth. Wool dyes easily so many colours of garment can be achieved.

Woollen yarn is made by twisting two or more strands (plys) of yarn together, in the opposite direction to that in which they were spun, in order to make a strong, balanced yarn. It is used either for weaving fabric (usually using a fine yarn), or for knitting fabric (a variety of thicknesses are used, depending on the garment required).

The structure of wool

The structure of the wool fibres make it easy to spin the fleece as the individual fibres attach to each other, holding them together. You can find out more about how wool fibres are structured on the Biotechnology Learning Hub, New Zealand website.

Types of wool

Camel: A soft luxury yarn, similar to cashmere, which is made from the soft undercoat of the camel. It is often used for making coats.

Cashmere: A high-quality, soft, lightweight yarn made from the soft undercoat (hair) of the cashmere goat. It has very good insulating properties.

Lambswool: A good quality soft yarn that is elastic and strong, which is made from the first shearing of a lamb (generally a sheep under a year old). The fibre comes in different colours, depending on the breed of lamb.

Llama wool: The fine undercoat of the llama is used for handicrafts and garments. The coarser outer hair is used for items such as rugs. The fibre comes in many different colours ranging from white/grey, browns and black.

Merino: A high quality, fine yarn produced from the fleece of the Merino sheep. It is extremely soft and versatile.

Pashmina: A soft luxury yarn, made from the fine underhair from a breed of goat found in Central Asia, commonly used for shawls/wraps.

Sheep: The majority of woollen garments are made from sheep wool. The fleece of an adult sheep is spun and used to make cloth or yarn. Different breeds of sheep produce different quality and colours of fleeces. You can find out more about British sheep breeds and their wool on the British Wool Marketing Board website.

Woollen fabrics

These are the most common types of woollen fabric available – but there are many others available too:

Crepe: A lightweight woven fabric with a crimped appearance, obtained by using warp yarns that are tightly twisted in alternate directions.

Double crepe: A finely woven crepe with two layers bonded together.

Felt: A matted fabric which is made using heat and agitation to entangle the fibres of wool – it is not woven.

Flannel: A soft and lightweight woven fabric.

Gabardine: A twill fabric with a prominent diagonal rib on the face and smooth surface on the back.

Jersey: A lightweight finely knitted fabric which has good draping qualities.

Tweed: A hard wearing fabric which is usually used for country outdoor wear as the material is moisture-resistant and durable. It is made in either a plain weave, a twill or a herringbone pattern.

Worsted: A quality fabric with a solid smooth surface (with no nap) that is woven from firmly twisted yarns spun from long-stapled wool. It is typically used in the making of tailored garments such as suits.

Knitted wool

Garments such as jumpers or cardigans are made using a knitted fabric - interlocking loops of a single strand of yarn to form the fabric. Garments are generally knitted in pieces in the actual shape required, so the fabric has a stable edge (as knitted fabric unravels easily). Knitted garments can be made on machines or by hand. Different sized needles and gauges of yarns are used to create a variety of thicknesses. Many pattern and colour combinations can be used for creative effect.

Caring for your woollens

Wool is a great fabric, and with a bit of TLC when it comes to washing and storing your woolly clothes, you can keep them in tip-top shape for longer.

Store your knitted woollen jumpers and other garments flat to keep them looking good for longer. Avoid hanging on coat hangers as this stretches them.

Washing your woollens

How to avoid clothes moths

Want to know more about caring for woollens?

You can find out more about wool from the following industry websites:

British Wool Marketing Board

Campaign for Wool

Learn more about the sustainability of wool in this blog post from Alex at Sewrendipity.