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Introduction to Wool and Different Types of wool fabrics

-Prepared by -P.Lakshmana kanth, Senior Faculty IFTK


Wool is the fiber derived from the fur of animals of the Caprinae family; principally sheep. Wool was probably the first animal fiber to be made into cloth. The art of spinning wool into yarn developed about 4000 B.C.
No one knows when man started using wool as a textile fibre. The dense, soft, often curly hair forming the coat of sheep and certain other mammals, such as the goat and alpaca, consisting of cylindrical fibers of keratin covered by minute overlapping scales and much valued as a textile fabric.

What is a wool fibre?

Wool is a protein fiber and it is produced by the animals known as sheep. It is unique fire with scales on its surface. Wool, is a multi-cellular fiber and very expensive in price.

Wool Producers in the World.

Australia Russia New-Zealand USA UK

South-Africa France Turkey Brazil China etc.,

Raw materials

In scientific terms, wool is considered to be a protein called keratin. Its length usually ranges from 1.5 to 15 inches (3.8 to 38 centimeters) depending on the breed of sheep. Each piece is made up of three essential components:

the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla.

The cuticle is the outer layer. It is a protective layer of scales arranged like shingles or fish scales. When two fibers come in contact with each other, these scales tend to cling and stick to each other. It's this physical clinging and sticking that allows wool fibers to be spun into thread so easily.

The cortex is the inner structure made up of millions of cigar-shaped cortical cells. In natural-colored wool, these cells contain melanin. The arrangement of these cells is also responsible for the natural crimp unique to wool fiber.

Rarely found in fine wools, the medulla comprises a series of cells (similar to honeycombs) that provide air spaces, giving wool its thermal insulation value. Wool, like residential insulation, is effective in reducing heat transfer.

The manufacturing Process

The major steps necessary to process wool from the sheep to the fabric are:

shearing, cleaning and scouring, grading and sorting, carding, spinning, weaving, and finishing.


Sheep are sheared once a year usually in the springtime. A veteran shearer can shear up to two hundred sheep per day. The fleece recovered from a sheep can weigh between 6 and 18 pounds (2.7 and 8.1 kilograms); as much as possible, the fleece is kept in one piece. While most sheep are still sheared by hand, new technologies have been developed that use computers and sensitive, robot-controlled arms to do the clipping.

Grading and Sorting

Grading is the breaking up of the fleece based on overall quality. In sorting, the wool is broken up into sections of different quality fibers, from different parts of the body. The best quality of wool comes from the shoulders and sides of the sheep and is used for clothing; the lesser quality comes from the lower legs and is used to make rugs. In wool grading, high quality does not always mean high durability.

Wool is also separated into grades based on the measurement of the wool's diameter in microns. These grades may vary depending on the breed or purpose of the wool.
For example:

< 17.5 17.6-18.5 < 19.5 19.6-20.5 20.6-22.5 22.6 <


Ultra fine merino Superfine merino Fine merino Fine medium merino Medium merino Strong merino

< 24.5 24.5-31.4 31.5-35.4 35.5 <

Fine Medium Fine crossbred coarse crossbred

Breeds of sheep are grouped according to the type of wool they grow

Fine Rambouillet, Merino Crossbred (fine x medium) Targhee, Corriedale, Columbia Medium (fine x long) Suffolk, Hampshire, Dorset, Cheviot, Montadale, Southdown, Shropshire, Tunis, Polypay Long (coarse) Romney, Border Leicester, Lincoln, Cotswold Carpet (double-coated) Scottish Blackface, Karakul, Icelandic Hair (shedding) - not sheared Katahdin, Dorper, Barbado

Sheared off in one piece

Grease or raw wool is wool as it is shorn from the sheep.

Cleaning and Scouring

Wool taken directly from the sheep is called "raw" or "grease wool." It contains sand, dirt, grease, and dried sweat (called suint); the weight of contaminants accounts for about 30 to 70 percent of the fleece's total weight. To remove these contaminants, the wool is scoured in a series of alkaline baths containing water, soap, and soda ash or a similar alkali. The byproducts from this process (such as lanolin) are saved and used in a variety of household products. Rollers in the scouring machines squeeze excess water from the fleece, but the fleece is not allowed to dry completely. Following this process, the wool is often treated with oil to give it increased manageability.

Differences between woolen and Worsted

In the spinning operation, the wool roving is drawn out anti twisted into yarn. Woolen are chiefly spun on the mule spinning machine. Worsted yarns are spun on any kind of spinning machine mule, ring cap or flyer. The differences between woolen and worsted yarns are as follows:
Woolen Short staple Carded only Slack twisted Weaker Bulkier Softer Worsted Lang staple Carded and combed Tightly twisted Stronger Finer, smoother, even fibres Harder

Physical & Chemical Properties of Wool

Fineness fiber diameter

Thickness of the wool fiber Measured in microns (one millionth of a meter - )

Fineness - fiber diameter

Long Coarse Medium Crossbred Fine $$$$ Thicker > 40 Thinner

< 17

Grade refers to the relative diameter of the wool fibers (fineness).

Fiber diameter
Coarser Coarser

Short, dirty

Britch Breech (hairy)

Short, dirty, kinky



The natural curl or waviness in the wool fiber.

Fine wool usually has more crimp per inch than coarse (long) wool.


Refers to the length of a (un-stretched) lock of shorn wool.

Long, coarse


Coarse wools are usually longer than finer wools.


Vegetable matter (VM)

Any material of plant origin found in the fleece (hay, grass, seeds, etc.)

High VM lowers yield.


Wool that has manure attached to it.


A natural oil extracted from sheeps wool.

Used to make ointments and cosmetics.

Also called wool wax, wool fat, or wool grease.


Removing the stained, unusable, or undesirable portions of a fleece (bellies, top knots, tags).

Show fleeces and other high value fleeces should be skirted at the time of shearing.


The amount of clean wool that remains after scouring. Expressed as a percentage.
Wool yield is quite variable: 40 to 70%. Long wools have higher yields than fine wools, due to less grease. Bulky fleeces have higher yields.

Clean wool yield = Raw wool shrinkage (VM, grease, impurities)

Vegetable matter affects yield

Other contaminants: soil, dust, polypropylene from tarps, feed sacks, and hay baling twine, paint, skin, external parasites, and foreign objects.

Staple length adds weight to the fleece more than any other characteristic.

Look for uniformity of length

Quality or fineness

Appropriate grade for breed or type. Look for uniformity of grade (fineness). Finer wools are permitted less variability.

Soundness (strength)

Tender wool is wool that is weak and/or breaks due to poor nutrition or sickness.

This wool does not have a break or tender spot.


Freedom from pigmented fibers, hair and kemp.

Hair Kemp

Black fiber/hairs

From a hair sheep

The commercial wool market favors white wool that can be dyed any color.


General appearance of a fleece: crimp, handle, and color.

Weathered tips
Affects dyeing

Tippy wool

1. Strength

Wool fibres are weak but wool fabrics are very durable. The durability of wool is the result of the excellent elongation and elastic recovery of the fibres. Fibre strength is not always an indication of durability since flexibility of the fibre and its resistance to abrasion is also important. The tear strength of wool is poor. Wool is fair abrasion resistance. Flexibility of wool is excellent. They can be bent back on themselves 20,000 times without breaking.

2. Resilience

Wool is a very resilient fibre. Its resiliency is greatest when it is dry and lowest when it is wet. It a wool fabric is crushed in the hand, it tends to spring back to its original position when the hand is opened. Because wool fibre has a high degree of resilience, wool fabric wrinkles less than some others; wrinkles disappear when the garment or fabric is steamed. Good wool is very soft and resilient, poor wool is harsh. When buying a wool fabric, grasp a handful to determine its quality.

3. Heat Conductivity

As wool fibres are poor conductor of heat, they permit the body to retain its normal temperature. Wool garments are excellent for winter clothing and are protective on damp days throughout the year. The scales on the surface of a fibre and the crimp in the fibre create little pockets or air that serve as insulative barriers and give the garment greater warmth.

4. Absorbency

Initially, wool tends to be water-repellent. One can observe that droplets of water on the surface of wool fabrics are readily brushed off. Wool can absorb about 20% of its weight in water without feeling damp; consequently, wool fabrics tend to feel comfortable rather than clammy or chilly. Wool also dries slowly.

5. Cleanliness & Wash-ability

Dirt tends to adhere to wool fabric. Consequently, wool requires frequent dry cleaning or laundering if the fabric is washable. Extreme care is required in laundering. Wool is softened by moisture and heat, and shrinking and felting occur when the fabric is washed. Since wool temporarily loses about 25% of its strength when wet wool fabrics should never be pulled while wet.

6. Effect of Heat

Wool becomes harsh at 212F (100C) and begins to decompose at slightly higher temperatures. Wool has a plastic quality in that it can be expressed and shaped at steam temperature, whether in fabric as for slacks and jackets, or in felt, as for hats.

7. Effect of Light - Wool is weakened by prolonged exposure to sunlight. 8. Resistance to Mildew - Wool is not ordinarily susceptible to mildew, but if left in a damp condition, mildew develops.

9. Reaction to Alkalis

Wool is quickly damaged by strong alkalis. The alkali test can be used to identify wool and wool blends. The wool reacts to the alkali by turning yellow, then becoming stick and jellylike, and finally going into solution. If the fabric is a blend, the wool in the blend will disintegrate, leaving only the other fibres. Mild alkali-in warm or cool water-can is used in scouring the raw wool fibres to remove grease.

10. Reaction to Acids

Although wool is damaged by hot sulphuric acid, it is not affected by other acids, even when heated. Acids are used in the manufacture of wool fabrics to remove cellulose impurities, such as leaves or burrs that may still be in the fabric after weaving. This treatment is called carbonizing.

11. Affinity for Dyes

Because of their high affinity for dyes, wool fabrics dye well and evenly. The use of chrome dyes assures fastness of colour. A variety of other dyes may be effectively used.

12. Resistance to Perspiration

Wool is weakened by alkali perspiration. Garments should be dry cleaned or washed with care to avoid deterioration and odor. Perspiration, generally, will cause dis-coloration.

13. Flammability

Wools burns very slowly and it selfextinguishing. It is normally regarded as flameresistant. For curtains, carpets and upholstery to be used in trains, planes, ships, hotels and other public buildings, wool is often given a flame-retardant finish.

14. Press Retention

Wool also has good press retention. It takes and holds creases well. Creases are set by use of pressure, heat and moisture. During pressing the fibre molecules adjust themselves to the new position by forming new cross-linkages. Creases in wool are not permanent, however, since they can be removed by moisture.

Different grades of Wool

Different grades of wool are assigned numbers that range from 36-80. (36s80s) The higher the number the finer the fibre. The grades fall into 4 basic types

fines, medium, coarse and carpet.

Grades of Wool

The coarsest grades (36-48) include

fibres of 30 microns or more in diameter and 6 or more in length. They are ideal for rugged tweeds, durable coatings, thick dense blankets and resilient carpets.

Grades of Wool

The medium grades (50-60) include

fibres of 24-30 microns in diameter and 4.5 -6 inches long. Medium grades are used to make a wide variety of high quality woolens, from fine tweeds, dressy flannels and soft coatings to sweaters, hosiery, knitting yarns and felt.

Grades of Wool

The finest grades (62-80) include fibres

from 15-23 microns in diameter and 1.5 4.5 inches in length. Fine wool is used to make worsted yarns and high quality fabrics, especially for the menswear industry. Most fine wools come from the merino sheep, but wool from other breeds is also used.

Grades of Wool

The finest of the fine wools is known as superfine wools Super80s, Super100s, and Super 120s

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics

Wool sheds wrinkles, but can be pressed to hold sharp pleats and folds It stretches easily, but wont sag, droop or lose its shape. It can be styled to drape softly against the body or manipulated to hold a shape, such as a perfectly rolled collar or the curved brim of a hat.

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics Contd...

Wool fiber dyes beautifully, all the way to the core and it holds the colour forever. It can be dyed in almost any colour from the palest to bright reds. Wool is strong and durable-it resists abrasion and is difficult to tear. Garments are easy to keep clean as the dirt sits on the surface of the fabric rather than penetrate into the fibre.

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics Contd...

Wool is naturally fire resistant-it is slow to burn and will self extinguish when the flame is removed. Wool can be made into fabrics that are thick and dense, but not very heavy. This is because wools natural crimp adds volume by creating tiny pockets of air between the fibres.

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics Contd...

Wools natural waviness or crimp gives it many advantaged over other textile fibreselasticity, flexibility, resilience and loft. It can be stretched 30 % and will spring back to size when the tension is released. Wool garments will not stretch out of shape, but will move with the body, making it comfortable to wear.

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics Contd...

Although wool has many desirable qualities, there are some limitations too. It has extreme reaction to alkalis, hence bleaches and detergents should be used with care. Wool is only moderately resistant to heat and is easily damaged by incorrect pressing or hot direct heat

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics Contd...

Moth larvae will eat wool; small fuzz balls (pills) tend to form on the surface of wool fabrics. Softly twisted yarns, loose weaves, woollen fabrics and knits are more prone to pilling than worsteds. Wool fabrics tend to shrink if not washed carefully. Hand washing or dry cleaning is recommended. Pressing should always be done with steam place a damp cloth over the fabric when pressing

Behaviour of Wool Fabrics Contd...

Wool is one of the easiest fibres to cut and sew. Other fabrics are difficult to cut and also sew Mismatched pieces can be nudged together with no sign of a stretch mark or ripple, stitches can be removed without leaving a hole and unwanted creases can be made to disappear. Wool is more difficult to press than other fabrics, but if done properly, it results in a good appearance.

Wool fabrics


A high quality, light weight , soft cloth, It is usually made with tightly spun worsted yarns and a firm plain weave. It is one of the few printed wools, most often a floral or paisley design against a darker colour. The original cloth was made in England from a combination of silk and worsted yarns.

Wool challis drapes beautifully, and is easy to sew. It will not hold a crease, but is well suited for un-pressed pleats, gathers, cowl necklines, and other draped elements Close fitting styles that put stress on the seams should be avoided as the fabric tends to pull apart at seams and also puckers. Ideal for making skirts, dresses and scarves.

Wool Crepe

A popular light weight fabric made with highly twisted crepe yarns, giving it a crinkled , grainy texture. Wool crepe is available in a variety of weights and qualities. The fabric drapes well and is best for styles that are draped or slightly gathered into loose fullness but may also be used to make elegant tailored garments.

Woollen flannel

The fabric may have a soft fuzzy nap on one or both sides. The warp yarns are stronger and finer than the filling yarns which are softly twisted to in order to produce the nap when the fabric is brushed. The nap adds warmth to the fabric because of the entrapped air pockets. Good quality flannel is made of fine yarns and a snug twill weave , while lower quality flannel is made of thicker yarns and loose twill or even a plain weave.

Woollen flannel is one of the most common wools , available in a variety of weights, solid colours and plaids. It is easy to sew and cut and is used to make shirts, skirts, dresses and softly tailored jackets and suits.

Worsted flannel

Worsted flannel is different from the above in that it is made of worsted yarns that are in turn made of finer fibres and better quality wool. Worsted flannel is given only a slight nap, so it is smoother than woollen flannel. It is available in various weights , but only a few colours shades of brown, blue, grey and black.

Patterned weaves and plaids are not as common as solid colours or faint length wise stripes. The fabric has a lot of body and will hold the shape of the garment especially when supported by good inner construction. Used for menswear


Gabardine is Spanish in origin and dates back to the Middle ages when it described a protective cloak. Today it describes a popular fabric with a smooth face and a dull sheen made with a tight twill weave and worsted yarns. The wrap has twice as many threads per inch as the filling. True gabardine has a distinct closely set diagonal rib on the face and a flat, plain back. The angle of the twill may be 45 or 65 degrees. The steeper line is more common for menswear, while the other is for womens-wear.

Gabardine comes in a range of weights and qualities. Best grades are soft and drape well, lesser grades may feel harsh , rough or stiff. Gabardine works best with tailored designs that have clean simple lines and gentle curves because the tight weave is difficult to ease.


Tweed is a popular rough textured woollen fabric made with a 2x2 twill. Tweed may be woven with checked, striped or plaid patterns, or it may be mono-coloured, woven with different shades of the same colour. It is often dyed in the wool, with fibres of different colours mixed together before spinning to produce yarns with colourful specks and slubs. The weight varies, but it is usually a thick substantial fabric that is suitable for sports jackets, coats and caps.


Plaids are any fabric with a pattern of multicoloured bars and stripes that run in both directions and cross at right angles. The colours may be muted or bold and the pattern may be large or small. The original plaids were made in Scotland. Plaids are woven into a variety of fabrics , from thick double cloths to elegant worsted suitings.

Plaids are difficult to work with it demands extra time, patience and a lot of attention to detail. The lines of the plaids have to match in both directions if the garment is to be rated as one of high quality. The best styles are those which have simple lines and minimum of seams. Plaids require extra fabric and a one way layout.


Houndstooth is a very popular broken check pattern used to make woollen and worsted fabrics in a variety of weights and qualities. Houndstooth is made with a variation of the twill weave that alternates four yarns to the left and four yarns to the right. Most versions are woven in two colours of yarn-one light and the other dark which are arranged in groups of four in both directions of the weave.

The checks vary in size-the small pattern is called mini houndstooth. As it is yarn dyed, the fabric looks the same on both sides , so it is easy to confuse unassembled pieces of fabric. Houndstooth looks great when paired with a matching solid.


Herringbone is a popular variation of the twill weave, made by changing the direction of the diagonal twill line , so that it zigzags across a fabric at evenly spaced intervals. The pattern is distinct when the twill lines within one section are woven with alternating colours.

Herringbone should be treated as a striped fabric with a one way design. It may not be necessary to match the stripes at every seam, but special attention is required for patch pockets, pocket welts, flaps and similar details.