Characteristics of Wool

All wool has a use. Different breeds produce different wool. The diversity of breeds we have in Ontario is a strength and maintaining this diversity contributes to the protection of various genetic traits that can be useful to achieve different characteristics of wool.

Wool is a protein fibre that has scales and crimp that make it easier to spin into yarn because the fibres interlock with each other rather than slide loosely against each other (as in the case of cotton which is made of cellulose). The crimp in the fibre allows wool fabrics to hold air and thereby retain heat. Wool fibres can also absorb almost one-third of their own weight in water, making wool fabrics excellent for wicking moisture. Wool fibres are also elastic, which means that wool fabrics retain their shape over the lifespan of a garment.

Some wool fibres are fine and wearable close-to-the-skin such as Merino, Rambouillet, Norbouillet, Corriedale and Finn, while other wool fibers are more robust and suitable for layering garments such as Romney, Jacob, Bluefaced Leicester and milk sheep wool. Longwool breeds such as Lincoln, Wensleydale, Leicester, and Cotswold have lots of luster, which means they take up dye and create brightly colored fabrics. They are often used in carpet making, and household and industrial products. Primitive breeds such as Icelandic and Shetland sheep are often doubled coated with a strong outerwool fibre and very soft underwool, which can be separated and used for different purposes. Some breeds produce wool fibres that are springy and short, relatively soft and do not felt easily and very durable such Southdown and Dorset. This wool goes into the making of most wool garments such as sweaters and socks.

In summary, the characteristics of wool that will determine what it can be used for are:

  • Diameter (microns)
  • Staple length
  • Uniformity of fleece
  • Elasticity
  • Strength/Durability
  • Luster
  • Felt-ability