The A-Z of wool
As well as being entirely natural, hard-wearing and versatile, wool is rich in history and meaning. We unearth some little-known facts about this fabulous fibre
A is for Air
Wool is a natural air purifier, as it absorbs and holds onto invisible chemical pollutants known as volatile organic compounds (VOCS). It is also non-allergenic, and its tiny scales trap dust particles and hold them until vacuumed, too.
B is for BREED
Wool varies depending on the breed of sheep, the country of origin and even the climate. In the UK there are over 60 different pure breeds and many cross, half and rare breeds, which is more than can be found in any other country in the world. Visit britishwool.org.uk.
C is for COMBING
To create a smoother yarn, wool for worsted fabrics is passed through a series of combing teeth to remove short fibres and knots known as noils, and to align the longer fibres prior to spinning.
D is for DURABILITY
This hard-wearing material is measured according to the fibre’s micron, or diameter. finer microns are suitable for fabric and clothing, while stronger fibres are often used for carpets and rugs.
E is for ENVIRONMENT
In its pure form, wool is completely biodegradable. It also uses lower levels of energy than man-made fibres in the production process, which helps keep carbon dioxide emissions low.
F is for fire RETARDANT
As a result of its high water and nitrogen content, wool is difficult to ignite and will naturally resist fire. If it does catch fire, it will burn slowly and does not melt, drip or emit any noxious fumes.
G is for Grass
The diet of a sheep mostly consists of grass and low shrub; it’s their quiet custodian grazing that maintains our green and pleasant landscape.
H is for HERDWICK
These sheep, whose name derives from the word Herdwyck, meaning sheep pasture, are native to the Lake District and live all year on the Cumbrian hills without roaming away from their territory. Their wool is prized for its durability and is used in all of the handmade mattresses by herdysleep, herdysleep.com.
I is for INSULATION
As a natural insulator, wool is a wonderfully versatile material, making it the perfect choice for mattress fillings, floor coverings, soft furnishings and thermal building insulation.
J is for JACOB
A unique breed of sheep, whose striking features include four horns and a spotted black and white fleece prized by hand-spinners and weavers.
K is for KNOTTED
The quality of a hand-knotted wool rug is determined by the number of knots per square inch, with an average weaver tying about 10,000 knots per day.
L is for Loom
During the weaving process, threads are interlaced at right angles to each other on a loom. Modern looms are computer-operated at high speeds using several shuttles, which can create complex and interesting patterns.
M is for MUSEUM
Learn about the journey from fleece to fabric at the National Wool Museum, museum.wales/wool, in Carmarthenshire, where you can view historical machinery and textile production in action.
N is for NATURAL BOUNCE BACK
Every wool fibre is powered in the same way as a tightly coiled spring, so will constantly resist pressure by springing back to its original form.
O is for origins
The first domestic sheep were introduced into Britain by Neolithic settlers around 4,000 BC and were probably horned brown sheep, similar to the Soay breed.
P is for PROACTIVE PERFORMANCE
Wool is described as proactive as it naturally reacts to its environment, rejecting spills, resisting fire and removing toxins.
Q is for QUALITY
British Wool, britishwool.org.uk, enlists wool graders who, after a five-year apprenticeship, monitor the quality of produce. Each fleece is graded into a type rather than a specific breed, to ensure that global markets are provided with wool possessing the required characteristics.
R Is for RENEWABLE
Wool is a natural product grown on sheep that graze freely in the countryside. A sustainable, annually renewable fibre, it’s a resource that is easily replenished.
S is for SOUND
Used in aircraft, cinemas, offices, hotels and casinos, wool carpet has great acoustic properties, in particular the ability to reduce airborne noise and isolate impact sound.
T is for TWEED
This durable fabric is soft and pliable yet firm in weave. Its heather tones and flecks are a unique fibre characteristic of British sheep breeds.
U is for UK
The UK’S 40,000 sheep farmers usually rear the same breed, from Blackface to Welsh Mountain sheep, for generations.
V is for VERSATILITY
from mattresses and duvets to carpet, soft furnishings and even lighting, the possibilities of wool are almost endless. Key attributes are its long-lasting appearance, quality and style, making it a wise investment.
W is for WEIGHT
Wool is hygroscopic, so it can absorb up to 30 per cent of its own weight in moisture without feeling wet.
This is a Chinese breed that produces fine merino wool. Y is for YARDS
A single fleece can make up 11 yards of fabric from nine pounds of wool – enough to cover a large sofa or 15 chairs.
Z is for zzzzzz
As well as being soft and cosy, wool is breathable. A wool mattress and bedding will help to regulate body temperature and aid a good night’s sleep all year round. X is for XINJIANG SHEEP