Not All Wool Is Cre­ated Equal

Crochet! - - Contents - By Linda Dean

Learn more about this fas­ci­nat­ing fiber.

Pick­ing up a new yarn is al­ways an ex­pe­ri­ence. You ex­am­ine the weight, the ply, the thick­ness, the fuzzi­ness, the shine and the color; how­ever, read­ing the fiber list­ing does not al­ways add in­sight into the pos­si­bil­i­ties of its best use with­out some back­ground knowl­edge of the terms. Sure, rub­bing the hank un­der your chin can give you an idea of whether you want to make any­thing out of it that will be worn next to your skin, but does it give you any idea about how the yarn might wear or how warm it might be?

See­ing wool in a yarn’s fiber con­tent can throw up men­tal blocks, as many thoughts of this fiber come flood­ing into the mind. Shrink­ing, felt­ing, hand- wash­ing, scratchy— these are all words that jump to the front of our minds when we think of wool. Nev­er­the­less, not all wool is cre­ated the same, and there are sev­eral very pos­i­tive qual­i­ties to this fiber.

Shorn from sheep, wool is con­sid­ered nei­ther fur nor hair; it is sim­ply wool. This means it is pro­tein- based and solid. With­out a hol­low core, the fiber grows in sta­ples (clus­ters) on the an­i­mal. The fiber has scales and crimp. Best seen un­der a mi­cro­scope,the term “scales” refers to the fact that the fibers are not smooth and slick, but have what looks like fish scales around the shaft. These give wool its felt­ing prop­erty. “Crimp” means that these fibers have a crimped ap­pear­ance, much like the re­sults achieved with hair crimpers in the 1990s. Crimp has a rip­pled ef­fect, and it gives wool its re­silience.

Wool also has a prop­erty of elas­tic­ity. Each fiber has a lit­tle spring to it (the crimp lends to this as well). Even gar­ments that are cre­ated with wool are able to re­tain their shape af­ter be­ing stretched, as all the lit­tle fibers have a mem­ory of their orig­i­nal shape and will find their way back to this shape. This trait also makes the fiber re­sis­tant to tear­ing and wrin­kling.

Wool is a nat­u­ral ma­te­rial which is com­pletely re­new­able and has been used to cre­ate yarns for thou­sands of years. It ab­sorbs wa­ter, re­sists fire and odor, and takes well to dyes. It can ab­sorb mois­ture as much as 30 per­cent of its weight and not feel damp. This al­lows it to wick mois­ture from the body leav­ing a layer of dry air next to the body that holds body heat, yet aids in mois­ture eva­po­ra­tion to cool the body in warm cli­mates. It is also fire re­sis­tant— not fire­proof—and does not read­ily burn. It will char un­der flame, but this ceases when the flame is re­moved, as wool is self- ex­tin­guish­ing. This is why fire­fight­ers wear wool, and why places that are pos­si­ble ar­eas of con­cern for safety rea­sons, such as air­planes, are car­peted with wool.

The breed of the sheep af­fects the out­come of the wool, which vary by mi­cron mea­sure­ments and the length of the sta­ple. The mi­cron is the width­wise mea­sure­ment of the fiber; the lower the mi­cron mea­sure­ment, the finer the fiber and, there­fore, the softer the y arn.

When you read a yarn la­bel, you will not usu­ally find this in­for­ma­tion, but there are some terms that are be­ing used to­day that will give you an idea of what the yarn is ac­tu­ally made of and what you can ex­pect from it.

Lamb­swool— The high­est qual­ity wool on the mar­ket, this wool is from an an­i­mal’s first shear­ing. This yields wool that is soft, smooth, silky and the most hy­poal­ler­genic of any sheep’s wool.

Merino— There are about 10 breeds in this fam­ily of sheep. It has a low mi­cron count, so it is a fine fiber. It is known for its shine and its soft­ness against the skin.

Shet­land— This sheep breed orig­i­nated on the Shet­land Is­lands, lo­cated off the north­east­ern coast of Scot­land. It is a very fine fiber that comes in a very wide va­ri­ety of nat­u­ral col­ors— var­i­ous shades of white, cream, gray, brown and black.

The fol­low­ing are terms used to de­scribe wool that has been treated to re­move the outer fuzzy layer from each fiber within the yarn. This pre­vents the scales of the wool fiber from felt­ing to­gether but af­ter it’s treated, it can be ma­chine washed with­out felt­ing or shrink­ing.

“Su­per” Wools— This is usu­ally fol­lowed by a num­ber—such as Su­per 100s or Su­per 150s—and refers to the mi­cron count of the fibers. A Su­per 100 has fibers with a mi­cron count of 18

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