All About Wool: A Fabric Dictionary & Swatchbook
By Julie Parker
Copyright 1996. All rights reserved.
You won't find a more valuable textile fiber than wool, one of nature's precious gifts to the human race. Since the dawn of civilization, this remarkable fiber has been unequalled as a source of clothing and textiles. It is intricately woven into our lives in obvious and subtle ways, from the clothes we wear to the fibers we use to stuff baseballs and mattresses.
Wool has survived through the ages because it has an incredibly complex physical structure, which makes it incredibly versatile. It can be spun into thick, fuzzy yarns or thin, smooth ones, and woven into warm, bulky fabrics or light, airy ones. It may be rough and rugged or soft and sensual, fit for both cattle ranches and haute couture. It is equally at home on the ski slopes of Colorado, in the corporate offices of New York and at glitzy parties in Hollywood.
Wool has an amazing repertoire of characteristics that often seem to contradict each other. For example, the fiber absorbs moisture but repels liquid, which means it will keep you as dry on a hot humid day as it will in a rain storm.
Wool is warm on cold days and comfortably cool on warm days. It insulates against extremes at both ends of the thermometer -- from a frigid Arctic blast to a hot desert wind.
Wool sheds wrinkles but can be pressed to hold sharp pleats and folds. It stretches easily, but won't 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 lapel or the curved brim of a hat.
Wool is impressive even when it's not contradicting itself. The fiber dyes beautifully, all the way to the core, and it holds the color forever. Almost any color is possible, from pale, icy blues to fiery reds.
Wool is strong and durable, it resists abrasion and it is difficult to tear. Garments are easy to keep clean because dirt sits on the surface of the fabric, rather than penetrating the fiber. Dirt can be brushed off and spills lift right out.
To top it all off, wool is naturally fire resistant. It is slow to burn and will extinguish itself when the flame is removed. It can literally save your life in a fire.
No other natural fiber has all of these qualities and no synthetic fiber has ever been made to behave exactly like wool, because no one has ever been able to duplicate wool's complicated physical structure, although many have tried.
Unfortunately for the wool trade, wool is completely misunderstood by many consumers. It is irrevocably linked with cooler seasons and cold climates. It gets blamed for skin allergies that quite simply do not exist. And it gets passed over for high-tech, low-maintenance fabrics because they cost less and have more sex appeal.
That's too bad, because wool is a better investment than most other fibers, in spite of its higher cost. Garments are lined with dividends -- when you choose to wear wool, you are rewarded with clothing that is comfortable to wear and maintains its good looks for years.