Understanding Wool Fibers

Posted by in Felting Wool

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As with anything in life, wool can get complicated. Wool fibers come in many different types and can vary depending on breed, age and health of the animal. Wool quality can even be affected if the animal was raised with a hair breed. Hair breed, not hair brained…

When looking for raw wool, it is important to understand some of the details. Details like staple length, diameter, hand, crimp, luster and color. These things affect the price and use of the wool.

Staple length:

A Staple, in this case refers to the cluster of fibers that grow together to form the fleece, not the U-shaped pieces of metal that hold pieces of paper together. Sheep have clusters of hair follicles that allow the fibers to grow close to each other and form bonds as the scales on the cuticle rub against each other. The staple length refers to the length of the staple when it is shorn from the animal. Pretty simple, however, the staple length is important because it determines the end use of the product, i.e. knitting or weaving.

Wool Diameter

The diameter of each fiber is the most important thing when determining the price and quality of wool. Fine wool (twenty five microns or under) can be used for making garments. While the durability suffers a little, the end product can be very soft. Whereas, thicker fibers are very durable, they also tend to lack luster and make course products – not good for undergarments or lingerie.

Wool Hand

Hand refers to how the fibers feel to the touch. Is it soft and springy or rough and fibrous, or somewhere in between? This is important for the use of the wool. Are you making a sweater or trousers? Do you want to feel scratchy?

Wool Crimp

Kinda like Valley Girl hair from the 1980’s, wool crimp refers the natural waviness or kinks to the fibers. Some breeds produce more crimp than others. The more crimp the better in terms of producing longer, more expensive yarns.

Wool Luster

Luster refers to the shine, or lack thereof, of wool and wool products. Finer fibers tend to have higher luster.

Wool Color

Not all sheep are pearly white, like the fabled friend of Mary. Wool can come in many different colors like, black, silver, gray, brown and tan. However, white wool is highly desirable because it has the greatest range for being colored.

Written by Chad Mullens

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