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Raw wool origins and uses

Wool is different from animal hair or fur because it grows in clumps and clusters and it is springy and vibrant. The individual wool fibers stick to one another thus providing great insulation properties and making wool an ideal material for clothing, soft furnishings and fleece blanket manufacture. Wool is taken (cur or sheared) usually from sheep but some other animals also produce wool such as goats, rabbits and camels. Luxury wools such as mohair and cashmere come from goats.

Sheep’s wool

The ‘Border Leicester’ sheep has a long wool fleece with fibres that are broad and crimped and valued by wool spinners.  This sheep was initially bred primarily for its meat but then the wool began to be used for medium to heavyweight clothing.  The wool of the Border Leicester may be blended with other fibres to produce fine wool blankets for bed covers and wall hangings. The wool produced is not as bulky as from other sheep such as the Corriedale.

The’ Corriedale’ sheep is a Merino/Lincoln cross-bred and was originally bred in the late 1800’s for both its meat and wool.  The fleece is a lot heavier than that of the Merino and its fibres are crimped and even in length which makes it perfect for the spinning wheel.  It produces a heavier more bulky blanket than the merino but with the same warmth. Despite the numerous dyeing techniques available the original wool color is important. The fleece of the Corriedale is always white and soft.

When the wool is sheared from a sheep it contains a protective oily ingredient called lanolin.
Lanolin, which is soft, is removed from the wool and used commercially in cosmetics. Fishermen in Ireland have worn ‘unprocessed’ woollen sweaters called Aran sweaters which still retain large quantities of lanolin and offer great protection against the elements. These sweaters were always knitted in the natural creamy white color.

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