Wool - facts behind the fiber
Sheep and wool have been woven into the fabric of human civilization for more than 10,000 years beginning in Asia Minor, which is now basically the country of Turkey. The natural migrations of peoples, the spread of religions, and the conquests of armies – especially the Roman armies in Northern Africa, Spain and the British Isles, and the Spanish Conquistadors and Church in the New World of the Americas – spread sheep and the use of wools across large parts of the world. After all these millennium wool is still a major textile cornerstone for clothing, bedding, carpeting and household furnishings and bedding.
Some people feel that the reason for this enduring and endearing relationship is because wool is composed of the same protein that makes up the outer protective layer of your skin and wool works in total harmony with your body's own protection mechanisms. Wool has naturally developed a higher level of in-built UV protection than many other fibers. Wool also has natural recovery. Each fiber is resilient and springy, thanks to its complex internal structure, giving clothes a beautiful drape and greater crease resistance.
Wool is a uniquely natural fiber that has a number of benefits. So, why wool?
• Built-in climate control. Wool is a natural insulator to keep you warm in winter and naturally breathable to keep you cool in summer. Wool fiber helps to keep your body at the optimal temperature zone for comfort and rest. When used in blankets, synthetic fibers, down and even cotton fibers do not breathe as well as wool, and are more likely to trap heat in your bed. Wool buffers the extreme cold or hot air on the outside, keeping your body in that comfort zone.
• Naturally absorbent fiber. Wool fiber is the original wicking fiber. Its coil-like shape pulls excess heat and moisture from your skin while you sleep. Wool fabrics can absorb up to 30% of their weight without feeling heavy or damp. Cotton fabrics begin to feel damp after 15%. The absorbent fibers "breathe" by wicking away moisture from the body and releasing it into the air. This quality makes wool fabrics comfortable to wear in warm and cold weather.
• Natural mildew and mold resistance. Wool's natural resistance to mildews and molds comes from the way it repels moisture, and lets moisture pass through it's fibers without holding the moisture. Mildews and molds require moisture to live and grow.
• Perfect insulator. Wool is warm in winter and cool in the summer because of its hydrophilic ability to wick away excess moisture. In the winter, wool removes moisture from the skin to keep the wearer feeling warm and dry and wool’s insulating qualities trap dry air and warmth near the skin. This is unlike synthetic fleece, which is warm but does not breathe easily. Wool's natural insulating quality and its ability to shed water results in a fabric that keeps the body warm even when it's raining. In the summer, wool’s coil-like shape pulls excess heat and moisture from your skin helping the wearer stay cooler.
• Water repellent. Tiny overlapping scales encase the wool fiber like tiles on a roof. This allows wool to repel rain, snow and liquid spills with ease.
• Wool is durable. Laboratory tests have shown that wool fibers resist tearing and can bend back on themselves more than 20,000 times without breaking. Cotton breaks after 3,200 bends, silk fibers break after 1,800 bends, and rayon fibers break after just 75 bends. Wool clothing will last for years. Wool resists spills, dries very quickly and is mildew resistant.
• Naturally wrinkle resistant. Wool fabrics resist wrinkles. Wool is the most resilient fiber because it has a natural crimp that helps it keep its shape. Wool fibers can be stretched and still bounce back to their original shape.
• Fire retardant. Wool is safer to wear having natural fire-retardant properties. It can resist flame without the chemical treatment involved in fireproofing. Synthetic fleece is oil based, ignites easily, burns fiercely and melts. If your synthetic fleece is fire proofed, then you have the fire proofing chemicals next to your skin.
• Resists static, dirt and dust. Wool fabric doesn't collect much static because of its absorbent fibers. Static attracts lint, dirt, and dust. Wool fabrics also clean easily because dirt sits on the surface of the fiber. The outside surface of the wool fiber consists of a series of overlapping scales, similar to the feathers on a bird, making it easy to brush off and for stains to lift out.
• Wool is colorful. There are an amazing variety and number of breeds of sheep that come in a wide array of colors giving us a huge number of natural colors. In additional to natural color-grown fibers, the structure of wool fibers allow wool to easily accept dyes without the need for harsh and sometimes toxic chemicals to prepare the fiber for dyes. When wool fabrics are dyed, the dye reaches to the core of the fiber and bonds permanently. Almost any color and dye can be used.
• Naturally non-allergenic. Wool is almost entirely non-allergenic. Although some people do have a rare natural allergy to Lanolin, the oil found in wool, most people's allergy to wool is a reaction to the many harsh and toxic chemicals that go into the treatment, and finishing of conventional wool garments and bedding. Serious chemical abrasives are routinely used to wash raw wool for processing. Chlorine and mothproofing chemicals are routinely applied to conventional wool before turning it into a finished product.
• Renewable and Sustainable. Wool is a renewable resource that can be shorn from sheep annually. It is biodegradable and kinder to the environment than oil-based synthetics, which contribute to global pollution. Wool is sustainable. Wool from free-grazing sheep, treated ethically throughout their long lives, represents a traditional small-scale industry that once thrived in America. Today, many small organic farmers are returning to this sustainable industry to create clean and healthy wool that is produced without stress to the animals or the environment.
At the Polytechnic Institute in Wales, research conducted on the effect of various bedding materials during sleep indicated that wool's ability to wick moisture away keeps skin drier during sleep than any of the other fibers tested. This is significant because during sleep people can lose more than one pint of water per night through their skin and breath. Their research also indicated that sleepers in wool-filled comforters had lower heart rates suggesting a more restful state of sleep than sleepers using comforters filled with down feathers or synthetics.
All of this just substantiates what many have known and experienced for centuries: wool is a wonderful fiber. Unfortunately, just as with the purity of cotton, sheep growers and wool fabric manufacturers have fallen under the dark siren’s song of better, easier and more profitable living through chemistry. Try our fabulous wool futon made right here in our San Francisco plant.
Click here to learn more about American Wool we use at The Futon Shop