Wool is a versatile material that has been used by humankind to make clothing and accessories for centuries. Easy to manipulate into different shapes, wool has been the material of choice for clothing manufacturers for many years. Its nearly infinite production rate has continued to prove popular, with one sheep alone able to produce between two and thirty pounds of wool per year.
However, despite the common use of wool by people across the world, there are many unusual facts about wool that are little known by the average person.
For example, many people may think that wool only comes in one or two colours when collected directly from sheep or other wool-producing animals. However, this is not true – alpaca wool alone comes in 22 different colours, all produced naturally on these lovely animals.
Wool is traditionally seen as being produced by sheep, alpaca and cashmere goats, but it can come from a variety of other animal sources. Llamas, camels, angora rabbits, yaks, vicuñas and guacanos (two types of camelids) can all produce wool; surprisingly, even beavers and otters can produce wool.
The European Union has strict regulations on wool quality, ensuring that wool products produced within the region are kept to a very high standard. A product can be registered as being one hundred percent wool in nature (“pure” wool), but it must not contain any more than five percent of impurities. Standards of wool product creation are very high as a consequence.
The term “jersey”, often applied to a fabric produced with wool alongside cotton and synthetic materials, was originally only used to described woollen products created in the Channel Island of Jersey. The medieval era saw many woollen “jersey” products being manufactured and sold across the United Kingdom and further afield. One particularly popular type of wool jersey product sold was hosiery.
Wool is a natural insulation material, and is being used more frequently in eco-friendly construction. Its usefulness is due to its absorption and release of water, which increases with humidity and reduces with the loss of humidity. It works well to keep wool’s natural wearers (such as sheep and alpaca) warm and cool according to the surrounding climate, and now it also works for humans as well.
Of course, this incredible material is also used for conventional fashion purposes, such as creating beautiful scarves, coats, capes and hats much like those produced by John Hanly & Co.