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When I was young, and heard (herd?) the word “wool” I thought of wool sweaters and I assumed that all wool comes from sheep. I even thought that there was only one type of sheep - the cute white ones with the black faces. Of course, I was fairly young then, but as grew up, obviously I learned that there were actually many different kinds of sheep. And many different animals that were used for wool. In this article, I will describe some of the many types of wool, what it is used for, and where it comes from.
Alpaca wool is similar to sheep’s wool, but it warmer, silkier and not as itchy. It also does not have any lanolin, which makes the wool hypoallergenic. However, because the wool does not have lanolin, it does not repel water.
Alpacas are often confused with Llamas, but are a different species and Alpacas are much smaller. They originate from South America and have been domesticated for thousands of years.
Angora wool is known for its thn fibers, its softness and also how fluffy it is (knitters refer to this as halo). It comes from the Angora Rabbit, which has hairs are that are hollow and makes it much warmer than merino wool. In fact Angora can be excessively warm and is often used as an accent; however it can also be combined with wool to produce a yarn that can be used in apparel such as sweaters.
There are many different breeds of Angora rabbit. The most common are English, Giant, French and Satin with each producing a slightly different fiber. Some people confuse Angora goats with Angora rabbits, but the Angora goat produces as fiber known as Mohair (described below).
Camel wool, also known as camel hair comes from a species called the Bactrian Camel. Bactrian Camels can be found in Asia in areas stretching from Turkey to Siberia. The hair is unique for camels in that it is long, whereas most camels have short hair. Bactrian Camels are also known for their twin humps.
The wool used in clothing comes from the camel’s undercoat and is quite soft. Camels also have a guard coat which is much coarser and does not make for good wool for apparel.
Cashgora goats are a cross between cashmere producing goats and Mohair (Angora) goats. The Cashgora goat is found in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Cashmere wool is produced by Cashmere goats. The wool comes from the goat’s undercoat, which if soft and downy and is produced in the winter. The goats (and wool), get their name from where they originated, the Himilayan region of Kashmir. Toady, the goats can be found in China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan.
The wool from these goats is finer, stronger, softer and lighter than sheep wool which makes it an excellent fiber for apparel.
Lambswool comes from the first shearing of sheep, which occurs at about 7 months of age, and produces the finest and softest wool. These characteristics make is popular for clothing.
Llamas are larger than their cousin, the Alpaca. They were originally used as pack animals, however today, they are used exclusively for their wool. Their hair has a hollow core which makes it lightweight with good warmth. Similar to Alpaca, the wool has no lanolin. The undercoat is used for clothing and apparel, whereas the coarser outer hair is used for rugs.
Merino wool comes from the Merino sheep, which are originally from Extremadura, in southwestern Spain. The Merino Sheep was domestically bred for its wool and would not survive well in the wild as they need to be sheared at least once a year as the hair will not stop growing. Today, Merino wool is used in many types of clothing including wool shoes and wool slippers.
Mohair is produced by the Angora goat and is durable, but also has high luster and sheen. These properties make it ideal for blending with other types of wool to impart these characteristics into the final product. Mohair is used in hats, scarves, suits and many other types of clothing. It is also used for home furnishings and carpets.
About 50% of the world’s Mohair comes from South Africa.
Angora Goat #curlyhairgoals
Qiviut comes from muskox, which has two layers of hair. Qiviut comes from the soft underwool which is shed by the muskox each spring. The wool is stronger and warmer than sheep's wool, and softer than cashmere wool. It does not shrink when wet and therefore is not useful for felted wool products. Qiviut is primarily used for hats and scarves and can be quite expensive with high quality products costing upwards of $300.
Despite its name, the woolly mammoth is not a great source for wool. It’s hair was long and coarse, and the species is extinct, which makes it difficult to find for use in apparel.
Zelazna Wool is from central Poland and is produced by a hybrid sheep that is a cross between Lowicz sheep, Leicester Longwool and Merino. The wool is spun and produces a light but very warm fabric that is great for sweaters but should not worn next to the skin by people that are sensitive to wool.
What is the most popular type of wool?
Merino wool is the most popular wool for apparel. It is known for its excellent properties and is the finest and softest wool from any type of sheep.
What countries produce the most wool?
Australia produces the most wool of any country, making up about 25% of worldwide production. This is followed by China (12%), the United States (8%) and New Zealand (5%).
Is wool organic?
Organic wool is wool that comes from sheep and other animals that are kept in humane conditions and not exposed to chemicals. By these standards, not all wool is considered ‘organic’, however that does not mean that wool that is not certified as ‘organic’ is not safe or unhealthy.
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