There is a huge variety of wool available, it's vital to understand their intricacies before choosing the type you'd like to work with.
Continuing our Wool Week theme we’re diving into the different types of wool available, how it’s processed, how it can be used and the individual properties of each wool.
Did you know that any goat (except Angora goats) can grow cashmere? Although the ones we call cashmere goats are selectively bred to produce it in large quantities. The quality of their fleece is determined by length, diameter and the degree of crimping. The fibre is finer, stronger, lighter, softer, and approximately three times more insulating than sheep’s wool. These qualities mean that cashmere is most commonly used in knitwear for jumpers, scarves, gloves and super soft socks.
Cashmere can also be found in interiors - for blankets carpets and in rugs, for this purpose it is usually mixed with another fibre. Although Scotland doesn’t have many Cashmere goats left; wool comes from Australia, China and Afghanistan; Cashmere knitwear is still Scotland’s seventh-largest export.
There are several steps to the Cashmere making process. Collection cleaning and de-hairing (removing the coarse goat hair from the softer hairs you want for Cashmere) happens first. Once the best hairs are selected they are dyed, this is called fibre dyeing or sometimes stock dyeing. The fibres are then spun using a special process for Cashmere. Yarns to be used for knitting will have a lower twist and so will require longer fibres and yarns for weaving will have a higher twist so can be used for slightly lower quality yarn. Automatic or hand flat knitting machines are used to knit the yarn into panels which are then stitched together on high precision stitching machines to create the finished garment. If using a weaving process then the yarn is woven into a scarf or a stole using two sets of yarns called the warp and weft. Either method will end similarly with them being sent through the finishing process which involves washing, softening, drying and steam pressing the garment to produce the required shape and feel.
Make Works Tip!💡 Did you know that Scotland’s limestone-rich water makes for extra-soft, sturdy cashmere?
Merino and cashmere are in competition to be the softest wool in the world, Merino is regarded as one of the finest and softest wool of any sheep. The modern Merino sheep is found mainly in New Zealand + Australia.
Wool has a lot of benefits, but Merino wool’s make it one of the world’s most premium fibres for apparel. Research suggests that it can promote a better night’s sleep, help with pre-existing skin conditions and regulate body temperature. Although not as hard-wearing as other wools Merino wool can be found in almost every part of our lives.
Spinners, weavers and knitters transform the fleece into yarn using a combination of ancient and innovative techniques. After collection, the fleece is opened up into a continuous thread using a “carding” process, which is then further refined. The thread is then spun into a strong yarn, which is then used in either a “worsted spinning” technique for fine garments or “woollen spinning” for bulkier yarns used in knits and some jacketing. When Merino wool clothing is dyed it is colourfast; and newly developed colouring techniques give designers full scope for their creativity.
Make Works Tip! 💡 FTS Dyers can dye your Merino wool in any colour you desire!
The best lambswool is taken from the lamb’s very first shearing (around seven months), this shorter length wool comes from the lamb and not the longer length adult sheep. Lambswool is softer and more elastic than regular wool, it is also very warm and durable.
Lambswool is very soft and lightweight with excellent insulating properties, making it ideal for weaving into blankets. It’s also hypo-allergenic… we’re beginning to think that wool is a bit magical. It tends to be sourced from either New Zealand or Australia. The tradition of importing lambswool fleece hasn’t changed much since the Industrial Revolution.
Good quality lambswool needs minimal processing, just cleaning, carding, spinning and dyeing.
Make Works Tip! 💡 The wonderful Knockando Wool Mill Trust allows you to watch the full process in action.
Mohair comes from the Angora Goat (not to be confused with the angora rabbit, which we’ll talk about next). Mohair is known for its strength and super smooth texture. Like other wool it helps absorb moisture and keep you very insulated. The different ages of the goat produce different types of fibre, the kid mohair is the softest and is used for fabrics that will be turned into clothing. The older adult mohair is usually used in things like rugs and cushions.
Mohair processing is very similar to that of sheep’s wool, it goes through washing, carding and spinning. A huge factor for designers looking to work with Mohair is that it is very easy to dye. Dyeing can take place after washing making it “stock-dried mohair,” after spinning “yarn dyed”, or after weaving, “piece dyed”.
We currently only have two manufacturers working with Mohair listed on Make Works; Schofield Textile Dyers and Finishers, and Eribé Knitwear.
Make Works Tip! 💡 Mohair is a finer luxury product, and only comes from goats in a limited number of countries which reflects in the cost.
The Angora rabbit provides this yarn, which is also known for its silky texture, softness, thin fibres and fluffiness. It must always be blended with other fibres due to its lack of elasticity. Of all the wool angora has become the most controversial, with reports of incredibly unethical ways of removing the fur from the rabbits.
Traditionally the methods for collecting the hair from the angora rabbit was very similar to that of sheep, and there were a few angora farms here in Scotland. Orkney Angora share their experiences of raising angora rabbits “We sheared our rabbits (like sheep) four times a year and in the summer we did it in public for tourists to see. No restraint was necessary and it was a stress-free process for rabbit and farmer”.
Adding more power to the theory that wool is magic, Angora is great for blood circulation(!), absorbs moisture and helps maintain a steady temperature next to your skin, and is perfect for clothing and knitwear.
Make Works Tip! 💡 Check where your Angora comes from, and how it is sourced.
We’ve had wool from rabbits, goats and sheep, but now we’re going to tell you a little about the wool from Alpacas!
Alpaca fleece is the natural fibre harvested from an alpaca, usually from Australia, although the UK has several Alpaca farms now. Depending on how it is spun, it can change its weight. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fibre. While similar to sheep's wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. However it is a tricky wool to spin as some of the fibre is lustrous, but the crimp is generally low, if the fibre is fine it makes it more difficult.
Alpaca is naturally available in 22 colours including white, black, greys and browns. It can also be dyed to any desired colour. It is used mainly in knitwear; woven into cloth and used in shawls, stoles, rugs and accessories. Textile manufacturers sometimes blend it with wool, cotton or silk to improve its scope of use. It is also used in sports clothing due to its lightweight and insulating properties.
In Scotland there are 4 manufacturers working with Alpaca on Make Works.
Make Works Tip! 💡 You can get UK Sourced Alpaca, Araminta Campbell should be able to help you here... also this.
What about wool that is only found in Scotland? Well then you need to look at Jamieson's of Shetland, they specialise in Shetland wool and have over 5 generations of using 100% Pure Shetland Wool Yarns. Shetland wool is known for its use in coarse tweeds, but also for its super fine jumpers made using Fair Isle Knitting techniques. Shetland is celebrating its own Wool Week this week too.
The Uist Wool Project is a new venture opened on the North of Uist to find a fresh purpose for local fleece and reconnect the local community with their cultural heritage of wool-working.
If this took your fancy here are some resources that we've found useful!