Wool is surrounded by a lot of ethical controversy - it's a natural fibre and a by-product, but is it really a by-product when we're importing it in and discarding our own? Is it still environmentally friendly, even though it needs toxic chemicals to be cleaned? How can it be cruelty-free when so many farmers still practice museling?
The processing of wool involves four major steps:
Grading and sorting
Cleaning and scouring
1. Sheering: In most parts of the world, sheep are sheared once a year, in early spring or early summer. The best wool comes from the shoulders and sides of the sheep. The lesser quality comes from the lower legs (which would be used to make rugs etc).
2. Grading and sorting: Workers remove any stained, damaged or inferior wool from each fleece and sort the rest of the wool according to the quality of the fibres. Wool fibres are judged not only their strength but also by their fineness (diameter), length, crimp (waviness) and colour.
4. Carding: After the wool dries, it is carded. The carding process involves passing the wool through rollers that have thin wire teeth. The teeth untangle the fibres and arrange them into a flat sheet called a web. The web is then formed into narrow ropes known as silvers.
In order to both prevent this felting and to make the wool more comfortable to wear, many producers use chlorine to “burn” off the scales. The burning doesn’t remove all the scales, but once also coated with a synthetic polymer resin, which essentially glues down the scales, the wool is then able to be machine washed without felting, gets rid of the shrinkage of the fabric associated with felting and is also much more comfortable. This is the chemistry behind Superwash wool. The tradeoff, of course, is that this chlorination process is highly toxic.
Carding length fibres are used to make woollen yarn. Woollen yarn feels soft, has a fuzzy surface and is heavier than worsted.
Combing length fibres and French combing length fibres are made into worsted yarn. Worsted wool is lighter and highly twisted, it is also smoother and not as bulky, which makes it easier to carry or transport about.
Other Bad Bits:
British farmers discard the wool from slaughtered sheep (because the legal licensing costs to sell it on far outweigh what they can sell it for), while Britain imports wool from Australia and New Zealand. How ridiculous!?
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