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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wool and Other Fabrics - A Series Of Ruminations With The Intent To Inform

Over the coming days I am going to post some content on wool and everything I have learnt from going around to popular wool merchants and asking questions. My intention is to inform you, but as this is a blog and I am not a journalist, I do not wish to be held accountable to any of the information which I offer. It is my analysis and also in part it is my opinion and must be put into context. So, here it is without delay...

Wool was the main reason I started to look around for information on cloth. It is hard, when you begin hunting down fabric merchants, to actually work out what is what when it comes to grading and marketing of wool - so I had in mind the idea that I needed to clear the air of marketing jargon and work out what constituted a good wool. I will tell you now the answer. There isn't one. It is preference only. But I will tell you about what I learned as I went along for my amateur investigation.

Worsted Wool: You hear this term all the time. It is a super 100's worsted wool, it is a super 200 worsted lamb's wool.... bla bla bla. What does Worsted mean? In it's traditional sense, it is derived from the fact that wool was combed so that the long hairs separated from the shorter hairs. Worsted wool therefore refers to the filtration process of drawing out the longer hairs from the shorter hairs to select the best wool.

The reason why we worst wool is that the longer hairs tend to be more durable and have a lower chance of breaking apart when they are twisted together. This also means you will have a decreased chance of the wool pilling.

How Do We Measure The Length Of The Wool Hairs? The answer is that we usually don't. It is assumed that if you were to buy a super 180 over a super 100 that you would expect the wool hairs to be longer. However, this is not necessarily the case. The fineness of the hair is measured in mircons and this is what changes the category of a wool from Super 100 (18.5 micron average)  to Super 150 (16 microns average). However, there is no standard measurement to work out the length of the individual hairs - so you need to ask the question. Generally speaking, hairs range from 2-7cm in length.

How Can You Tell The Hairs Are Longer? Generally speaking, if the individual wool hairs that are then binded together to form thread are longer, the end product is a thread which has less knots and kinks in it. Less knots and kinks in the individual threads are likely to create a smooth fabric when the threads are woven together in the jacquard loom. If the fabric is smoother then it will refract more light. This is why when you look at fine wool cloth, it has a more generous lustre and play in the light than coarser wool. Coarser wool tends to have more 'matt' qualities as less light is refracted by the porous nature of the physical imperfections in the wool.

Why Do We Blend?  Blending types of wools and blending wools with silks and other natural or non-natural fibres is done to create effects or to increase characteristics of wool. Silk, for example, is an unbroken thread of extremely long filaments. Each filament of silk can be hundreds of metres long when it is unwound from the cocoon of the bombyx mori. Therefore, when you weave silk into the wool you create a smoother fabric which adds a distinct colour difference because silk takes pigmentation differently to wool and refracts light in a different manner because of the triangular prism like shape of each individual silk filament. There are hundreds of reasons why different blends exist - suffice to say that in some cases it is to improve the quality of wool or end fabric, in others, sadly, it is also to lower the cost of production.

How Does Super Translate To Microns?

Super 100 - 18.5 microns
Super 110 - 18 microns
Super 120 - 17.5 microns
Super 130 - 17 microns
Super 140 - 16.5 microns
Super 150 - 16 microns
Super 160 - 15.5 microns
Super 170 - 15 microns
Super 180 - 14.5 microns
Super 190 - 14 microns
Super 200 - 13.5 microns

More to come tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. So far, so good. At the very least, you have defined worsted as a yarn and not a fabric.

    If this is a filtering process, what happens to the short fibers? I was under the impression that worsting (is this a word?) was just combing and tight spinning with no reference to removing short fibers.

    As a point of interest (confusion) I am reading Vanity Fair and one of the characters is said to be "working on her worsted" and I can't help wondering what that means.

    This is her drawing room work that seems to be a lap project like embroidering rather than combing wool.