Wool has been used for thousands of years for a wide range of things. Essentially a fibre from the hair of sheep, yaks and goats, it is an incredibly versatile textile with an amazing amount of uses. 80% of the world’s supply goes into garment production. Clothing like sweaters, hats, and coats are highly valued, especially when made from more luxury-graded material. The many grades of wool allow many different uses – meaning very little of the product is wasted. Incredibly soft-fibred wool, like Merino, is used in clothing production; whereas the rough, coarse fibre wool is used as fantastic insulating material and stuffing.
Most uses of wool have ancient origins; however people are in a constant process of evolution in the collection, development and application of wool. Wool is coveted for both its decorative and functional purpose. The multi-faceted fibre has many positive attributes including its durability, flexibility and resistance to water.
When used in clothing production, wool can be woven, crocheted or felted. It is commonly used in sweaters, hats, trousers, coats, scarves, gloves and sportswear. Blended with other natural or synthetic fibres, wool adds crease resistance to products. It is also employed in garments for animal wear, including saddle pads and blankets for horses, camels and dogs. Coats and blankets for dogs and horses are made from wool to provide extra warmth and a natural layer of insulation during the colder months of the year. As well as being used to look stylish and keep warm, wool is used during embroidery. Merino wool has been used in baby products such as swaddled-baby wrap blankets and infant sleeping bags. In ancient times, Greek warriors lined their helmets with felt, and Roman legionnaires used breastplates made of wool felt.
Moving away from garment production, the other 20% of wool produced is utilised in many ways around the house. Wool can often be seen used in blankets, carpets and curtains. Many types of furniture are stuffed with wool. Wool is even used to insulate and sound proof rooms. For centuries, wool has been used in floor coverings; wool carpets are notoriously hard-wearing and produce vibrant colours. Today’s wool carpets are anti-static and absorb noise. Carpet padding is used to add height and insulation to carpets. Wool’s inherent resistance to flame and heat makes it one of the safest of all household textiles.
A differently processed wool that is incredibly popular is felted wool. This is created when wool is compacted. Wool felt is used in shoes, hats, waterproof jackets, padding for furniture legs, bookshelves and tablecloths. Also used in pianos, it is felted wool that muffle the hammers inside – creating that distinctive piano sound.
Industrial uses of wool include sheets of bonded coarse wool used for thermal and acoustic insulation in home construction, as well pads for soaking up oil spills. It is also used to absorb odours and noise in heavy machinery and stereo speakers.
As an animal protein, wool is an effective soil fertilizer, acting as a slow-release source of nitrogen and ready-made amino acids.