Wool & Hair Fibres

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Wool & hair fibres

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Wool and hair fibres grow on animals and are known as an animal or protein fibre. It is one of the oldest textiles fibres to have been used by man, and one of the first to be used to be made into woven fabrics. Wool fibres grow on sheep, and hair fibres grow on animals such as goats, rabbits, yaks, camels and alpacas.

Properties of wool

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  • Staple fibre that has a crimp (natural wave). Both of these things mean fabric made of wool trap air making it a warm fibre to wear. These properties also give it a springyness that helps it resist creasing.
  • The fibre have overlapping scales on their surface. These lock into each other when the fabric is washed or heated causing shrinking. This can be a disadvantage of wool as it makes it harder to care for but it can also be used to create felted fabrics. 
  • Exterior of the fibre is hydrophobic (resists water) and the inside is hydroscopic (attracts water). This means it resists water well and when it does get wet it can absorb up to 30% of its bulk without feeling wet.
  • Natural fire resistant properties and needs a high temperature to ignite

Production of wool

  • Shearing sheep to remove the fleece which is then graded according to its quality
  • Scouring to clean the wool
  • Carding fibres to prepare them for spinning by making them lie in the same direction
  • Combing fibres to straighten them and make them lie in one direction removing. This process is carried out in more detail in worsted yarns and the short fibres known as noils are removed.
  • Drawing out the fibres into rovings which are then twisted to create a yarn (spinning)

The difference between woollen and worsted wool yarn

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  • Woollen yarn has been carded and drawn then spun into a yarn. It may or may not have been combed but either way the shorter, staple fibres are included as part of the yarn. They are bulkier and thicker and if the fibres haven’t been combed they also tend to lie in different directions creating fuzzier, more textured fabrics e.g.tweed.
  • Worsted yarn has been carded and drawn and then is also combed in order to remove the shorter fibres and to make them lie parallel to each other. This creates a smoother, finer, stronger fabric and are less ‘woolly’ in appearance. 

Luxury wool fibres

Certain types of wool fibres are considered to have more desirable properties than standard wool. Labels will often be attached to products to promote the use of these higher quality fibres in order to add value in the eyes of the consumer. 

Lambswool - this is wool taken from the lambs first shearing when it is about 6 months old and it is very fine and soft. 

Merino - a breed of sheep that produces very light, soft fibre that is considered the ultimate in luxury wool

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Care of wool

  • Usually only washed by hand in low temperatures as heat and movement causes shrinking
  • Can’t be bleached
  • Medium heat iron
  • Can’t be tumble dried
  • Lay flat to dry as hold a lot of moisture and can stretches out of shape 

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Fabric examples for wool

Flannel, felt, tweed, serge

Wool and ethical issues

  • As wool is grown on an animal it has a sound ethical starting point but its popularity can lead to less ethical practices in terms of how sheep are farmed
  • Wool can be recycled mixing it with new tool or other fibres to create new recycled fibres. The processing techniques result in shorter fibres making a lower quality fabric (shoddy). These types of fibres are often used for matters, car insulation, roofing felts, loudspeakers etc.  

Hair Fibres

These fibres have similar properties to wool and are processed in a similar way. They are however finer, softer and of a higher quality than many wool fibres. These fibres are generally considered luxury fibres as the animals they grow on are rarer or less easy to farm. The fine, soft and delicate nature of the fibres also add to their luxury appeal. 


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  • Hair from a goat. The hair is known as pashm or pashmina (which is also the name of shawls made out of cashmere).
  • The goat produces a double fleece with a coarser outer layer up to 20cm long and a downy undercoat 2.5-9 cm long which are the luxury fibres. 
  • The hair is mostly combed out during moulting season although some obtained by shearing
  • Fibres are finer than wool with less distinctive scales. They are very warm & soft with excellent draping although they are weaker than wool. Also warmer than wool.
  • To create the highest quality cashmere de-hairing takes place to remove the coarser fibres 
  • It takes hair from 4-6 goats to make one sweater
  • Most expensive of the luxury hair fibres as world wide production is small. Each goat only produces about 4oz of cashmere a year and the dehairing is process is intensive. 


  • Fleece taken from Angora goat (shorn twice a year). This goat is different to the cashmere goat as it has curlier hair that look like ringlets and only has one layer of hair in its coat and not two. 
  • Long lustrous fibres (20-25 cm long) that are smooth, silky, strong, and durable
  • Doesn’t felt easily


  • Very fine, light fibre from the Angora rabbit
  • Very fine, soft, lightly crimped
  • Coarser fibres used in interlinings


  • Llama, vicuna and guanaco are all species of alpaca
  • Fine fibres, that are soft but hard wearing and strong
  • Scales on surface of hair are limited making them feel smooth
  • Lightly crimped with good thermal properties

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Photo taken at Museum of Science & Industry (Manchester)

Other interesting facts about wool & hair fibres

  • Acrylic was originally developed as a cheap substitute for wool
  • Can be blended with polyester or nylon to help create a more easy care fabric
  • Mungo - the name given to a fibrous woollen material generated from waste wool
  • 100% pure new wool refers to fibres that have not been previously processed
  • 100% wool refers to a product that is all wool but it may have some recycled or reprocessed fibres in it
  • The Woolmark is a registered trade mark of The Woolmark Company and it indicates high quality woollen products. It is a quality assurance system that guarantees the fabric is made from 100% pure new wool and that it meets performance specifications. The Wool Blend mark indicates pure new wool has been blended with another fibre. 
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New technologies in wool

Below are some examples of high tech wool fabrics. See other examples


  • High tech wool that has a unique vapour management system and micro climate control
  • Helps raise body temperature when it is cold and cools the body when it is warm 
  • Find out more about Sportwool

Easy care wool

  • IMG 5665Developed by The Woolmark Organisation to meet the needs of consumers who want the properties of wool without the hassle of the care
  • Wool has been developed that is machine washable by blending fibres such as polyester and nylon with wool to create a more stable fibre or by processes such as biopolishing which uses chemical and enzyme treatments to create a smoother wool that is less likely to felt as the scales won’t interlock. 

Merino Touch

  • A woven coated fabric made from mercerised Merino yarns that have been woven to create a cashmere like softness and silk like sheen

Merino Fresh

  • Normal or high twist pure new wool fabric that is treated with a low level of polyurethane polymer to enhance smooth drying.
  • Creates a stain resistant surface that washes easily just by showering fabric in water

UV Control Merino

  • A UV absorbing finish applied to the Merino wool during dyeing or bleaching at either yarn stage, fabric stage or during garment finishing. 
  • Can increase sun protection and increase durability to washing

Interesting links

Short video on wool processing   

Great site with lots of information on wool including history timeline, properties, commercial uses

Website on wool which is aimed at teachers but students might find some of the information useful

Lots of information on wool including information on The Woolmark quality assurance symbols. If you are feeling adventurous take a look at the  training manuals section where there are some very detailed manuals. 

Find out more about Sportwool

  • Take photos of at least 2 products that are made using wool fibre and at least 2 products that use a wool fibre blend
  • Describe the properties of one of the wool fabrics you have chosen and one of the wool fibre blend fabrics
  • Use diagrams to help you explain why wool fibres felt and shrink when washed
  • Compare a woollen fabric and a worsted fabric
  • Investigate the different types of wool fabrics e.g. names, properties, uses
  • Summarise how an easy care wool fabric might add value to a product in the eyes of the consumer
  • Design a product of your own that uses wool fibre. Justify the choice of the fibre for the product you have designed. 

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See example questions on wool

Also take a look at these Pinterest boards on fibres yarns and fabrics and use them to help you revise

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