Oldest wool fabric found = 1500BC
Selecting wool for their finer fleeces looks like it began in Iran in 6000 BC
Wool is a protein fiber from animals that have 3 specific characteristics: it crimps, is elastic and grows in clusters aka staples.
This means that alpaca, angora rabbits, camels, cashmere goats etc. are all in the wool family.
Wool insulates, it absorbs water but is not a hollow fiber (unlike cotton), it is self extingushing if burnt, wool felted & treated with lanolin (a natural wax excreted by woolly animals) is water resistant, air permeable, and slightly antibacterial, resisting the buildup of odor.
Happy sheep make better wool: Damage or breaks in the wool can occur if the sheep is stressed while it is growing its fleece.
How to care for it:
Most natural wool items that have not been treated will say Dry Clean Only -on the labels. I don’t do this
Woven Wash: I prewash & continue to wash most all of my woven wool fabrics. I do a test sample if I am unsure. Store bought pants, jackets, vests, etc. I either wash gently in cold water OR if I am unsure of the delicacy I hand wash in the sink with cold water
Woven Dry: For my woven wool fabrics & pieces I hang them to dry. You can dry garments in the dryer -on low heat, if the fabric has been pre-dried. If you don’t know the safest bet is to: Gently wring out & hang to dry.
Woven Iron: Low steam and a high heat.
Knitted Wool items will absolutely shrink &/Or felt in the washer. This includes your favorite knitted sweater from Grams.
Knitted Wash: Hand wash cold water. Careful not to agitate the fabric too much. Gently squeezing the water out of the item.
Knitted Dry: Lay flat on an absorbent towel in the natural shape of the sweater/ item (this is called blocking).
Knitted Iron: If truly necessary: Low heat.
Now. For those of you who like a felted wool – by all means – buy untreated wool jersey – tons of it – it will shrink like no other! And wash that sucker in high agitation in warm water – poof! 3 yards of wool jersey that was 54″ wide is now 1 wonky yard at 30″ wide. It can truly be an awesome warm jacket, vest, etc. But be warned on those knit pieces you’d like to keep their original way!
Wool Enemy: The Moth
I hate a wool eating moth. There are only 2 kinds of wool moth eaters out of 1000s of different types of moths out there but man – when you get them – they are brutal. They’ve been known to make me cry. Here’s how to fight them & I do mean fight – for your beloved wool treasures.
Cleanliness is the preventive. Wash your items before you put them away Particularly before you put them away for the long season.
Store your items in an airtight (read – no moth can get in) container.
Cedar: cedar does repel moths but only if it is highly concentrated. You’ll have to sand your cedar blocks every year to have them continue to release their smell.
Mothballs: Not only do they smell horrid – they are a pesticide – you are bathing your cloths in a toxin.
Fighting an infestation: Folks say wash your items in hot hot water (but we know that can felt or misshape a wool item) or to dry clean it. I don’t like either of those options so this is how I handle it:
I wash my items like I’ve explained above. Then when they are totally dry – totally! -I throw a few wool items into the dryer and bake those hoodlums for 45 mins. The key is high heat to kill the moths or the larvae. Also – note that if you are storing your wool items with other items that moths are firstly attracted to soiled pieces – so make sure that EVERY thing you store is clean!
If you think you have moths or their larvae in your beloved cashmere sweater or scarf for a surefire way to kill those suckers -put it in a plastic bag in the freezer for 2 weeks.
Washable/ Superwash wool: created in the 1970s it: has been specially treated so it is machine washable and machine dry able. It’s produced using an acid bath that removes the “scales” from the fiber, or by coating the fiber with a polymer that prevents the scales from attaching to each other and causing shrinkage.
I like my wool as natural with as few chemical processes as possible so I’m not a huge fan of “Washable” wool. I find most natural wool is washable handled the right way. After all. Sheep get wet 🙂