There’s no doubt that have heard a lot about wool fabrics, or that they know it’s associated with sheep. However, only few of them actually know how clothes are made out of it. In fact, history states that the primitive men wore the first cloth made from wool. They found out that its durability can protect them from heat and cold.
But, going back, how is wool being made into clothes?
The First Process is Called Shearing
(Picture from www.weebly.com)
The process is usually done once a year, when the season is warmer. The sheep are gathered for shearing, a process wherein the animal’s fleece is cut off – this doesn’t hurt the animal, of course. A variation of between 6 and 18 pounds in the weight of fleeces have been recorded.
Grading the Wool
Once shearing is done, grading follows. The raw wool is graded according to the quality of the fibers. It varies according to where on the animal the wool came from. Basically, fleeces that are of the same grade are compressed and packed into bundles for the next stage.
Just before yarn can be spun, the raw wool should be scoured in order for the dirt, grease and sweat to be removed. In the past, urine was usually used as it contains ammonia, which breaks down the grease. Until today, fleeces are still scoured but involve three processes – washing, rinsing and drying.
Washing is done in a series of alkaline baths, after which the fleece is rinsed and squeezed using rollers to dry. Lanolin, a kind of grease, is the by-product of this process and it is purified for use in the manufacture of cosmetics, soap and other household products.
(Picture from www.haworthscouring.co.uk)
When the wool is clean, it’ll be process for either worsted or woolen yarn. The latter (used typically for carpets or knitwear) is more bulky, hairy and irregular compared to the former. Worsted yarn, particularly, is more tightly spun, smoother and stronger. It is usually used by manufacturers for suits.
The fleece needs to be carded before it can be spun into yarn. Nowadays, carding machines consist of rotating cylinders set with wire 'teeth,’ which is responsible for teasing the wool out into individual fibers. Once carding the process is completed, the fibers are ready for spinning.
This process is thousands of years old. In spinning, fibers are twisted into a long, continuous thread or yarn. In the past, people use what they called “spindle whorls.” While the fibers are being twisted, the whorl would hang from the bottom of the thread and spin the yarn as it rotated. The invention of the spinning wheel greatly increased the speed at which yarn could be spun.
The basic principles and techniques of weaving have not changed since its conception, although there are different machine used nowadays in order to complete the process.
There are two sets of threads to be used in weaving: the warp and the weft. The warp is putting onto the loom in parallel lines, while the other, the weft, is taken between the warp threads. Patterns and textures can be created by utilizing various colored yarns or by way of varying the number of warp threads gone over and under.
(Picture from www.museodellalana.it)
This process is basically cleaning and making the cloth thick. Fulling can reduce the size of a piece of cloth by up to a third. With industrialization, fulling mills were developed in areas where there were fast flowing streams to power them. The cloth was then treated by being beaten with large hammers called ’&stocks.’
Fulling mills always had tentergrounds nearby. Tenters were rows of frames to which the fulled cloth was attached by tenterhooks after rinsing, to stretch and dry it (see top of page for picture). This is where the phrase to be 'on tenterhooks', meaning to be 'tense', originates.
During the nineteenth century the “nap” or finish of the cloth was created using teazles or cropping shears. However, nowadays, there are several mechanized ways in which a great variety of finishes can be created.