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How Sheep's Wool is Processed
Sheep and their Lovely Wool
The Wool Process
Learn More about How Wool is Processed
Wonderful Sheep Wool
Sheep's wool is the first natural fiber to be woven into material used for making clothing, and this is from long ago.
Today it is still popular; just look how many socks, jerseys, slippers and scarves are made of wool.
Wearing wool, is not new people have been doing it since the Stone Age.
When people learned how to turn raw wool into clothing a versatile material was born to keep us warm and comfortable at night and cool during the day.
Primitive wool processing eventually grew into a huge industry of great value, especially in countries in the Southern hemisphere.
What is Wool?
Wool is the fine, soft fiber from the fleece of sheep or the pelts of other animals such as buck. Angora rabbits, lamas, camels vicunas, and guanacos the last two are related to the camel. Wool fibers grow out of follicles in the animal’s hide.
The fibers are made of the protein keratin and are slightly cylindrical.
The surface of the fiber is covered with many scales which fold over one another, and interlock if the wool is subjected to warm or humid conditions or has pressure applied to it.
Wool sheep in South Africa
Local wool comes mainly from merino sheep. A soft kind of wool, it is dense and perfectly suited to making luxurious protective clothing.
The merino was originally bred in Spain and became well-known around the world for the whiteness, softness and for the strength of the wool.
The Karakul, another important breed, is originally from Asia.
The Karakul's wool is short, coarse and brownish-gray and is generally used for carpets with a naturally coarse appearance.
The next time you use coarse wool think of where it originated from and of how important the breed is in Asia.
The best known karakul product is the fleece of new born lambs.
This fleece is known as astrakhan and is very soft. It is used for jackets, hats and jacket collars.
Angora goats are also farmed in the Eastern Cape.
They are originally from Asia Minor and provide mohair fibers which are coarse than wool but look soft and shiny. Mohair is used in suits and dresses.
Wool and the Economy
Australia is the biggest producer of raw wool in the world at least thirty percent of the world's supply comes from Australia.
The other big wool producing countries are China, New-Zealand, the United Kingdom, Argentina, South Africa, and Uruguay. Agriculture is responsible for three and a half percent of South Africa's gross domestic product the goods and services the whole country produces.
This includes contributors from citrus fruit, wheat, corn, dairy, sugarcane, tobacco, wine and wool. South Africa exports wool mainly to the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and France.
Advantages and Uses of Wool
Wool is soft, elastic and warm. It keeps the wearer cool in summer and warm in winter. Fabrics made from wool are easy to clean and keep their shape perfectly.
Wool can also ''breathe'' because the fibers absorb the moisture the body produces and allows it to evaporate something artificial materials fail to do.
All these properties make wool suitable for blankets, jerseys, caps, gloves, and socks, among others.
Mountain climbers and astronauts dress in layers of woolen clothes to protect themselves against the cold.
Wool can resist high temperatures and flames, and is also used in the protective overalls of racing drivers, firemen, and those who work with hot metal.
The fat removed from wool when it is washed for the first time is also put to good use it is purified to make lanolin, a substance used in face cream, soap, polish, ink, and ointment. In fact nothing of the fleece is allowed to go to waste.
The wool-making process.
What is Sheep Shearing?
Cutting off the wool is mostly done with mechanical shears although traditional sheep shears are still used.
Skilled sheep-shears can shear a large number of sheep in a day and with lots of practice can remove a sheep's entire fleece in one go using long, smooth strokes without injuring the animal in any way.
Once removed the fleece is thrown over a skirting table like a blanket and examined. Wool that is too short, dirty or inferior is removed from the rest of the fleece.
Next, the specially trained people grade the fleeces according to the length and softness of the wool.
The wool is then sent to wool bins in a separate bin. When the bin is full enough a wool press compresses it into a bale which is secured with sail thread.
The farmer's wool is now ready to be transported to the marketplace to be sold. In this raw form sheep's wool contains fat, soil, and bits of plants that have to be washed out.
The wool is placed in long vats filled with warm water and detergents. Long metal hooks are used to guide the wool from vat to vat. After it has been washed and dried a fleece can weigh less than half its original weight.
What is vat to vat?
A large tank used for all the wool and allows one to move the wool from one space to another.
At this stage the wool is matted and the fibers point in all directions. It is now teased, which means it is put through rollers fitted with wire teeth that ''comb'' it so the fibers lie down neatly. After this procedure the wool is separated into long strips.
A spinning process is used to make the strips longer and thinner. It is then plaited and there you have it woolen yarn!
The yarn varies in color from white to off-white. The next step is to dye it the desired color which is usually done in large vats.
If the yarn is going to be multicolored the can take place either before or after the spinning process.
When wool has been turned to yarn it can be made into various textiles by knitting or weaving it. Knitting fabric is made by looping the yarn, using either knitting needles or a knitting machine. In the weaving process two sets of yarn are interwoven by machine.
Did you know the following about beautiful wool?
Sheep usually live for about eight years.
The first Merino sheep were brought to the Cape in the late seventeen hundreds. South Africa was the first country outside Europe to have Merino sheep.
About forty percent of the world's total wool production comes from merino wool and over forty three percent comes from crossbreeds.
Wool from the shoulders and flanks of sheep is generally of better quality than that taken from other parts of the animal.
The province with the most wool sheep in South Africa are in descending order: Eastern Cape, Free State, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, and kwaZulu-Natal.
The National Wool Growers Association of South Africa was formed in nineteen hundred and twenty six and still exists today.
Angora goat provides luxury wool and are farmed all over the world. In South Africa they are farmed mainly in the Eastern Cape.
Knitting is simple can be learned easily in a class.
A great skill to learn and by following the instructions you can make what you find is easy and needed for you to keep warm.
I am South African and had an idea of how wool is processed. I have learned so many new facts about wool from my own research and I am glad to share this information to all my readers.
Hopefully you would find this hub interesting useful and would like to learn a new skill, knitting.
Wool is beautiful and perfect for keeping us warm
Did you know how wool is processed?
© 2013 Devika Primić