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How Sheep's Wool is Processed

Updated on January 18, 2018
DDE profile image

I learned about making sheep's wool during my stay in South Africa. An interesting process to oversee.

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.

  • Centuries ago

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.

Sheep Sheering.

  • 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?

See results

© 2013 Devika Primić


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      mgeorge1050 thank you for stopping by

    • mgeorge1050 profile image

      Alan 3 years ago from West Georgia

      Very interesting article, wool makes a very warm blanket. We used wool blankets when I was in the military.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      hello dear passionate77 so kind of you stop by at my hubs, always appreciated thanks very much

    • passionate77 profile image

      passionate77 4 years ago

      wonderful information devika, your knowledge is amazing and i am so impressed that you touched a unique topic and provided such a detailed information. well done dear, nice job, blessings!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi D.A.L. Thanks for the votes up and wishes your comments are most welcome and have a fabulous weekend.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      What a brilliantly written hub packed with information that is of great interest. Wool ,in my opinion will always be popular choice for clothing it is so practical and the designs in which it is used are as varied as the animals it was obtained from. Voted up etc. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      moonlake, thanks for the brief and kind comment

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      So interesting enjoyed reading it. Excellant job on this hub.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Denise Handlon thanks for all votes up so glad you came by here

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Very interesting and informative, DDE. I enjoyed reading about this and did not realize that Australia led the world in wool processing/sheep breeding. Cool. :) UP/U/I/A shared.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      AliciaC thanks for commenting.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Au fait , thanks for the vote up and interesting on How Sheep's Wool is Processed, so true about how one has forgotten this process.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How Sheep's Wool is Processed, MarleneB thanks for commenting on my hubs

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing all the interesting facts, DDE! This is an informative hub.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      A very interesting article! Most people used to know this process but now so many of us have forgotten how to do these things that were once common knowledge and important to everyday people. Voted up and interesting!

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Fascinating! I really enjoyed the video. It's interesting to learn that 13 sheep started the wool industry.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thanks Pamela99 for the vote up and in sharing your kind comment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      I love wool clothing in cold weather. I learned a lot from your interesting hub. Voted up!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thanks rajan jolly for commenting I appreciate you stopping by at my hubs have a lovely weekend

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting info on the wool making process. Thanks.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi tobusiness so nice of you to comment and of Faith Reaper' to add How Sheep's Wool is Processed on her Twitter page it is so good to have such kind people as and the many others on HP to share and work together in what we do best. Thanks for your valuable comment

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Very informative article! I found this on the lovely Faith Reaper's twitter page. :)

      Nice work.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thanks pstraubie48 for all comments and I ma glad you enjoyed my hub have a superb day.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Hi DDE I have always been fascinated by the shearing process.

      And, wow, you shared so much I did not know. It gives me new respect for the wool items I own :D Angels are on the way ps

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Faith Reaper thanks for all votes up and sharing on How Sheep's Wool is Processed, I am so glad you stopped by and shared our thoughts have great weekend.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      kidscrafts thanks for all votes up and sharing How Sheep's Wool is Processed I enjoyed reading your views here have a good weekend

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Great hub here and such an interesting topic! I learned a lot I did not know. Thank you for a well-written and presented hub.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Very interesting topic, DDE. I love sheep! It so interesting to see that from the animal it goes through so many stages and finish on our back as a sweater for example!

      Thanks for sharing!

      Voted up and interesting!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Vinaya Ghimire thank you for commenting

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      FlourishAnyway a hub filled with new information and I learned lost from this title, thank you for coming by the wollen process is intersting

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      CraftytotheCore it is so nice to read another comment from oyu at another hub of mine thanks for all the comments and have a good day

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      I had no idea on the topic. Thanks for sharing.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      This is a very interesting and informative hub, and I enjoyed it very much, especially the wool making process. You are really on a roll lately, Devika! Keep up the energy and great work!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      Wonderful hub! My grandmother raised sheep. I have a picture of myself feeding baby lambs from a bottle when I was about 3 years old on the home farm. Today, down the street, there is a farm in town that raises sheep. I love sheep. They are one of my favorite animals. They are such a delicate animal.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      billybuc an interesting hub on How Sheep's Wool is Processed so much more I have picked up during my research. Thanks for commenting

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      When we get our farm we will have a couple sheep...I love the feel of wool. Very interesting information here my friend.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So kind of you to comment on my hubs wool is beautiful and keeps us warm just learning more about ho it is processed makes us appreciate it even more. Thanks very much, MsDora have a good day

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very informative, especially about sheep shearing. Wool is such an useful item--from the infant to the elderly, we appreciate it. Thanks, DDE, for doing the research and the presentation.