Wool Trivia!

Mankind’s use of wool and other animal fibre is amazing! For millennia, spinning, felting, weaving has given us warmth, comfort and exciting ways to express creative spirit. Whether it was felt footwear used by Sumerians, woven fabric of Egyptian royalty, felted yurts for nomadic Asian and Eastern subsistence farmers or traditional Cowichan sweaters of the Coast Salish people of Vancouver Island, our relationship to fibre has had many dimensions.

Enjoy our collection of trivia for wool:

  • Evidence shows sheep first being domesticated about 10 000 years ago. Selective breeding over the millennia has led to close to 1000 different breeds worldwide today.
  • Image of ancient use of spindle to spin woolClothing and other items made of wool have been found throughout much of the ancient world, from 3400-year-old Egyptian yarn to fragments of textiles unearthed in boggy Siberian graves dating from the first century BC and evidence of woolen clothing as far back as about 5000 years ago in Iran.
  • Sheep were introduced to North America in 1492 with Columbus’ arrival. There are now over 50 different breeds in North America. Texas alone has over 7000 sheep farms and a very active.
  • Wild and early domesticated sheep have a bristly overcoat called the kemp and a fine undercoat of wool called the fleece. Over time, animals were selected for more fleece and less kemp. Domesticated sheep breeds today are mostly kemp-free.
  • Sheep do not have front teeth on their top jaw.
  • Sheep are ruminants. They have one stomach with four compartments. They spend much of their time chewing their cud, partially digested food eaten earlier.
  • Sheep for climate change! Sheep eat between 1 – 3kg of food daily. Cattle consume 10 times that amount. A sheep can produce up to 3 – 4kg of wool each year, enough for 120km of yarn!
  • The UK produces 26 000 tonnes of wool each year, enough to wrap around the world 27 times. Australia produces 325 000 tonnes annually, enough to make 12 round trips to the moon. The USA accounts for 220 000 tonnes and Canada 1300 tonnes.
  • Wool has long been a valuable commodity. When Richard the Lionhearted was captured in 1192, Cistercian monks paid their part of the ransom to the Holy Roman emperor in 50,000 sacks of wool, which was a full year’s clip.
  • Thank you, Napoleon! Spain’s wealth during the middle ages was based on the fine wool produced by local Merino sheep which were protected by a powerful council of shepherds. In 1809, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain led to Merinos being exported to other lands.
  • Merino wool is the finest and softest wool. Superfine (16micron) and ultrafine (13m) Merino wool is as fine or finer than cashmere. Merino wool can bend 20 000 times before breaking. A micron is the measurement used for fibre diameter. One micron measures one millionth of one metre.
  • photo of long wool sheep with locks of wool covering face from Chaotic Fibres, VictoriaA Merino sheep can yield between 4 – 7kg of fleece annually. Rams yield more than ewes because of their larger size. That’s about 4 or 5 sweaters of wool after washing and processing the wool.
  • Wool won’t support growth of dust mites so it is of great benefit for bedding. It also inhibits the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria unlike other natural and synthetic fibres.
  • Wool has scales and crimps that catch when the fibres are twisted together. The scales help wool expand and contract as temperatures change, enabling woolen garments to help regulate body temperature.
  • In a seeming paradox, wool can absorb and repel water simultaneously. Lanolin and fatty acid proteins on the outer surface inhibit absorption of liquid. However, structural features deeper inside the fibre can soak up moisture in vapor form. In short, wool hates liquid but loves vapour.
  • Wool is the only fibre that retains its warmth when wet. It can absorb about 30% of its weight in water. Wool absorbs and releases water vapour as humidity rises and falls, which is why it works so well as a natural insulator.
  • Very dry grazing areas for sheep, such as areas caught in a drought, can produce finer fibres.
  • Got that itch from your warm winter woolies? It’s more likely due to thicker and coarser fibre diameter or fibre ends, not a wool allergy. Try ultra fine Merino! People who have true wool allergies exhibit symptoms similar to pollen or cat allergies: red, watery irritated eyes, nasal congestion and shortness of breath. What’s triggering the allergy is not the fibre itself but the wool alcohols found in lanolin.
  • Wool keeps firefighters safe! Wool is fire resistant, with a high natural ignition point of about 1,382 degrees. Unlike nylon and polyester, wool does not drip or melt when it eventually catches fire.
  • Wool has all the right properties for erosion control devices such as erosion blankets on banks and hillsides. Lightweight woolen ground cover blankets allow seedlings to grow right through. Because wool is biodegradable, the blankets break down slowly, fertilizing plants with a generous 17 percent nitrogen content compared to the 6 percent nitrogen found in commercial turf products.
  • Have you ever seen a shearing? The fastest recorded time to shear a sheep is 39.31 seconds by Hilton Barrett of Australia in 2010.
  • The most expensive sheep in the world was a ram bought in 2009 in Scotland for breeding purposes. His selling price: $425 000.
  • Sheep are intelligent. Sheep can recognize up to 50 other sheep faces and remember them for 2 years, and they can also recognize and remember human faces.
  • Sheep have excellent peripheral vision. Their large, rectangular pupils allow them to see almost 360 degrees. They can even see behind themselves without turning their heads!
  • Baseballs have about 150 yards of wool wound in layers about the core to withstand the immense impact when hit.
  • What’s in a name? Years ago, felting was referred to as “fulling” in England. The fulling process was done by walking over the wool cloth submerged in water to aid in agitating it. So, Fullers and Walkers were felt makers. Are you a Walker, a Fuller? Where did your family originate?
  • The lifespan of sheep is generally 10 to 15 years. Sheep are sexually mature around 5 months of age but are generally not bred until at least 8 months of age. Gestation is about 5 months long.
  • Stages from Fleece to Top:

  • Raw fleece – unwashed, directly from the animal.
  • Image of scoured fleece and raw wool from Chaotic Fibres, VictoriaScoured fleece – washed to remove both the greasy lanolin and the dirtiest sections of the fleece. The locks are still intact.
  • Batting – batts are processed first by putting the fleece through a picker once the fleece has been scoured. The picker removes most of the remaining debris. After picking, the fleece is carded to straighten most of the fibres. The sheets created by the carder are lofty due to the volume of air and fluff maintained in the batts. These qualities make carded batts a fine choice for sculptural needle felting.
  • Roving – similar to batts but resembling long ropes. Roving and Top are often used interchangeably but roving should be a little messier than top as it is not as finely combed.
  • Top – roving that has been thoroughly combed so all the fibres run in one direction. Top refers to this product being ‘top’ quality. Top is excellent for spinning, wet felting and nuno felting. Combed top is more difficult to work with for needle felters.