An Introduction to Wool
The physical structure of the outer scaly layer of the wool fiber contributes to wool’s unique property of felting. Under the mechanical action of agitation, friction and pressure in the presence of heat and moisture, the scales on the edges of the wool fibers interlock, preventing the fiber from returning to its original position. Felting shrinkage is irreversible.
Takes Dye Beautifully
Wool absorbs many different dyes deeply, uniformly and directly without the use of combining chemicals. Wool is an amphoteric, which means it reacts with both acids and bases; thus it accepts both acid and basic dyestuffs. Dyes penetrate into the inner medulla core of the fiber where a chemical reaction occurs making the color change permanent except under extreme and prolonged fading conditions.
Crimp, which consists of the natural kinks or waves in individual fibers, forms as those fibers grow, it is permanent. Crimp can be tight and well organized, or loose and disorganized. The crimpier the wool, the more elasticity it has so crimpy wools make great socks or other items that need to stretch and rebound. Wools with less crimp drape elegantly
Wool is Sustainable
Wool is a natural, renewable fiber that offers a ‘green’ fabric choice. Wool is also biodegradable making it an eco-friendly product.
Fiber Characteristics vary widely not only between breeds but also within breeds and sometimes even throughout an individual fleece. Wool changes with animal’s age, health, and environmental circumstances. A lamb’s first fleece will be its finest and softest. A sheep that was sick or stressed may grow a fleece with weak spots. Every fleece has distinct, individual qualities.
Some sheep are shorn twice a year but the sheep at the Bear Creek Ranch are shorn once in March right before lambing begins. We hire a professional shearer who does excellent work and takes care with the animals. Our sheep average an 8 to 9 pound fleece for the ewes and 15 pounds for the rams. The fleece is then brought to a woolen mill where it is picked, washed and carded into roving.
Wool has excellent insulating properties that will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
At the Bear Creek Ranch we raise registered Romney, Wensleydale and Blue Faced Leicester Sheep. I use their wool in all my sculptures and kits.
The Romney fleece is unique among all breeds of sheep in the way it combines several important traits. The fleece is lustrous; it hangs in separate locks, with minimal cross fibers between the locks. It is also high yielding and easily spun. Uniformity of crimp from the butt to the tip of a lock is also typical of the breed. Romney wool has the finest fiber diameter of all the longwool breeds; the spinning count may run from 50 to 44 (equivalent to about 29-36 microns). Ideally, the spinning count of the fleece is consistent over the entire body.
It is the low grease content of Romney wool that makes it a very light shrinking fleece upon washing, and consequently high yielding. Since the value of a fleece depends on its clean wool content and not its grease weight, the Romney, whose fleece can boast a clean yield of over 70%, is one of the heaviest wool producers of all breeds.
Whether shorn once or twice a year, the wool clip from the purebred Romney flock is sought by commercial wool buyers and craftspeople. Its broad range of acceptable spinning counts enables Romney wool to be used for many products, ranging from sweaters to outer wear to carpets. For the commercial producer, incorporation of the heavy-shearing white Romney can add significantly to overall farm income.
For more information on Romney sheep go to the American Romney Breeders Association website.