Winter. If it’s good for nothing else, at least it brings some much-appreciated variation to our wardrobes. It’s a season of sweaters, toques, mittens, scarves and thick comfy socks. It’s a time for wool. But with so many varieties on the market, it can be hard to figure out what kind of wool is best for your needs. Here’s a quick, woolen cheat-sheet to get you in the know.
Origin: Humans have been domesticating sheep since before recorded history. The warmth, light weight and resistance to moisture of sheep’s wool made it the ideal fabric for early humans.
Texture: The texture of sheep’s wool varies based on both the breed of the sheep and the quality of the wool. The diameter of a single follicle usually dictates the fabric grade, where smaller numbers mean a softer fabric.
Price: Sheep’s wool will usually be your cheapest option. Just like the texture though, the price can vary widely based on the grade of the fibres.
Care: Wool garments should be hand washed to protect against stretching or shrinking, though many lower-grade blends can
be machine washed safely.
Origin: Lambswool is gathered from (you guessed it) baby sheep. Wool from any breed can be sold as lambswool, but it must be collected from the sheep’s first shearing.
Texture: Lambswool is known for its smooth texture and elasticity. A lamb’s coat, much like any young animal’s, is incredibly soft before it gets toughened by the elements.
Price: Since you get only one harvest per sheep, lambswool will cost you quite a bit more than the standard variety.
Care: Wash in warm water, with wool cleaner rather than detergent. Submerge the garment, and gently squeeze it until the cleaner has worked its way into the fabric. Rinse with warm water before pressing between two towels to dry.
Origin: Merino sheep are a specific breed that originate from Spain. Today, however, the vast majority of Merino sheep are raised in Australia and New Zealand.
Texture: With fibre diameters reaching as low as 10 microns, Merino wool is known for its softness. Its elastic qualities also make it ideal for exercising in on chilly days.
Price: Merino wool is considered quite a bit more valuable than other sheep’s wool, but the sheer volume of Merino sheep in the world keep prices relatively affordable.
Care: Merino wool should be hand-washed in either hot or cold water, as long as the temperature is constant throughout the process.
Origin: Cashmere comes from the Kashmir goat, a breed native to the Middle East and Central Asia.
Texture: Kashmir goats are a coarse-looking breed, but their undercoat produces some of the softest (and most delicate) wool on the market. You’ll want to treat cashmere quite gently.
Price: Cashmere is one of the most expensive varieties of wool, due to its high grade and the relatively low-yield from the goats.
Care: Cashmere can be cared for in a manner similar to Merino. However, with cashmere you should avoid spot-washing (only cleaning the visibly dirty area) as it could ruin the integrity of the fabric.
Origin: Alpacas resemble small llamas and inhabit the Andes Mountains of South America. Unlike llamas, however, they were domesticated and bred specifically for their soft wool.
Texture: Alpaca fleece varies widely from coarse and scratchy to a smoothness that rivals cashmere. It’s a bit heavier than sheep’s wool, but much warmer.
Price: Alpaca fleece is not generally associated with luxury and, as a result, prices are kept low.
Care: Soak the garment in cold water with a very mild detergent for about five minutes. Rinse under cold water, and gently press between two towels to dry.
Origin: Mohair, gathered from Angora goats, originates from Central Asia and is believed to be one of the earliest types of wool used by humans.
Texture: Mohair is a bit stiffer than wool, but this comes with added durability.
Price: As a luxury fabric and a status symbol, mohair can be quite expensive, despite the large yield from the goats.
Care: Soak in lukewarm water with a very mild detergent, stirring it gently with your hand. Rinse with cold water, blot it between two towels and then hang it to dry. The stiffness of the fabric will prevent stretching in the short-term. Once dried, however, fold the garment for storage. t8n
The longevity and light weight of merino wool has made it the fabric of choice for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Though sheep are not native to the region, Australia and New Zealand are responsible for 37% of the world’s wool production.