If you could look close-up at a strand of wool, you would see it has a natural crimp, or ripple. That crimped structure gives the wool a natural elasticity that makes it strong. It comes from a helix, similar to a spring, deep inside each fibre. You could bend the wool fibres back and forth more than 20,000 times without them breaking or tearing. You can’t do that with steel!
So wool garments have the ability to stretch comfortably with the wearer, and then return to their natural shape. Wool carpets have a natural bounce when you walk on them. They might flatten if something heavy is on them but, once it is removed, will bounce back. Wool, therefore, maintains its appearance over time, adding value to the product and its lifespan.
Adding to its strength, each wool fibre is protected by a tough exterior of overlapping scales, called cuticle cells.
You can renew wool, turning it into something else when it is no longer useful. For example, you can felt an old jersey into new clothing, or repurpose an old blanket into a bag or a cover for a favourite armchair.
But when it’s no longer needed at all, you can compost wool and it will quickly decompose. It is mainly made up of water and nitrogen, and releases these valuable nutrients into the soil. This breakdown can take as little as a year whereas synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon can take 30-40 years.
Read more from the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO).
Wool can be made into strong or fine finished products
It all depends on the sheep! The main attributes of wool are the same, but some sheep grow stronger wool than others. The Romney sheep’s strong wool is ideal for carpets, while the Merino sheep’s fine wool is better suited to clothing, which is why you see it used in sports gear and on the catwalk at leading fashion shows.