Virgin wool: Why is it so special and where is it used?

Virgin wool: Why is it so special and where is it used?

Wool is an incredibly versatile material, which is why it is so often used in the textile industry. The largest producer of wool is Australia. Australia accounts for 25% of the world's wool supply, with the two states of New South Wales and Victoria being its largest producers.

Wool’s quality depends mainly on two factors, namely the diameter of the fibre and the fineness or quality of the wool. High-quality wool is used for most garments and clothing. Wool of lower quality, on the other hand, is first and foremost used for the manufacture of carpets, blankets and upholstery.

Being quite versatile and diverse, wool is available in different types. You might have heard of Cheviot wool or even Merino wool, for example.

In this article we answer questions like 'What is new wool?' and tell you a bit more about what makes wool so special.

What is new wool?

As opposed to other types of wool, new wool is exclusively sourced from living sheep. Around 2.2 tonnes of new wool are produced annually in around 100 different countries. The sheep used for wool production are usually shorn once a year and produce 4 to 4.5 kg of wool per sheep. The quality of the wool is judged after the shearing. Though Australia is the world’s largest wool producer, high-quality wool is mainly supplied by New Zealand. During the quality control process, the wool fibre is pressed and tested for fibre fineness, strength, length and wool content (as wool can be contaminated by dirt and wool grease). Raw wool has an average fibre content of 30 to 70%.

In order to obtain wool, a sheep must be sheared to obtain a coherent, solid piece of wool fleece, as this produces stronger and longer fibres. The wool is then sorted by colour and thoroughly cleaned. With a so-called carding machine the cleaned wool is combed and loosened. Carding of the wool takes place before spinning and dyeing. During spinning, fibres are pulled tightly together and twisted. The yarns differ depending on the type of spinning and the quality.

Besides new wool there are other types of wool, such as:

  • shoddy wool (recycled product made from re-used waste wool
  • tanner wool (fur from slaughtered animals
  • Sterblingswolle (wool from naturally dead animals)

What is new wool: characteristics

As new wool is a purely natural product, it has properties far superior to those of synthetic materials. New wool is a renewable raw material, and is thus compostable and biodegradable. This is particularly important as the textile industry is one of the biggest polluters and sources of trash and waste. In Germany alone, more than one million tons of fabrics end up in the garbage every year.

New wool is not only better for the environment, but also feels very soft and keeps us warm in winter. Wool is elastic and crease-resistant, so it rarely needs to be ironed. In addition, new wool has very good thermal insulation properties. Due to wool’s crimped structure, air is trapped as an insulating layer. Furthermore, new wool rarely absorbs odours such as sweat; any unpleasant odours which have accumulated in the wool can be removed by simply airing out the garment.

Another advantage of wool is that it burns very slowly and tends to char, which is why it is often used for the production of insulation material or for covers in airplanes or buses. Wool also reduces the static effect.

Since wool consists of crimped fibres, it is breathable and can absorb moisture very well. This is an important advantage for the production of textiles. However, the properties of new wool are not only important in the clothing and fashion industry, but you should also pay attention to the breathability of the material when choosing bedding. As we lose up to a litre of sweat at night, our bed linen should be able to absorb this moisture and release it back to the outside. If this does not happen, heat can quickly build up under the blanket. In addition, synthetic materials can cause an accumulation of mites and bacteria, as these feel most comfortable in damp areas.

Different types of new wool

Depending on the properties, origin and quality of the new wool, it is divided into four different types: Merino wool, crossbred wool, long wool and coarse wool. The quality and type of new wool is determined by the shape of the hair and the formation of the coat.

Merino wool

Merino wool fibres have a length of 40 to 120 mm and are extremely soft. Due to the strong crimp, merino wool has a high elasticity and relatively low gloss. Merino wool does not scratch the skin, as the fibres are only half as thick as those of normal sheep.

Merino wool can absorb up to a third of its dry weight in moisture without feeling moist or clammy. Due to its wave-like structure, air chambers can be created in merino wool, which trap and retain body heat. As a result, merino wool insulates very well from the outside.

Crossbred wool

Crossbred wool has a length of 50 to 180 mm. It is a relatively fine, but nonetheless robust wool. Crossbred wool comes from a cross between merino and coarse wool sheep. Crossbred wool is not as curly as merino wool, but still has the unique properties of new wool.

Crossbred wool is not only used to produce fabrics, but is particularly popular in the home textile sector. Classic tweed and Donegal fabrics are often woven from crossbred wool.

Long wool

As the name suggests, this is the longest wool type, with a size of 180 to 400mm. Long wool is little scaled and hardly crimped, which is why it has a greater lustre.

Coarse Wool

Coarse wool, for example Cheviot wool, is not suitable for hand spinning and is hardly crimped at all. This type of wool has a high lustre content and is very coarse in its structure.

Since it cannot be spun, it is not used to produce fabrics. Rather, the coarse wool is best suited for use in the carpet industry or in the fields of construction or engineering, where it is typically used as an insulation material.

Swiss new wool - Swisswool: why it is so special

In the history of raising sheep in Switzerland, not much thought was given to the quality or even usefulness of the sheep’s wool, as sheep were mainly kept to preserve the Alpine landscape by preventing erosion. For this reason, new wool was often thrown away because there was no use for it. Swisswool collects about half of all new sheep's wool in Switzerland for further processing and thus supports sheep farmers and landscape conservation in Switzerland.

The above-mentioned new wool properties make wool a very special natural product that can be used in many ways. New wool from Switzerland is used, among other things, as the lining for sportswear or mattress padding, but also as acoustic panels or fertiliser.

Swiss new wool products at Zizzz

At Zizzz, we are not only convinced of the incredible properties of virgin wool, but we also want to support farmers in the Swiss Alps in their efforts to preserve this country’s magnificent landscapes. That's why the wool used in our baby sleeping bags, wool duvets, wool pillows and baby blankets comes directly from Switzerland.

As said above, the filling of our sleeping bags for children and babies is made of new wool. This has been reinforced with plant fibres so that they can be washed in the washing machine. As the material prevents heat accumulation and helps to regulate body temperature, babies and children can sleep through the night completely relaxed.

Not only children can benefit from the very good properties of new wool, but adults can, too. Our sheep's wool duvets and pillows are filled with new wool from Switzerland and can be used all year round. As wool is particularly durable, the duvets rarely need to be replaced.

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