Year of Natural Fibers Series – December: Wool

Presenting: Awbury’s 2019 article series on natural fibersClick here to learn more about this year’s theme.

Articles written by La Salle graduate and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

December 2019 –  Wool: 

It’s December, and we all know what that means – dropping temperatures and snowy days are ahead! As we finalize this year’s theme of natural fibers, it is apropos that we end on a warm and fuzzy note. This blog will be discussing the significance of sheep’s wool, cashmere, and alpaca wool, three kinds of fiber used for clothing which humans have utilized for millennia.

First is sheep’s wool, probably the type of animal fiber we are all most familiar with. Originating in ancient Mesopotamia around 10,000 B.C., sheep wool’s uses and methods of spinning were very rudimentary. Sheep then began to spread to various civilizations though, including the Greeks, Romans and Persians, who learned to breed the animal for more superior woolen clothing. But despite its old history you probably associate sheep wool closely with the English. Britain has been an iconic producer of woolen products for centuries, and still is today. Think of those threaded, cream-colored sweaters you see in pubs!

Today, wool makes up many of the articles of clothing we wear, as its innate properties make it a material that still is popular. For one, its low density makes for lightweight clothing. Two, its absorbent composition allows it to be great for dying. Third, as sheep know full well, wool acts as a natural heat-retaining material, making it great for winter weather.

We’re ending this year’s blog on a warm and fuzzy note

Cashmere is within the same family, but it comes from a different animal – the cashmere goat. Found only in Inner Mongolia, China, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan, the cashmere goat is more of a historically recent animal used for its wool. The earliest documented usage dates back to the 14th century, but it wasn’t until the late 18th century when the wool of the cashmere goat started to become an international desire. It was and still is deemed as a luxurious material for many fashion designers – names like Louis Vuitton and Shirin Guild. One of the reasons for its luxuriousness is the reality that it takes a long time for the goat to grow it. As opposed to sheep which grow hair all over their bodies, cashmere goats only grow wool under their necks. It can take up to a year for one goat to produce enough wool to make one scarf. Yes, it’s a slow process, but one which creates a kind of fiber which, aside from its price tag, is a wonderful product of nature.

Last, but not least, is alpaca wool, a type of fiber that is also coveted around the world. Peruvians have donned the warm fur for centuries to help them stay comfortable in the high mountainous regions of South America. However, with cashmere’s recent push towards mass-production, alpaca fur has recently become more valuable and attractive to the world. With only 4 million alpacas worldwide compared to roughly 450 million cashmere goats, you can see how the demand for such rarity can drive an industry. To add, alpaca wool fibers are slightly longer and lighter, making alpaca wool a more effective choice at keeping you warm.

Sources:

https://www.iwto.org/history-wool

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/the-history-of-cashmere-the-golden-fleece-1196401.html

https://www.britannica.com/topic/wool

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/093015/choosing-luxury-yarn-alpaca-vs-cashmere.asp