A Peek Inside The Wool Manufacturing Industry

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We take many things for granted including the clothing we wear. Let's take a peek inside the wool manufacturing industry for a moment, and discover how it all works.

Wool has stayed popular for several reasons; it is warm, durable, inexpensive and abundant and has many desirable qualities that make it useful for clothing manufacturers. It is also perfect for blending with other natural fibers.

Almost every part of the manufacturing process is now mechanized. The only area that has resisted this is the initial sheering of the sheep and the sorting of the fleece into categories of quality. For now, at least, this is done best by man.

The Wool Manufacturing Industry Process

The process used by the wool manufacturers has remained the same for over 200 years. The only real difference is in the technological advancements of automated machinery.

  1. Sheering – This happens once a year during springtime. The fleece is removed from the sheep using electric clippers. Usually, this is done by hand, but new technologies are developing robot devices for the job.

  2. Grading and Sorting – Once the fleece is clipped from the animal it is graded for quality. The fleece also helps by breaking it into sections. The best wool is from the shoulders and sides of the sheep and is suitable for clothing, while rug making utilizes the wool from the other areas.

  3. Cleaning and Scouring – The wool freshly shorn from the sheep is known as “raw” or sometimes “grease” wool. There are many impurities contained within it such as dirt, grease, sweat and other matter. These contaminants must be removed; scouring the wool in a series of tanks that contain alkaline substances does this. These are a mixture of water with soap, soda ash or other similar alkalis. The scouring machines have a series of rollers that squeeze the excess fluid from the fleece. The fleece remains damp and is often treated with oil for manageability. Scouring produces other useful by-products such as Lanolin.

  4. Carding - The wool is run through a through a device containing metal teeth that straighten the fibers and divide them into slivers. It also helps to remove any residual dirt or debris.

  5. Spinning – The wool is spun to produce a thread. Spinning twists the fibers together to create a single strand of yarn; these threads are then spun with others to produce thicker stronger threads. When completed, the yarn is wound onto bobbins, cones or drums.

  6. Weaving - To turn the yarn into fabric it must be woven together. There are two basic weaves used in wool manufacture, plain weave and twill. Plain weave produces a looser design that has a soft surface. It has very little to no luster. Worsted yarns use twill weave to create fine fabrics with intricate patterns. They produce a tightly woven smooth fabric. This fabric has luster, is durable and of higher value.

  7. Finishing – There are several different procedures that the fabric undergoes following weaving, these include:

  • Fulling - which involves immersing the fabric in water. This causes the fibers to swell and interlink.

  • Crabbing - a process that sets the interlocking of the fibers permanently.

  • Decating - which makes the fabric shrink proof.

  • Dyeing - this can be done at an earlier stage also before the wool is woven into a piece of fabric.

Quality Control In The Wool Manufacturing Industry

Quality control is of high importance in the wool manufacturing industry. It is still usually done by people. The finished cloth is checked by sight, feel and measurement. Any small flaws are repaired by removing loose threads, or pushing knots back through the fabric.

Since 1941, all woolen products in the United States must carry a label (except for upholstery and floor coverings). The label states the percentage of wool contained in the fabric.

The Future Of The Wool Manufacturing Industry

Due to the popularity and high demand for wool products, the wool manufacturing industry remains buoyant. Today the wool industry is estimated to be worth in the region of 7 billion dollars. As mechanization technology continues to refine processing the production of wool looks set to continue its popularity well into the future. Particularly as people turn away from fabrics made from the petrochemical industry, making the demand for natural fabrics greater.