AskDefine | Define wool

The Collaborative Dictionary

Wool \Wool\ (w[oo^]l), n. [OE. wolle, wulle, AS. wull; akin to D. wol, OHG. wolla, G. wolle, Icel. & Sw. ull, Dan. uld, Goth, wulla, Lith. vilna, Russ. volna, L. vellus, Skr. [=u]r[.n][=a] wool, v[.r] to cover. [root]146,
Cf. Flannel, Velvet.] [1913 Webster]
The soft and curled, or crisped, species of hair which grows on sheep and some other animals, and which in fineness sometimes approaches to fur; -- chiefly applied to the fleecy coat of the sheep, which constitutes a most essential material of clothing in all cold and temperate climates. [1913 Webster] Note: Wool consists essentially of keratin. [1913 Webster]
Short, thick hair, especially when crisped or curled. [1913 Webster] Wool of bat and tongue of dog. --Shak. [1913 Webster]
(Bot.) A sort of pubescence, or a clothing of dense, curling hairs on the surface of certain plants. [1913 Webster] Dead pulled wool, wool pulled from a carcass. Mineral wool. See under Mineral. Philosopher's wool. (Chem.) See Zinc oxide, under Zinc. Pulled wool, wool pulled from a pelt, or undressed hide. Slag wool. Same as Mineral wool, under Mineral. Wool ball, a ball or mass of wool. Wool burler, one who removes little burs, knots, or extraneous matter, from wool, or the surface of woolen cloth. Wool comber. (a) One whose occupation is to comb wool. (b) A machine for combing wool. Wool grass (Bot.), a kind of bulrush (Scirpus Eriophorum) with numerous clustered woolly spikes. Wool scribbler. See Woolen scribbler, under Woolen, a. Wool sorter's disease (Med.), a disease, resembling malignant pustule, occurring among those who handle the wool of goats and sheep. Wool staple, a city or town where wool used to be brought to the king's staple for sale. [Eng.] Wool stapler. (a) One who deals in wool. (b) One who sorts wool according to its staple, or its adaptation to different manufacturing purposes. Wool winder, a person employed to wind, or make up, wool into bundles to be packed for sale. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 a fabric made from the hair of sheep [syn: woolen, woollen]
2 fiber sheared from animals (such as sheep) and twisted into yarn for weaving
3 outer coat of especially sheep and yaks [syn: fleece]
see Wool



etyl ang wull, from , from .



wool (uncountable)
  1. The hair of the sheep, llama and some other ruminants.
  2. A cloth or yarn made from the wool of sheep.
  3. Anything with a texture like that of wool.
hair of sheep, etc.
cloth or yarn
anything with a texture like that of wool


wool (no comparative or superlative)
  1. Made of wool.



made of wool See woollen, woolen
Wool is the fiber derived from the fur of animals of the Caprinae family, principally sheep, but the hair of certain species of other mammals such as goats, llamas and rabbits may also be called wool. Wool has two qualities that distinguish it from hair or fur: it has scales which overlap like shingles on a roof and it is crimped; in some fleeces the wool fibers have more than 20 bends per inch.


Wool straight off a sheep contains a high level of grease which contains valuable lanolin, as well as dirt, dead skin, sweat residue, and vegetable matter. This state is known as "grease wool" or "wool in the grease". Before the wool can be used for commercial purposes it must be scoured, or cleaned. Scouring may be as simple as a bath in warm water, or a complicated industrial process using detergent and alkali. In commercial wool, vegetable matter is often removed by the chemical process of chemical carbonization. In less processed wools, vegetable matter may be removed by hand, and some of the lanolin left intact through use of gentler detergents. This semi-grease wool can be worked into yarn and knitted into particularly water-resistant mittens or sweaters, such as those of the Aran Island fishermen. Lanolin removed from wool is widely used in the cosmetics industry, such as hand creams.
After shearing, the wool is separated into five main categories: fleece (which makes up the vast bulk), broken, pieces, bellies and locks. The latter four are pressed into wool packs and sold separately. The quality of fleece is determined by a technique known as wool classing, whereby a qualified woolclasser groups wools of similar gradings together to maximise the return for the farmer or sheep owner. Prior to Australian auctions all Merino fleece wool is objectively measured for micron, yield (including the amount of vegetable matter), staple length, staple strength and sometimes color and comfort factor.


The quality of wool is determined by the following factors, fiber diameter, yield, staple length, color and staple strength. Fiber diameter is the single most important wool characteristic determining quality and price.
Merino wool is typically 3-5 inches in length and is very fine (between 12-24 microns). The finest and most valuable wool comes from Merino hoggets. Wool taken from sheep produced for meat is typically more coarse, and has fibers are 1.5 to 6 inches in length. Damage or "breaks in the wool" can occur if the sheep is stressed while it is growing its fleece, resulting in a thin spot where the fleece is likely to break.
Wool is also separated into grades based on the measurement of the wool's diameter in microns. These grades may vary depending on the breed or purpose of the wool. For example:
  • < 17.5 - Ultrafine merino
  • 17.6-18.5 - Superfine merino
  • < 19.5 - Fine merino
  • 19.6-20.5 - Fine medium merino
  • 20.6-22.5 - Medium merino
  • 22.6 < - Strong merino
In general, anything finer than 25 microns can be used for garments, while coarser grades are used for outerwear or rugs. The finer the wool, the softer it will be, while coarser grades are more durable and less prone to pilling.


As the raw material has been readily available since the widespread domestication of sheep—and of goats, another major provider of wool— the use of felted or woven wool for clothing and other fabrics characterizes some of the earliest civilizations. Prior to invention of shears - probably in the Iron Age - the wool was plucked out by hand or by bronze combs. The oldest known European woollen textile, ca. 1500 BCE, was preserved in a Danish bog
In Roman times, wool, linen and leather clothed the European population: the cotton of India was a curiosity that only naturalists had heard of, and silk, imported along the Silk Road from China, was an extravagant luxury. Pliny the Elder records in his Natural History that the reputation for producing the finest wool was enjoyed by Tarentum, where selective breeding had produced sheep with a superior fleece, but which required special care.
In medieval times, as trade connections expanded, the Champagne fairs revolved around the production of woollen cloth in small centers such as Provins; the network that the sequence of annual fairs developed meant that the woollens of Provins might find their way to Naples, Sicily, Cyprus, Majorca, Spain and even Constantinople (Braudel, 316). The wool trade developed into serious business, the generator of capital. In the thirteenth century, the wool trade was the economic engine of the Low Countries and of Central Italy; by the end of the following century Italy predominated, though in the 16th century Italian production turned to silk (Braudel p 312). Both pre-industries were based on English raw wool exports— rivalled only by the sheepwalks of Castile, developed from the fifteenth century— which were a significant source of income to the English crown, which from 1275 imposed an export tax on wool called the "Great Custom". The importance of wool to the English economy can be shown by the fact that since the 14th Century, the presiding officer of the House of Lords has sat on the "Woolsack", a chair stuffed with wool.
Economies of scale were instituted in the Cistercian houses, which had accumulated great tracts of land during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when land prices were low and labour still scarce. Raw wool was baled and shipped from North Sea ports to the textile cities of Flanders, notably Ypres and Ghent, where it was dyed and worked up as cloth. At the time of the Black Death, English textile industries accounted for about 10% of English wool production (Cantor 2001, 64); the English textile trade grew during the fifteenth century, to the point where export of wool was discouraged. Over the centuries, various British laws controlled the wool trade or required the use of wool even in burials. The smuggling of wool out of the country, known as owling, was at one time punishable by the cutting off of a hand. After the Restoration, fine English woollens began to compete with silks in the international market, partly aided by the Navigation Acts; in 1699 English crown forbade its American colonies to trade wool with anyone but England herself.
A great deal of the value of woollen textiles was in the dyeing and finishing of the woven product. In each of the centers of the textile trade, the manufacturing process came to be subdivided into a collection of trades, overseen by an entrepreneur in a system called by the English the "putting-out" system, or "cottage industry", and the Verlagssystem by the Germans. In this system of producing woolen cloth, until recently perpetuated in the production of Harris tweeds, the entrepreneur provides the raw materials and an advance, the remainder being paid upon delivery of the product. Written contracts bound the artisans to specified terms. Fernand Braudel traces the appearance of the system in the thirteenth-century economic boom, quoting a document of 1275 (Braudel, 317) The system effectively by-passed the guilds' restrictions.
Before the flowering of the Renaissance, the Medici and other great banking houses of Florence had built their wealth and banking system on their textile industry based on wool, overseen by the Arte della Lana, the wool guild: wool textile interests guided Florentine policies. Francesco Datini, the "merchant of Prato", established in 1383 an Arte della Lana for that small Tuscan city. The sheepwalks of Castile shaped the landscape and the fortunes of the meseta that lies in the heart of the Iberian peninsula; in the sixteenth century, a unified Spain allowed export of Merino lambs only with royal permission. The German wool market—based on sheep of Spanish origin—did not overtake British wool until comparatively late. Australia's colonial economy was based on sheep raising and the Australian wool trade eventually overtook that of the Germans by 1845, furnishing wool for Bradford, which developed as the heart of industrialized woollens production.
  • Fernand Braudel, 1982. The Wheels of Commerce, vol 2 of Civilization and Capitalism (New York:Harper & Row)
Due to decreasing demand with increased use of synthetic fibers, wool production is much less than what it was in the past. The collapse in the price of wool began in late 1966 with a 40% drop; with occasional interruptions, the price has tended down. The result has been sharply reduced production and movement of resources into production of other commodities, in the case of sheep growers, to production of meat.
In December 2004 a bale of the world's finest wool, averaging 11.8 micron, sold for 300,000 cents per kilogram at auction in Melbourne, Victoria. This fleece wool tested with an average yield of 74.5%, 68mm long, and had 40 newtons per kilotex strength. The result was $AUD279,000 for the bale.


Global wool production is approximately 1.3 million tonnes per annum of which 60% goes into apparel. Australia is the leading producer of wool which is mostly from merino sheep. New Zealand is the second largest producer of wool, but is the largest producer of crossbred wool. China is the third largest producer of wool. Breeds such as Lincoln, Romney, Tukidale, Drysdale and Elliotdale produce coarser fibers, and wool off these sheep is usually used for making carpets.
In the United States, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado also have large commercial sheep flocks and their mainstay is the Rambouillet (or French Merino). There is also a thriving 'home flock' contingent of small scale farmers who raise small hobby flocks of specialty sheep for the hand spinning market. These small scale farmers may raise any type of sheep they wish, so the selection of fleeces is quite wide. Global wool clip 2004/2005
  1. Australia: 25% of global wool clip (475 million kg greasy, 2004/2005)
  2. China: 18%
  3. New Zealand: 11%
  4. Argentina: 3%
  5. Turkey: 2%
  6. Iran: 2%
  7. United Kingdom: 2%
  8. India: 2%
  9. Sudan: 2%
  10. South Africa: 1%
  11. United States: 0.77%
Keeping with the times, organic wool is becoming more and more popular. This blend of wool is very limited in supply and much of it comes from New Zealand and Australia. Organic wool is becoming easier to find in clothing and other products, though these products often carry a higher price. Wool is environmentally preferable (as compared to petroleum-based Nylon or Polypropylene) as a material for carpets as well, in particular when combined with a natural binding and the use of formaldehyde-free glues.
Animal rights groups have noted issues with the production of wool, such as Mulesing.


In addition to clothing, wool has been used for blankets, horse rugs, saddle cloths, carpeting, felt, wool insulation (also see links) and upholstery. Wool felt covers piano hammers and it is used to absorb odors and noise in heavy machinery and stereo speakers. Ancient Greeks lined their helmets with felt and Roman legionnaires used breastplates made of wool felt.
Wool has also been traditionally used to cover cloth diapers. Wool fiber exteriors are hydrophobic (repel water) and the interior of the wool fiber is hygroscopic (attracts water; this makes a wool garment able to cover a wet diaper while inhibiting 'wicking' so outer garments remain dry. Wool felted and treated with lanolin is water resistant, air permeable, and slightly antibacterial, so it resists the buildup of odor. Some modern cloth diapers use felted wool fabric for covers, and there are several modern commercial knitting patterns for wool diaper covers.


Virgin wool is wool spun for the first time, as contrasted with shoddy.
Shoddy or recycled wool is made by cutting or tearing apart existing wool fabric and respinning the resulting fibers. As this process makes the wool fibers shorter, the remanufactured fabric is inferior to the original. The recycled wool may be mixed with raw wool, wool noil, or another fiber such as cotton to increase the average fiber length. Such yarns are typically used as weft yarns with a cotton warp. This process was invented in the Heavy Woollen District of West Yorkshire and created a micro-economy in this area for many years.
Ragg is a sturdy wool fiber made into yarn and used in many rugged applications like gloves.
Worsted is a strong, long-staple, combed wool yarn with a hard surface.
Woolen is a soft, short-staple, carded wool yarn typically used for knitting. In traditional weaving, woolen weft yarn (for softness and warmth) is frequently combined with a worsted warp yarn for strength on the loom.

Wool allergies

Many people consider themselves to be allergic to wool because they have an adverse reaction every time it touches their skin. However, a true allergy to wool is actually rare. Most people who have a reaction to wool do so because they have sensitive skin, and they would likely have a similar reaction to any coarse fiber. An allergy would require a person to have had a prior contact with the wool that would cause a cell-mediated hypersensitivity against it. People with sensitive skin who would like to wear wool can put a layer of softer fabric between the wool and their skin.


Being one of the biggest buyers of Merino wool, Ermenegildo Zegna has encouraged, supported and rewarded the efforts of the Australian wool producers since 1963 in the production of finer and softer wools. In 1963 the first Ermenegildo Zegna Perpetual Trophy was presented in Tasmania for growers of "Superfine skirted Merino fleece." In 1980, a national award, the Ermenegildo Zegna Trophy for Extrafine Wool Production was launched. In 2004 this award became known as the Ermenegildo Zegna Unprotected Wool Trophy. In 1998, an Ermenegildo Zegna Protected Wool Trophy was launched for fleece from sheep coated for around nine months of the year.
In 2002 the Ermenegildo Zegna Vellus Aureum Trophy was launched for wool that is 13.9 micron and finer. Wool from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa may enter and a winner is named from each country. In April 2008 New Zealand won the coveted Ermenegildo Zegna Vellus Aureum Trophy for the first time with a fleece which measured 10.8 microns. This contest awards the winning fleece weight with the same weight in gold as a prize, hence the name.
The New England Merino Field days which display local studs, wool and sheep are held during January, every two years (in even numbered years) around the Walcha, New South Wales district. The Annual Wool Fashion Awards, which showcases the use of Merino wool by fashion designers, are hosted by the city of Armidale, New South Wales in March each year. This event encourages young fashion designers to display their talents as well as established designers. During each May Armidale hosts the annual New England Wool Expo to display wool fashions, handicrafts, demonstrations, shearing competitions, yard dog trials and more. In July the annual Australian Sheep and Wool Show is held in Bendigo, Victoria. This is the largest sheep and wool show in the world, with goats and alpacas as well as woolcraft competitions and displays, fleece competitions, sheepdog trials, shearing and woolhandling.

See also

wool in Arabic: صوف
wool in Bosnian: Vuna
wool in Bulgarian: Вълна (материя)
wool in Catalan: Llana
wool in Czech: Ovčí vlna
wool in Welsh: Gwlân
wool in Danish: Uld
wool in German: Wolle
wool in Spanish: Lana
wool in Esperanto: Lano
wool in Basque: Artile
wool in French: Laine
wool in Galician: La
wool in Croatian: Vuna
wool in Ido: Lano
wool in Indonesian: Wol
wool in Ossetian: Къуымбил
wool in Icelandic: Ull
wool in Italian: Lana
wool in Hebrew: צמר
wool in Lithuanian: Vilna
wool in Hungarian: Gyapjú
wool in Dutch: Wol
wool in Japanese: ウール
wool in Norwegian: Ull (tekstil)
wool in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ull
wool in Low German: Wull
wool in Polish: Wełna
wool in Portuguese: Lã
wool in Romanian: Lână
wool in Quechua: Millma
wool in Russian: Шерсть
wool in Scots: Oo
wool in Simple English: Wool
wool in Slovenian: Volna
wool in Finnish: Villa
wool in Swedish: Ull
wool in Turkish: Yün
wool in Ukrainian: Вовна
wool in Yiddish: וואל
wool in Chinese: 羊毛
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