It seems that every day a new man-made material is developed with similar characteristics as the natural ones have. Good or bad but we can’t go around playing god, the natural stuff will always be better. Wool is one of them, it has been used by mankind for thousands of years, respected for its ability to provide warmth and protection from the natural elements like nothing else. From the pieces of shearling used by cavemen to the more delicate fashion products designed for the modern day IG nomad, wool has had a long history so let’s dive in.
Wool is basically the fleece on the outside skin of sheep, highly prized for its natural benefits. The fibres are generally durable, offer good insulation and are water repellent - all thanks to a natural protein called keratin. It’s found in the fibres of the hair and skin of every mammal. The durability and well appreciated insulation properties stem from the way how keratin cells cause the fibre to twist and bend, giving wool its natural crimp and resilience where the air gets trapped. Nothing beats the warmth of the woollen coat in the middle of the winter.
The quality of sheep wool highly depends on the breed, age and various other factors. But it’s easy to bring forth two of the best used for clothing - lambswool and Merino. Typically the first shearing of any sheep provides the softest and finest wool because of the small diameter of the fibres. The softer hand is preferred for high-quality knitwear and other various clothing pieces. Merino, on the other hand, is possibly the most well-known sheep breed, especially raised for its luxurious wool. What makes Merino a bit different from the usual lambswool is that its fibres tend to be longer, giving it an excellent drape when woven into yarn. Superfine Merino is often compared to Cashmere because of its undeniably soft touch.
Cashmere is the king of wools. Often confused for sheep wool but its actually obtained from a special breed of goats originally living in the hostile terrains of Central Asia. Because of the harsh climate, the cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of the soft undercoat and much coarser guard hair. These two are separated after combing the goat which results in a very small output of only 150 grams of fine cashmere per year. This labour intensive work also explains the high price of the material. The Bob Lana jacket from Aspesi is the perfect example of a well-crafted cashmere piece.
Mohair is sheared from the Angora goat, not to be mistaken for Angora rabbit. There’s a difference. It has a larger undercoat compared to cashmere goat and due to the fact that often the fibres of the guard hair are also woven into the yarn, it’s productivity is much higher. Of course, the fabric made of mohair is far behind in terms of softness but its distinctive frizzy look is prized anyways. The finest mohair fibres come from the first three shearings of the Angora goat.
The undercoat of the Angora is probably finest of them all, this makes the end fabric incredibly light and soft (just imagine yourself sitting in a bathrobe made of Angora wool, sipping your morning coffee and having that silly satisfied smile on your face). Unfortunately, this does have it’s downsides, making the fabric also quite weak, therefore it’s often blended with other wools to give that extra strength and elastic properties.