About the FibrePrint
The finest qualities of wool are obtained from sheep reared primarily for this fibre. Sheep breeds have evolved from a variety of environmental and genetic factors, with the soil and climate of a country largely determining the type of sheep and wool quality produced.
Renowned for being soft and fine, Merino wool is loved by producers and consumers for being a unique fibre that’s easy on the skin and on the planet. Close to 80 per cent of Australia’s sheep flock is Merino, so the wool produced is well suited to high-quality apparel and top-end fashion houses.
Other major wool-producing countries, such as China or New Zealand, have greater proportions of crossbreeds relative to Merino. As a consequence, they produce wools more suitable for interior applications, such as carpets, upholstery and furnishings which are not suited to the fine apparel market.
Wool can be divided into three broad categories.
The finest diameter wool comes from Merino sheep. It is used for high quality, soft handling fabrics and knitting yarns and is highly valued by the world’s leading fashion houses.
A wide range of wools between fine and coarse is produced by crossing one breed of sheep with another. Many of these crosses have become established breeds – such as Corriedale – and are bred in large numbers. Medium wools are used in a variety of woven apparel cloths, knitting yarns and furnishings.
Many different sheep breeds produce coarser wools and often they are dual purpose breeds farmed with equal emphasis on meat and wool. Romney produces long, medium-lustre wool which is particularly useful for carpets because of its strength and durability.
Wool fibres grow in tufts/staples on the sheep’s back and grow in crimps that has a distinct wave pattern. The finer the wool, the more obvious the crimp. When these crimped fibres are combined in a yarn still air is trapped between these fibres, providing an effective insulating layer. Different fibre constructions allow different amounts of air to be held between individual yarns and this also affects their insulating properties.
As wool grows in the follicle it is covered with natural grease and suint which have to be removed by scouring before any further processing can be carried out. The natural grease can be recovered to produce lanolin and thus used in many cosmetics and soaps.
A second unique characteristic of wool fibre is the scale structure of its surface. This surface feature is important in making felts and traditional woollen cloths. Machine-washable shrink-resistant wool is produced by masking or partially removing the surface scales to reduce the felting properties of the wool fibre and thus make it shrink-resistant.
Fibre diameter and length are the primary measurements which determine the quality and use of wool. Diameter is measured in microns, which are equal to one millionth of a metre and fibre length is always recorded in millimetres. For wool apparel a wide spectrum of qualities can be used depending on the product type.
Australia, followed by New Zealand, are the two biggest wool exporters in the world thanks to their high quality Merino sheep and the wool which is produced. Wool is very important for the Australian economy and after years of selective breeding Australian Merino is in every way a distinct breed, developed and adapted to the specific conditions of the country.
The quality of fibre selection for Australian Merino used in apparel begins on the farm. Australian woolgrowers are continually conscious of the contamination of their clip, as contaminated wool attracts a lower sale price. AWI helps woolgrowers reduce the incidence of clip contaminants, such as urine staining, and natural fleece pigmentation that arises from mixed or darker sheep breeds. Programs such as the Dark and Medullated Fibre Risk (DMFR) Scheme, whose development was in part funded by AWI, help wool producers reduce the incidence of clip contaminants.