Wool is one of the most naturally inspiring fibres on the planet, and undergoes a unique journey from the sheep’s back to the world of fashion. Using age-old techniques mixed with modern technologies, wool fibres are transformed into luxuriously soft fabrics and yarns, used by the world’s best fashion designers.
The Woolmark Company remains at the forefront of developing and commercialising new manufacturing technologies for wool. We work closely with manufacturers involved at all stages of the wool manufacturing pipeline, developing new processes and creating new product opportunities which are both innovative and aimed at adding value to create new commercial opportunities.
How is wool processed?
- Greasy wool, also known as raw wool, is the unprocessed fibre harvested from the sheep during shearing. The greasy wool is classed (graded) based on fibre diameter, vegetable matter, staple strength, staple length, colour and potential yield.
- Scoured wool is the term given to greasy wool that has been washed to remove contaminants, such as dirt, dust, sweat (suint), some vegetable matter and wool grease. The wool grease is recovered and from it lanolin is extracted and used in products such as cosmetics.
- Carbonised wool has undergone an additional cleaning process (carbonising) to remove vegetable matter, such as seeds, burrs and grass. Carbonising is only used for wools that have large amounts of vegetable matter and the wool is only used in the woollen processing system, not the worsted processing system.
- Top-making is unique to the worsted processing system and comprises three steps: carding, gilling and combing. Top-making turns the scoured wool into a 'top' or combed sliver — a collection of aligned fibres, without twist, ready for spinning into yarn.
Woollen yarn is usually created from the shorter fibres of the sheep's fleece. These wool fibres vary more in diameter and length. Woollen yarn is used to make thick, heavyweight woven or knitted garments. These fabrics are ideal for warm winter jackets or sweaters.
Worsted yarn mainly uses the highest quality fleece wool obtained during shearing. Fleece wool generally contains the longest wool fibres, which vary less in diameter and length. Worsted yarn is used to make flatter, lighter and smoother fabrics such as those used for traditional tailoring.
Most Australian wool is used for the manufacture of apparel products, and in the production of these two main manufacturing systems or methods are used. These are the worsted system and the woollen system.
What is the worsted system?
The worsted system produces smoother yarns and ultimately smoother fabrics, which are used to make such clothing items as classical suits, underwear and base layers, sportswear, socks, uniforms and sweaters which have a smooth appearance.
Worsted products generally have a smooth surface appearance. To produce these products, fleece from the main body (back and sides) of a sheep is used. This portion of wool is longer in terms of its fibre length in comparison to wool known as pieces or locks, which is shorn from the underbody of the sheep and around the legs and rear, tending to have a shorter fibre length.
Immediately after shearing, the long fleece wool is separated from the shorter wool. Although blending may take place, the longer fleece wools are processed through the worsted system, whereas the short wools are used to produce woollen-spun products, through the woollen system. It is the use of longer wools in the worsted system which enables smooth yarns and fabrics to be made.
Click the links below to discover how wool is made in the woollen system.
Manufacturing Systems - Woollen
The woollen system uses shorter fibres to produce less smooth yarns than the longer fibres used in the worsted system. Fabrics produced from the woollen system possess a hairy or raised appearance, developed by a process called milling (controlled washing) which is carried out during the finishing stage. The woollen system is used to produce items of clothing such as Lambswool and Shetland sweaters, coating fabrics, jacketings and tweeds.
What is the woollen system?
The woollen system uses fleece from the underbelly and legs of a sheep, such as skirtings, locks and pieces which are short in fibre length. Often, these are blended with noils (short wool fibres removed during combing in the worsted system), and pulled wools such as slipes and Marzemet. It should be noted that the process of combing does not exist in the woollen system. The wool sheared from the underbody and around the legs of the sheep often has a high degree of vegetable matter (%VM), in the form of burrs, seeds and grass, picked up whilst the sheep were grazing. In this case these have to be removed by a process known as Carbonising before subsequent processing can take place. Carbonised wool, or Carbo wools, are used extensively in the woollen industry.
Click the links below to discover how wool is made in the worsted system.
How wool is made
Japan Wool Suppliers' Sourcing Guide
The Woolmark Company has created the Japan Wool Suppliers’ Sourcing Guide for buyers, apparel manufacturers and retailers. This sourcing guide provides detailed information on 13 suppliers in Japan mostly concentrated in the Bishu area. Along with the towns of Huddersfield in UK, and Biella in Italy, the “Bishu” region is known as one of the three major woolen textile centers in the world. This sourcing guide aims to provide support in navigating Japan’s high-quality textile manufacturing industry for the global wool supply chain.
Vietnam Wool Suppliers’ Sourcing Guide
The Woolmark Company collaborates with more than 90 partners in Vietnam, including flatbed knitters, circular knitters and garment-making companies. They have transferred technical knowhow about the manufacturing of wool products, disseminated information about sources of raw materials, chemicals and machines, and organised international trade missions to connect our project partners with buyers.
The Woolmark Company has additionally established strategic partnerships with the Hanoi University of Technology, Textile Research Institute and VINATEX to provide a resource for education, testing and research and industry networking, cooperation and leadership. This sourcing guide aims to provide support in navigating Vietnam’s high-quality textile manufacturing industry for the global wool supply chain.