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The Joy of Wool

I love wool. It has so many amazing properties and is such a joy to work with.

As an eco-friendly designer and artist, wool is the perfect fabric because it is a biodegradable and renewable material. Wool comes from large and small farms all over the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and China.

Wool is a natural fiber harvested from sheep; the animal is unharmed when shorn and their coat grows back quickly. Sheep are sheared once a year in spring or early summer—no long coats for the warm months–and they are free roaming.

Wool and felt (which is wool that has been shrunk and becomes a non-woven piece of fabric) have been used for 1000’s of years—possibly as long ago as 6000 B.C.

What makes wool special is in the structure of its fibers, which absorb moisture, insulates against heat and cold, and is resistant to flame. These properties make wool a great choice for blankets and comforters.

Unlike cotton, linen, silk or polyester, wool fibers are covered with tiny scales, making them look like pine cones when magnified.

When the fibers’ scales rub against those of others, they pull the fibers together in irreversible tangles. When compacted under heat and moisture, the wool shrinks into felt.

Wool fibers have scales, compared to smooth texture of other fibers
Wool fibers have scales, compared to smooth texture of other fibers

Wool provides great warmth for little weight. Air trapped between fibers gives wool its amazing insulating ability.

The surface of wool is water resistant, yet its interior is highly absorbent. Wool is the most hydrophilic of all natural fibers, absorbing as much as 30% of its weight without feeling wet to the touch (cotton absorbs 8%, synthetics often less than 5%).

Porous and penetrable, wool absorbs perspiration and releases it slowly through evaporation so that one feels less chilled in winter; in summer the evaporation keeps one comfortably cooled.

Wool has excellent elastic recovery, giving it a springiness that makes clothes wrinkle resistant when dry. Wool can be bent 20,000 times without breaking (silk breaks after 1800 bends, rayon after 75).

Felting compacts wool, making it very useful because it becomes less porous, warmer, stronger, and more water resistant. Felt has been used for 1000’s of years for items like as boots, carpets, tents, and yurt walls.

Felted pillow of industrial felt. Insert is felted merino wool.
Felted pillow of industrial felt. Insert is felted merino wool.

For me, wool is both about it being for utilitarian purposes—like the home accessories or purses that I make and for the pure joy of my felt art. I love to go to wool festivals like the Rhinebeck Sheep Festival and Vogue Knitting in New York City to search for unique, handmade yarns. The colors and textures and feel of the yarns inspire me to create my artwork. I have yarns dating back decades and love to add to my collection!




Copyright © 2021 Norma Lehmeier Hartie