Shearers cut wool from sheep once each year. Getty Images

Shearers cut wool from sheep once each year. Getty Images

Sheep's wool

Sheep are shorn once a year by shearers. The shearers use clippers to cut the wool off the sheep.

After shearing, the 'greasy' wool is washed to clean it. This is called scouring.  Then the wool goes through other processes to further clean it, straighten and comb it. Some of these are called carding, gilling and combing. All prepare the wool for spinning. Then the wool is spun to make threads or yarn. The yarn is knitted or woven to make fabric.

Many people enjoy knitting as a hobby. © Getty Images

Many people enjoy knitting as a hobby. © Getty Images

 

Here's a video that shows the stages wool goes through to become fabric

Uses of woollen fabric

Most wool fabric is used to make clothing including sweaters, dresses, coats, and suits. 

Wool is warm in winter and soft to wear © Getty Images

Wool is warm in winter and soft to wear © Getty Images

These are the properties that make wool an excellent fabric for clothing. It is soft to wear against the skin. It is elastic so it stretches to fit comfortably and keeps its shape. It is warm in winter and cool in summer because it absorbs moisture and then moves it away so it can evaporate.

It is used to make blankets, carpets and rugs, curtains and wall hangings. Wool also absorbs sound so it is used as insulation. It is fireproof too which makes it a safe material for use as insulation.

As felt is is used to make hats, padding for seats and the erasers for whiteboards. 

Go here for a video that shows how sheep's wool is used to make carpets.

All of these countries produce wool: Australia, Argentina, China, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and Uruguay. 

Some facts about sheep and wool

  • The first sheep, about 10 000 years ago didn't have wool like the sheep of today. They were hairy!

  • About 5000 years ago people had learned to breed sheep that had soft woollen hair that could be woven.

  • The finest and softest wool is from merino sheep. 

  • Most merino wool comes from Australia.

Read the kidcyber page about the traditional way of shearing, spinning and weaving wool by the Navajo weavers, famous for their beautiful rugs.

Some properties of wool

  • Wool insulates against heat and cold.

  • It is water resistant. Liquid rolls off the surface of wool. But it can absorb moisture too.

  • It can stretch.

  • It doesn't wear out quickly.

  • Wool is fire resistant. It can catch fire but doesn't flare up, melt or stick to skin.