Wool comes from a range of animals including sheep, goats (mohair, cashmere), alpaca, and rabbits (angora wool). Pure wools from any of these animals needs to be carefully cared for to maintain good condition, as they are susceptible to being eaten by clothes moths and felting or shrinking if washed incorrectly.
Sheep are shorn because they do not naturally shed their wool. Skill and care are needed to shear without hurting the animal. Goats are shorn in spring and autumn to get the most fibre, however, the later shearing can cause them to die of cold as they have limited fat reserves to keep them warm. Shearing removes all hairs, combing, however, ensures the finer undercoat is the main harvest. This is a more labour intensive and therefore expensive process. On an industrial scale, angora rabbits’ fur is plucked whilst the animal is held in place by their legs, which causes pain and distress.
Synthetic wools or yarns are usually made of polyester, acrylic, polyamide, or a combination. Some combinations have been developed and sold under trade names such as Tersuisse (1) a yarn with at least 85% polyester and spun in Switzerland, Courtelle (2), a trademarked acrylic yarn from Courtaulds, and Tetoron (3) a polyester fibre from the Japanese company Teikoku Jinzo-kenshi Ltd. Synthetic materials are also combined with pure wool (4) to create a material that behaves differently, for example, acrylic fibres will add strength and robustness to the softness of the wool.
Yarns are produced to look or perform in particular ways for specific applications. The Patons Fairytale 4ply yarn (5) is made of 60% acrylic and 40% polyamide, whilst the Patons Fairytale Soft 4ply (6) has a different ratio (45% acrylic and 55% polyamide) to create a softer feel. The acrylic of the Shein cardigan (7) is reminiscent of soft fluffy angora wool. For sports performance, the Thermolite (polyester) used in the ski socks (8) is a hollow fibre which provides warmth without weight. The hollow centre acts as a capillary, helping to wick away any moisture that would otherwise act as a conductor of built-up heat. These same properties are present in UltraCore, used in the Kathmandu base layer shirt (9), an alternative to merino wool.