• Bethan Lloyd


Updated: Aug 20, 2020

An insight into wool.

Wool enabled the Viking to sail far and wide from Greenland to Russia. A ship built in 850AD, the Gokstad, was discovered with ‘the ghostly remains of a woolen sail’; and a piece of fabric was discovered in the roofing of a medieval church in Norway. The coarse woolen cloth was a several hundred years old sail, complete with hand embroidered eyelets.

Wool was the commodity the British Isles were famous for in medieval times, it was relatively affordable, comfortable and could be dyed a multitude of colours. During the thirteenth century the export trade grew to about 33,000 sacks of the fleeces from about seven million sheep, to the Flemish and Florentine cloth industries. It became known as ‘White Gold’.

Wool was the original must have in layering for extreme weather conditions, the 1902 Antarctic expedition commissioned 100 fair islanders sweaters in preparation. It is still being used today, as merino base layers are advised for climbing Everest. Despite synthetic fibres dominating the outdoor clothing market natural fibres are still preferred next to the skin.

Wool has a long and interesting history, as a durable versatile fabric that is full of natural properties and technical benefits. Including longevity, a well-made wool coat or a knitted jumper can last generations. A study by The Woolmark Company with Nielsen, of more than 1000 consumers from across the world, aged 18 to 64. Has found that wool garments are amongst the longest kept in the wardrobe.They are washed less frequently and tend to live on through re-sale or change of ownership.

100% natural, renewable and biodegradable

Wool is a natural resource, as long as there is grass to eat sheep will continue to produce wool, producing a new fleece each year. In a few years wool fibres naturally decompose in the soil, releasing nutrients back into the earth. While synthetic fibres can be extremely slow to or almost impossible to biodegrade.

Technical Benefits

Wool is a naturally breathable fibre; it can absorb large quantities of moisture vapour then move it away to evaporate into the air. This unique chemical structure enables it to absorb and lock away odours which may develop, and only release them on washing leaving woollen textiles are naturally odour resistant. It has active fibres react to changes in body temperature, regulating it so you stay warm while the weather is cold and cool when the weather is hot. The chemical structure of wool makes it naturally flame resistant, it much reach a temperature of 570-600 degrees before it ignites, whilst polyester melts at 252-292 degrees.

Wool is an eco responsible material, however sheep can be responsible for a large amount of greenhouse gas. One way to combat this is with sustainable suppliers that have carbon neutral and negative farms. They use innovative regenerative farming methods, including individualised environmental plans to turn their farms into carbon sinks counteracting the CO2 impact of the sheep.

Certifications to look out for when buying wool -

Recycled wool - Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certification

Organic wool - Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification

Responsible wool - Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certification


Northern Archaeological Textiles: NESAT VII: Textile Symposium in Edinburgh Frances Pritchard & John Peter Wild

The Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair

The Woolmark Company

Written by Bethan @ theecostories

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