All the materials used in the manufacture of clothing are called
textiles and are made of either long or short fibers. These fibers
can be made into a continuous thread. When two different sets of
threads are interlaced, the resulting product is called cloth.
The value of any fiber for textile purposes depends entirely upon the
possession of such qualities as firmness, length, curl, softness,
elasticity, etc., which adapt it for spinning. The number of fibers
that possess these qualities is small, and may be classified as
Animal Fibers: Wool, Silk, Mohair.
Vegetable Fibers: Cotton, Flax, Jute, Hemp, etc.
Mineral Fibers: Asbestos, Tinsel, and other metallic fibers.
Remanufactured Material: Noils, Mungo, Shoddy, Extract, and Flocks.
Artificial Fibers: Spun Glass, Artificial Silk, and Slag Wool.
=The Structure of Wool.= A large part of the people of the world have
always used wool for their clothing. Wool is the soft, curly covering
which forms the fleecy coat of the sheep and similar animals, such as
the goat and alpaca. Wool fiber when viewed under the microscope is
seen to consist roughly of three parts:
1st. Epidermis, or outer surface, which is a series of scales lying
one upon the other.
2d. Cortex, or intermediate substance, consisting of angular,
elongated cells, which give strength to the wool.
3d. Medulla, or pith of the fiber.
=Difference between Wool and Hair.= Not all animal fibers are alike.
They vary in fineness, softness, length, and strength, from the finest
Merino wool to the rigid bristles of the wild boar. At just what point
it can be said that the animal fiber ceases to be wool and becomes
hair, is difficult to determine, because there is a gradual and
imperceptible gradation from wool to hair. The distinction between
wool and hair lies chiefly in the great fineness, softness, and wavy
delicacy of the woolen fiber, combined with its highly serrated
surface--upon which the luster of the wool depends.
=Characteristics of Wool.= The chief characteristic of wool is its
felting or shrinking power. This felting property from which wool
derives much of its value, and which is its special distinction from
hair, depends in part upon the kinks in the fiber, but mainly upon
the scales with which the fiber is covered. These scales or points
are exceedingly minute, ranging from about 1,100 to the inch to nearly
3,000. The stem of the fiber itself is extremely slender, being less
than one thousandth of an inch in diameter. In good felting wools the
scales are more perfect and numerous, while inferior wools generally
possess fewer serrations, and are less perfect in structure.
In the process of felting the fibers become entangled with one
another, and the little projecting scales hook into one another and
hold the fibers closely interlocked. The deeper these scales fit into
one another the closer becomes the structure of the thread.
=Classification of Wool.= The various kinds of wool used in commerce
are named either from the breed of the sheep or from the country or
locality in which the sheep are reared. Thus we get Merino wool from
Merino sheep, while English, American, and Australian wools are named
from the respective countries. As the result of cross breeding of
different sheep in different parts of the world, under different
climatic conditions, physical surroundings, and soil, there exist a
great many varieties of wool. The wool of commerce is divided into
three great classes: (1) Short wool or clothing wool (also called
carding wool), seldom exceeding a length of two to four inches; (2)
long wool or combing wool, varying from four to ten inches; (3) carpet
and knitting wools, which are long, strong, and very coarse.
The distinction between clothing or carding wools on the one hand, and
combing wools on the other, is an old one. Combing wools are so
called because they are prepared for spinning into yarn by the
process of "combing"--that is, the fibers are made to lie parallel
with one another preparatory to being spun into thread. Carding
wools--made to cross and interlace and interlock with one another--are
shorter than combing wools, and in addition they possess to a much
greater degree the power of felting--that is, of matting together in a
close compact mass. Combing wools, on the other hand, are not only
longer than the carding wools, but they are also harder, more wiry,
and less inclined to be spiral or kinky. It must be understood,
however, that under the present methods of manufacture, short wools
may be combed and spun by the French method of spinning just as the
long wools are combed and spun by the Bradford or English system.
Carpet and knitting wools are the cheapest, coarsest, and harshest
sorts of wools. They come principally from Russia, Turkey, China,
Greece, Peru, Chili, etc., and from the mountain districts of England
and Scotland. Carpet wools approach more nearly to hair than other
wools. The only staple of this class produced in the United States is
grown on the original Mexican sheep of the great Southwest. Few of
these Mexican sheep are left, for they have been improved by cross
breeding, but they constitute the foundation stock of most of our
Western flocks, which now produce superior clothing and combing wool.
=Sheep Shearing.= In order to get an idea of the importance of the
sheep industry in the United States, one must take a glance at its
condition in the big states of the West. Wyoming has more than
4,600,000 sheep within its borders. Montana, which held the record
until 1909, has 4,500,000 sheep. Then comes Idaho with 2,500,000,
Oregon with 2,000,000, and so on down the list until the nation's
total reaches 40,000,000 sheep, four-fifths of which are west of the
To harvest the wool from such an enormous number of backs is a task
that calls for expert shearers, men who can handle the big shears of
the machine clippers with a skill that comes from long practise. The
shearing must be done at the right time of the year. If the wool is
clipped too early, the sheep suffer from the cold; if the shearing
comes too late, the sheep suffer from intense heat, and in either case
are bound to lose weight and value.
To meet the exacting conditions a class of men has risen expert in the
sheep-shearing business. These shearers begin work in southern and
middle California, Utah, etc. Another month finds them busy in the
great sheep states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon, where they
find steady employment until July, when they go to the ranges of
Canada. In this way the shearers keep busy nearly all the year, and at
The Mexicans are particularly expert with the hand shears, though this
form of clipping is being done away with, owing to the installation of
power plants for machine shearing. These plants are installed at
various points on the great sheep ranges. Long sheds are erected and
shafting extends down both sides of the shearing place. Twenty or more
shearers will be lined up in one of these sheds, each man operating a
clipping machine connected with the shafting. The sheep are brought in
from the range in bands of 2,500 or more, and are put in the corrals
adjoining the shearing sheds. Then they are driven down chutes to the
A shearer reaches into a small corral behind him and pulls out a
sheep. With a dexterous fling the animal is put in a sitting posture
between the shearer's knees, and then the steel clippers begin
clipping off the wool. The machine-shearing saves much wool, as it
gets closer to the skin of the sheep and shears more evenly. In fact,
some sheep owners say that the increased weight of their fleeces at
each shearing is enough to pay the extra expense of running a power
As fast as the sheep are turned out by the shearers they are run along
a narrow chute and each one is branded. The branding mark is usually a
letter painted on the back of the sheep so that it can be plainly seen
when they are coming through a chute. The mark remains on the fleece
and is always easily distinguished.
=Fleece.= There is a great variation in the weight of fleeces. Some
sheep, such as those on the best ranges in Oregon, Montana, and
Wyoming, will average an eight-pound fleece full of natural oil, while
sheep from the more sterile alkaline ranges of New Mexico will not
average much more than five pounds of wool.
The shearing season on the plains is much like the threshing season in
agricultural communities. With a crew of first-class shearers working
in a shearing shed, it is not long until the floor is a sea of wool.
Boys are kept busy picking up the fleeces, tying them into compact
bundles, and throwing them to the men who have been assigned to the
task of filling the wool sacks. These sacks, which hold about 400
pounds, are suspended from a wooden framework, and as fast as the
fleeces are thrown in, they are tramped down until the sacks will not
hold a pound more. Most of the sacks are shipped to warehouses in such
wool centers as Casper, Wyoming, or Billings, Montana, the latter
place being the greatest wool shipping center in the world. Here they
are sold to Eastern buyers, who examine the clips at their leisure and
make their bids.
=Value of Wool Business.= Some idea of the fortunes at stake in the
wool business can be gathered from the fact that the total wool
product of the country in 1909 was valued at $78,263,165. It is
expected that the returns from the wool clip in a fairly good year
will pay all a sheepman's running expenses, such as hire of herders,
cost of shearing, etc. He then has the sale of his lambs as clear
profit. Enormous fortunes are being made in the sheep business in the
west, owing to the high price of wool and mutton.
=Saxony and Silesian Wool.= Among wools of all classes the Saxony and
Silesian take the first place, and for general good qualities,
fineness, and regularity of fiber, they are unequalled. The fiber is
short in staple, possesses good felting properties, and is strong and
elastic. This wool is used chiefly in the manufacture of cloths where
much milling is required, such as superfines and dress-faced
=Australian Wools.= Australia furnishes wools of a superior character,
and some of the choicest clips rival the Saxony and Silesian wools.
They are used both for worsted and woolen yarns. They are generally
strong and of an elastic character, possess numerous serrations, and
are of good color, with good felting properties. The principal
Australian wools are Port Philip, Sydney, and Adelaide wools. These
are the best brands imported from that country.
=Port Philip Wool.= Port Philip wool is suitable for either worsted or
woolen yarns. The fiber is not quite as fine as Saxony, but it makes a
good thread, is fairly sound in staple, and is of good length and
color. It is very wavy and serrated. The longest and best of this wool
is used for the very finest worsted yarns, and will spin up to 130's
counts. The sheep are descendants of the original Spanish Merino.
Cross bred Port Philip wool is from the same Merino sheep crossed with
Leicesters, which yield a medium quality fleece of sound fiber and
good quality for spinning counts from 40's to 56's. The yarn has a
bright, clear appearance.
=Sydney Wools.= Sydney wools are moderately fine in fiber and of
medium length. They are rather deficient in strength, uneven in color,
and often contain yellow locks which make them undesirable when
required for dyeing light shades. They are used for nearly the same
purpose as Port Philip wools, but do not spin quite as far in worsted
yarns, nor are they equal in milling qualities.
=Adelaide Wool.= Adelaide wool has a reputation for sound Merinos,
the average quality being a little lower than for the Port Philip and
Sydney wools. Its fiber is moderately fine, but not of uniform length;
its color is not so good, and it contains a large amount of yolk.
Adelaide wool is used for worsted dress goods, weft (filling) yarn
up to 60's, and certain worsted warps. It is used for medium
=Van Wool from Tasmania.= The climate of this island is well suited to
the growing of wool, and produces excellent qualities, fine in fiber,
of good length, and strong in the staple, which will spin as high
counts as 70's and 80's worsted. This wool is useful for mixing with
other good wools. Its color is very white, which makes it a useful
wool for dyeing light shades. Its milling properties are good, and the
shorter sorts are suitable for woolens.
=New Zealand Wools= are very supple, which make them valuable to the
spinner. These wools are suitable for almost all classes of Merino and
crossbred yarns. They are of good length, sound staple, have good
felting properties, and are of good color. They are useful for
blending with mungo and shoddy, to give to these remanufactured
materials that springy, bulky character which they lack.
=Cape Wools.= Cape Colony and Natal produce merino wool that is
somewhat short in staple, rather tender, and less wavy than some other
wools. The sheep are not so well cared for, and are fed on the leaves
of a small shrub. The absence of grass leaves the ground very sandy,
and this makes the fleece heavy and dirty. Its color is fair, but it
lacks elasticity. It is used chiefly to cheapen blends of 60's
top. The short wool is combed for thick counts for weft and
hosiery, and is also used for shawls and cloths where felting is not
an essential feature.
=Wools from South America.= These wools are of the same standard of
excellence as the Australian wools, but they are generally deficient
in strength and elasticity. Buenos Ayres and Montevideo wools are
fairly fine in fiber, but lack strength and elasticity, and are
deficient in milling properties; they are also burry. The climate
suits the sheep well, and the feed is good, but the careless methods
of classing and packing have earned for these wools a poor reputation
that is well deserved.
The best 60's wool is combed in oil, but a large portion of the
shorter is combed and used in thick counts,--20's to 36's worsted for
the hosiery trade.
=Russian Wool.= The staple of this is generally strong, and the fibers
are of a medium thickness; the color is milky white. It is useful to
blend with Australian or other good wools. It produces a good yarn,
and is very often used in the fancy woolen trade and in fabrics that
require to be finished in the natural color.
=Great Britain Wools.= These may be divided into three groups: (1)
long wools, of which the Lincoln and Leicester are typical examples;
(2) short wools, which include Southdown, Shropshire, Suffolk, and
others; and (3) wool from the mountain or hilly breeds of sheep, such
as the Cheviot, Scotch Blackface, Shetland, Irish, and Welsh.
=Lincoln Wool= is a typical wool obtained from the long wool sheep,
and noted for its long, lustrous fiber, which is silky and strong. The
staple varies from ten to eighteen inches in length, and the average
fleece will yield from ten to fourteen pounds in weight.
=Leicester Wool= has a somewhat finer fiber than Lincoln. It is a
valuable wool, of good color, uniform and sound in staple, curly, with
good, bright luster and no dark hairs. While luster wools are grown
extensively in England, they also grow in Indiana and Kentucky, and
are commonly known in the trade as braid wool.
=Southdown= is one of the most valuable of short staple wools. It
possesses a fine hair, is close and wavy, and fairly sound in staple,
but rather deficient in milling qualities. The shorter varieties are
carded and made into flannels and other light fabrics, while the
longer qualities are used in the production of worsted goods. The
weight of a Southdown fleece averages from four to five pounds.
=Shropshiredown= wool is of good quality, with strong, fine, lustrous
fiber, of good length. It resembles Southdown, but is not as lustrous
as mohair, the natural colors being either white, black, brown, or
fawn. It is used chiefly in the manufacture of dress goods.
=Cashmere Wool= is the fine, woolly, extremely soft, white or gray fur
of the Cashmere goat which is bred in Thibet. There are two kinds of
fiber obtained: one, which is really the outer covering, consists of
long tufts of hair; underneath this is the Cashmere wool of commerce,
a soft, downy wool of a brownish-gray tint, with a fine, silky fiber.
It is used for making the costly oriental (Indian) shawls and the
=The Norfolkdown and Suffolkdown Wools= are fairly fine in fiber and
soft, but slightly deficient in strength and elasticity.
=Cheviot Wool= may be taken as representative of the hilly breeds of
sheep. It is an average wool, with staple of medium length, soft, and
with strong and regular fiber; it is of a good, bright color, and
possesses desirable milling properties, being used for both woolen and
worsted, but chiefly in the fancy woolen trade. The average weight of
the fleece is about 4-1/2 pounds. The black-faced or Highland breed
yields a medium wool, coarser and more shaggy than the Cheviot, and
varying much in quality. It is almost all used in the production of
rugs, carpets, and blankets.
=Welsh Wools= lack waviness and fineness of fiber. They are chiefly
used for flannels.
=Shetland Wools= are similar in character to Welsh wools, but slightly
finer in fiber and softer. They are used in the manufacture of knitted
goods, such as shawls and wraps. They lack felting properties.
=Irish Wools= possess a strong, thick hair of moderate length and fine
color. They are similar in many respects to the Welsh wools, and are
often classed with them. They are used in the production of low and
medium tweeds--fancy woolen cloths not requiring small yarns or
=Mohair= is a lustrous wool obtained from the Angora goat, which
derives its name from the district of Asia Minor from which it comes.
These animals have also been successfully bred in Spain and France.
The hair is pure white, fine, wavy, and of good length, and possesses
a high luster. It is used in making plushes, velvets, astrakhans, and
curled fabrics, also half silk goods and fine wraps.
=Alpaca Wool= is the fleece of the Peruvian sheep, which is a species
of llama. The staple is of good length and soft, but is not quite as
lustrous as mohair, the natural colors being either white, black,
brown, or fawn. It is used chiefly in the manufacture of dress goods.
=How Wool is Marketed.= The bulk of the wool of commerce comes into
the market in the form of fleece wool, the product of a single year's
growth, and cut from the body of the animal usually in April or May.
The first and finest clip, called lamb's wool, may be taken from the
young sheep at the age of eight to twelve months. All subsequently cut
fleeces are known as wether wool and possess relatively somewhat less
value than the first clip.
Next: Wool Sorting