Wool is one of the best-performing fibers, and it boasts being an all-natural alternative to synthetics. The fibers are collected during the annual shearing of sheep, goats, and alpaca, and then processed. The “crimped” nature of the wool fibers makes them an effective insulator against the cold, which is why the fiber has been used for thousands of years to make warm clothing and blankets. The quality and properties of the wool, however, vary considerably, depending on the type and breed of animal.
“Sheep’s wool” refers to the fibers produced by various breeds of adult sheep raised worldwide (as opposed to “lambswool,” which comes from their lambs). Sheep’s wool is the most common and widely available type of wool. The quality varies depending on the breed of sheep that produces it. In addition to its insulating properties, sheep’s wool contains lanolin, which repels water and bacteria. This explains why wool doesn’t readily absorb odors compared to other materials. Garments made from ‘regular’ sheep’s wool, while warm, are relatively heavy and can feel scratchy due to the coarseness of the wool.
Merino wool is softer and more refined than regular wool. It comes from Merino sheep, raised mostly in Australia and New Zealand and bred to produce very fine wool fibers. Merino wool is well-suited for performance clothing especially, given its moisture wicking properties. It is warm, yet lightweight and breathable. Merino is great for travel and a variety of climates. One of the best parts of merino wool is easy care - it can be washed in your machine! Don’t forget to line dry!
Cashmere comes from goats and is softer than sheep’s wool. Specifically, it is produced from fibers that make up the soft, downy undercoat of Kashmir goats originally from areas in China, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Collecting the fibers is a laborious task done by hand during molting season, resulting in relatively small yield. This difficulty with collection explains why it is relatively rare and considered a luxury item. It takes at least two goats to make one two-ply cashmere sweater. By contrast, the wool from one sheep can be used to make four or five conventional wool sweaters.-
Cashmere wool is softer and lighter than sheep’s wool and possesses a higher loft. Because it also drapes beautifully, cashmere garments impart an elegant look on more formal occasions.
Consider the occasion and the amount of warmth needed before selecting your wool sweater this winter season!