The story of wool starts long ago when humans first began to clothe themselves in animal hides. Humans would have experimented with different types of hides from many different animals. Eventually humans experimented with the hide of the first sheep. These first sheep are thought to be the Urials and Mouflons (similar to a wild goat) of Europe and Asia. What these two species had in common was a long course hair outer-coat and a soft woolly under-coat. Impressed with the properties of the hides of these animals, humans domesticated the first sheep some 10,000 years ago. These first sheep would have been selectively bred to loose the long course hair outer-coat and to enhance the soft under-coat, which gives us today’s modern wool.
The first wool would have been collected from sheep that naturally shed their fleece in the spring. Humans would collect the fleece and spin it into yarn using primitive methods. Later the loom and spinning wheel would improve the production of wool garments. Of course the invention of the shears some time in the Iron Age meant that sheep could be sheared more closely thus obtaining even more of the fleece. Eventually it would be the Persians, Greeks, and Romans that would spread the raising of sheep and the production of wool throughout their territories. All the while the breeds of sheep and production would continue to be improved to increase yield, durability, and softness.
Wool has no equal. With it’s remarkable characteristics it remains unmatched, to this day, by any other material–natural or man-made. The wool fiber itself is crimped and the shorter and softer the wool, such as merino wool, the more crimping. It’s this crimping that allows wool to be so tightly woven together and so strong as well. This crimping is also responsible for giving wool it’s loft and this loft is what creates trapped air thus giving wool it’s amazing insulation qualities. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its body weight without feeling damp or clammy. Wool retains 70% of its insulation quality even when wet. Wool is capable of readily absorbing moisture and readily giving off moisture and it’s this particular feature that lends itself to wool being able to keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.
When considering clothing, consider that Wool is the only fiber that has the amazing ability to keep the wearer comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. Insulation such as goose down and polyester fills are designed to trap heat. They do nothing to help regulate body temperature. They also do not insulate when wet and can cause a person to overheat and perspire. In a survival situation where moisture such as perspiration is an issue, goose down and other insulation such as synthetics can spell disaster. And while wool had a bad rap for being itchy, today’s wool has come a long way. There are wool socks, sweaters, and long under wear that can be worn right up against the skin that are as soft as any cotton. For more coarse wool, a cotton or silk under garment can be worn for comfort. There are also many wool garments that can be machine washed and dried for added convenience.
Here is an experiment that could change the way you sleep from here forward. Many people do not sleep well at night. Some times we know full well we don’t sleep good and sometimes we just don’t realize things could be better. Although there are many reasons for not getting a good night sleep, one of the main reasons is not being able to maintain a comfortable constant body temperature. Consequently, we wake up over and over again and toss and turn all night trying to get comfortable by attempting to regulate our body temperature. Try sleeping under a wool blanket. As we discussed earlier, wool can keep you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. This can be especially important if you allow the house to cool down at night in the winter. When you go to bed the house is one temperature then in the middle of the night another. Layering with wool will help you to maintain temperature without waking up to adjust blankets. To receive the full benefit of wool you must use natural fiber sheets only–no synthetics here. Ditch the comforter. You can use it to dress the bed when you have guests. Here is an example of how to dress the bed for winter comfort. Start out with soft natural fiber sheets such as cotton or silk, go over with a cotton blanket, and finish with a wool blanket. If more warmth is needed, add a second wool blanket. Try this for a few nights and see the difference wool can make. If you don’t own a wool blanket or blankets you may want to consider Army surplus wool blankets. That’s right, they are a good value and many times can be bought new and unused. A quality wool blanket can weigh up to 6 lbs. They may not be as pretty as your comforter, but the sleep you will experience could change your life. And let’s not forget that a quality nights’ sleep can do wonders for your overall health.
All told, wool is environmentally friendly because it comes from a renewable resource. Wool garments are far more durable then cotton or synthetic making them a better value. Because sheep can be sheared over and over again year after year without harm, wool is animal friendly as well. Consider Wool as part of a natural lifestyle.
Written by DMK of Seven Grains.