5 Reasons Wool is the Best Fibre

Three carded natural oatmeal batts

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Why is wool such an incredible fibre?

If you’re wool-obsessed like me, there’s already no doubt in your mind that wool is one of the best fibres there is out there. You may, however, not know all of the reasons specifically – if you’re also a nerd like me, you’ll want to know all of the reasons so you can, you know, liven that cocktail party you’re going to with a fantastic conversation starter. Nothing like talking about fleeces over champagne and caviar, am I right?

Wool has been used by humans for thousands of years. I suppose our ancestors looked at sheep looking all cosy and warm during a rainstorm and thought, “I want to feel as comfy as those cute-looking guys over there.” Flash forward many years and here we are, still gladly wearing wool garments, sometimes made by our beloved grannies – garments which, properly taken care of, can become a treasured heirloom.

Romantic notions apart, let’s breakdown the five reasons wool is the best fibre.

Two undyed skeins of sock yarn on a table

Reason one: Wool is a Natural and Eco-Friendly Fibre

Natural fibres will always beat their synthetic counterparts in terms of comfort and breathability. Wool is no exception: being a natural protein fibre, it’s still the best option in comfort and warmth, something man-made fibres have yet to beat. Also, because sheep grow wool all year round, it is also a renewable resource.

Wool is also biodegradable. If you pop it in the compost, it will decompose and enrich your soil with nutrients – yet another thing synthetic fibres can’t compete with, since they will not degrade easily nor help the environment after being disposed of. Wool can be used as mulch as an eco-friendly alternative to the synthetic variety.

Rainbow hand dyed wool top and yarn on a tabletop.
Wool in two preparations: combed top for spinning/felting and twisted into yarn

Reason Two: Wool is a Breathable Fibre and a Thermal Regulator

Another reason that makes wool such a great fibre is how breathable it is: natural fibres keep your body temperature regulated by trapping air between your skin and the fibre, thus keeping you warm. On the other hand, wool also helps absorb moisture if you’re feeling hot – up to 30% of its weight before it even begins to feel wet. There’s a reason fishermen used to wear heavy woollen jumpers when going out to sea!

Speaking of wet, wool is also hydrophobic – the technical name for something which repels water naturally. Ever tried dunking a wool garment in water, only to watch it bounce back up still almost dry? The reason for this is wool’s fibre structure.

Another surprising advantage of wool is its UV-protection. Wool absorbs UV radiation and has a higher UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) than cotton, another natural fibre.

Bouncy natural locks of wool, why wool is the best fibre

Reason Three: Wool is Self-Deodorising and Self-Cleaning

Wool is antimicrobial, so it doesn’t absorb odour very easily, making it a great material for socks (here are some sock yarns for your inspiration LINK). If your feet tend to get er, aromatic after a long day in shoes (I know how that feels!), wool truly helps keep the stink goblins away.

Pro tip: if for any reason your wool garment has absorbed ambient smells (tobacco, fried food, and let’s not mince words, stinky armpits), simply pop it outside in the breeze for a couple of hours and the smell will go away. Nifty, huh? And to answer that question you might be asking yourself now, yes, this also works with wool socks.

This segues nicely into a confession: I mostly only wash my wool jumpers once a year, when the cold season is over. I hardly even need to take them outside to self-deodorise because I don’t smoke or usually hang around places with strong smells. The funny thing is, all my woollens keep on smelling of fabric softener even after multiple uses!

(Yes, I do wash my socks more frequently, although not after just a single use.)

Got a stain on your favourite wool cardigan? Good news, it’s probably not completely seeped into the fibre – wool is usually spun or felted, which means that only an outer layer is in direct contact with the exterior, making it easier to spot clean.

Although it’s best to hand wash your woollens, most washing machines now have a Wool Wash setting. This is great for superwash wools, which don’t felt. They may also be safe for non-superwash wool garments, but I would test it first with a knitted swatch or something you won’t mind felting if things go wrong.

Eleanor's hand knit socks drying in line
All my hand knitted socks on the drying rack, looking like little soldiers

Reason Four: Wool is Naturally Fire-Retardant and Self-Extinguishing

Unlike man-made fibres derived of plastic, wool will not melt when caught on fire. In fact, wool is so fantastic, it’ll self-extinguish if you put a flame to it! Fire is also one of the ways to test what your fibre is made of when in doubt. Natural fibres will put themselves out, plastic fibres will continue to burn and melt. Scary, isn’t it? If fire sounds a bit too much, there are other ways to test your fibres.

My cat Marshmallow sat on my unfinished knit jumper

Reason Five: Wool is Wrinkle-Free and Very Comfortable to Wear

Are you one of those people who cram an extra layer of clothing into your bad for later, “just in case?” Hello, fellow planner! Cramming a woollen garden won’t hurt its stylishness because wool bounces back and won’t wrinkle easily. Even loser-knit items end up looking great once you put them on and let your natural curves and body heat mould them to you.

Fun fact: wool has memory. No, it can’t remind you of your Gran’s birthday but it retains its shape as long as it remains mostly dry. Have you ever unravelled a knitted item and marvelled at the waves of the yarn? That’s memory – one that’ll go away when you dunk it in water. This is why you can stretch a knit or crochet item to make it fit better (also called “blocking”), and why it goes back to its original size after washing.

Wool is also static-resistant, remaining beautiful when worn and not attracting as much dust as a polyester might.

As for comfort, long gone are the days when wool was itchy. Don’t get me wrong, there are still sheep breeds that produce scratchy wool, but those are now usually used in the carpet industry, leaving the softer fibres such as Merino or Bluefaced Leicester for garment wear. These two breeds are firm favourites in the knitting and crochet world, and for a good reason.

Pilling can be an issue when wearing woollens, because areas of friction can create those unsightly tiny balls or fibre. Did you know 100% natural wool items do pill, but these will mostly fall away with time? If you have a garment that pills and these remain there forever, check your fibre composition: if your clothing item has any synthetic fibres in its composition, get ready to bring out the big guns. When artificial fibres mix with natural ones, they trap the latter and make them “sticky,” thus remaining forever on the surface of that beloved (maybe not so much now?) jumper or cardigan.

Now that you know why wool is the best fibre, I’m sure you feel inspired to create your own garment. Head on over to my shop and check out my yarns and spinning fibres and get crafting!

 Eleanor Shadow
Eleanor Shadow

Wool and cat obsessed indie dyer

18 Responses

  1. Sadly L, no miraculous conversion here re wool….
    I’m already on the same train! 🤪

    Love your first blog post & I would have expected nothing less in terms of humour. Great to have all the info in one place. My one tweak would be about biodegradation of wool. It depends on the breed & how coarse it is. Helene ‘wised’ me up to the use of whole fleeces being used in bogs in Ireland to create footpaths! We’d sink if it degraded too quickly!!

    Keep up the great start. X

    1. Hi, Antje! Thanks for popping by and reading (despite my apparent teaching you to suck eggs, haha)

      You’re right, wool doesn’t biodegrade “just like that” – it needs preparation. That’s why it needs to be placed in a compost bin with other degradable material and critters, plus plenty of aeration. It definitely takes time 🙂
      If you have reading material on the use of fleeces in Irish bogs, I’d love to read it!

      Sending love! x

  2. Thanks for the in-depth information. Not all new but a good update. I will be watching for your blog. Can’t stop drooling over Muriel’s gorgeous curls. Where do you sell them?

    1. Thanks for reading, Anne!
      Definitely not new info, but hopefully all gathered in a way that’s helpful 🙂
      I’ll be selling those locks in my website very soon. I’m currently updating my shop and those locks are in the queue! If you sign up to my mailing list, I’ll send an update once that’s done. I don’t email too often and I never spam.
      Have a great day!

  3. Great blog, Eleanor. I’m definitely one of the choir and it’s great to have everything set out so clearly. And no, I didn’t know about the deodorising properties. Only one point I’m not signed up for is that some of us delicate flowers cannot wear wool of any description next to our skins. Sometimes not even one layer away. Not for want of trying but no matter how fine and lovely, it’s prickly. We can only look on with envy at your wool jumpers and beautiful hand-made socks!

    1. Thanks, Lindsay! I’m glad I had something new to share 😀

      I definitely get it. I have to wear my wool socks with thin cotton ones underneath because the purl bumps hurt the soles of my feet! I also can’t wear alpaca directly on my skin because it feels prickly. It’s interesting how we all react differently, isn’t it? 🙂

  4. Excellent and informative article thank you! 👏

    Somewhat opposite to your positive angle (which I obviously agree with), I haven’t yet really understood why PETA don’t want us to use wool… Also, why are the wool board so bloody rubbish at getting a better market / good return on wool for farmers. I wonder if you’ve come across answers to these in your research?

    1. Thanks for reading, Debbie! 🙂

      PETA doesn’t agree with wool because it derives from an industry that is, for the most part, cruel to animals. Sheep intended for slaughter are seen as victims of this system and their wool is seen as profiting said system… I can’t say I blame their point of view, I too prefer buying fleeces from charity farms if I can, and don’t buy from farms that practice mulesing (looking at you, Australia).

      As for the market value of wool, I actually know a little about that because one of my former London guild meetings had a talk from someone from the British Wool Board. What they said was that the main buyer is China, and they won’t pay more than a certain amount (the wool is sold by auction). They once tried increasing prices and the Chinese buyers refused to buy, making the market very unstable – all wool had to stay in the warehouses, a lot actually had to be destroyed because it was cheaper to do that than pay for the space it occupied :/ A bit sad, isn’t it?

  5. Eleanor this was a very informative post! I have a new respect for wool now. Did not know you could compost your old wool. Ha! Gives me an excuse to buy NEW wooly socks!!!

    1. Thanks for reading, Yvette! Wool really is an amazing thing. As for composting, just make sure those socks don’t have any nylon in them, that’s not compostable – but hey, go ahead and get new socks all the same, your feet deserve it 😉

  6. Great article on the benefits of wool – not that I need convincing! And I love your Arewa pullover 🙂

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