People have been using wool for thousands of years.
As Bill Bryson noted in his book ‘At Home’: “… the primary clothing material of the Middle Ages was wool.”
To this day, most wool produced is used for clothing. But it’s also used for so much more. It’s flexibility and durability, combined with its odour and fire-resistant properties, make it suitable for innumerable purposes, both decorative and functional.
Wool’s eco-friendly properties are helping to put wool in the spotlight with wool prices enjoying a 25-year high. New applications are continuously being developed for this sustainable and renewable material.
Here we take a look at some of the many applications of this universal fibre: from the traditional to the quirky, and the mundane to the innovative.
Open your wardrobe and you’ll no doubt find several items made of wool. Socks and jumpers. Maybe a suit or two as well. We tend to equate wool with winter, but it’s also ideal for summer. Lightweight summer wool clothing is a comfortable and practical option.
It absorbs and evaporates moisture keeping you dry and cool. As it doesn’t hold wrinkles, you look as fresh as you feel.
It’s obvious when a dress coat is made of wool, but did you know your puffer jacket might also be using this fabric to keep you warm? Wool fibre can be used for waddings (fillings), which provides superior breathability and insulation.
Our innovative new fabric, HDWool® Active Insulation™, is a natural, biodegradable wool wadding for breathable performance, resilience and unmatched moisture management. This unique wool-based insulation was developed specifically for energetic outdoor activities, as an alternative to synthetic and down insulation.
Whatever the season, however intensive the activity, wool insulation layer naturally adjusts to your body's thermal balance, improves perspiration comfort and keeps you drier from the inside, making it perfect for high-performance, outerwear apparel. Being exceptionally lightweight, it provides all the comfort without the bulk.
Merino wool is a high-performance fibre. Forget that scratchy itchy feeling, this is designed to be worn comfortably next-to-skin. Circular knits create seamless garments reducing chafing. Moisture management and thermo-regulating properties keep odours at bay. It’s also used in compression garments and even running shoes. Farewell stinky sneakers!
With flame retardancy up to 600 Centigrade, merino wool has long been the preferred material for firefighters’ uniforms. It doesn’t melt, shrink, or stick to skin when exposed to high temperatures, and has no toxic odours.
Wool is a top choice for high-quality carpets. Dig down a layer and you’ll likely find it in the padding underneath. Yarn ends and substandard wool are not wasted. Instead they are put to good use manufacturing underlay.
Furniture and Soft Furnishings
Next time you take public transport note the seat upholstery. That’s yet another common usage of wool. Household upholstery as well, both stuffing and covers. Household use is as varied as it is ubiquitous. Blinds, curtains, lampshades, cushions, and wallpapers; the list goes on. Even those little felt pads you place under table and chair legs to protect the floor.
We’ve used wool blankets in our homes for years. Now we’re taking a lead from our mates down under by producing duvets made from wool. The Aussies have been doing this for years. Except there they call them doonas, not duvets. As wool is a natural fire-retardant, it doesn’t need to be treated with chemicals to meet fire-safety standards.
Duvets filled with wool lead to a better night’s sleep compared to other fillings. That’s the conclusion drawn from research conducted by The University of Leeds and commissioned by The Wool Room. The temperature regulation qualities mean less overheating, hence a more restful night. In addition, the hypoallergenic properties make it eminently suitable for asthma and allergy sufferers.
Wool in our walls keeps buildings both warm and quiet. Natural wool insulation is an environmentally-friendly acoustic and thermal option that is used across the world. All insulation has an R-value – a measure of its thermal resistance – and due to its ability to absorb and release moisture the performance of wool insulation exceeds its R-value rating. It’s a healthy option for installers too as they don’t need to wear any protective equipment when working with this natural product.
The garden might be the last place you’d envisage using wool, but here again it has its place. Being absorbent and bio-degradable, wool makes a great mulch. Mulch pads made from wool provide an organic alternative to synthetic mulches. Taking it a step further, a project is under development in Italy whereby wool unsuitable for processing would be turned into fertiliser.
Wool is a low-waste product. Even the by-product, lanolin, has a myriad of uses from adhesive tape to auto lubrication as well as cosmetics and shampoos.
Other surprising uses
A mix of wool and seaweed is being used to reinforce bricks making them stronger and more environmentally-friendly. Left-over wool is used to produce wool-insulated packaging boxes. Additionally, wool has been successfully used to soak up major oil spills. You’ll even find it in pianos softening the impact of the hammers.
To fully cover the multitude of uses, we’d need to write a book. Wool has been used by man for centuries and is likely to be used for centuries to come.
There’s no doubt that we will keep developing new and innovative uses for this wonder fibre.