Wool Specialty Fibers
WOOL fabric brings to mind cozy warmth. Some wools are scratchy giving some people the idea that they are "allergic" to wool. Although wool fiber comes from a variety of animal coats, not all wool's are scratchy but rather extremely soft. The wool fibers have crimps or curls which create pockets and gives the wool a spongy feel and creates insulation for the wearer. The outside surface of the fiber consists of a series of serrated scales which overlap each other much like the scales of a fish. Wool is the only fiber with such serration's which make it possible for the fibers to cling together and produce felt. The same serration's will also cling together tightly when wool is improperly washed and shrinks! Wool will not only return to its original position after being stretched or creased, it will absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp. Its unique properties allow shaping and tailoring, making the wool the most popular fabric for tailoring fine garments. Wool is also dirt resistant, flame resistant, and, in many weaves, resists wear and tearing.
Basically, there are two different processes used in wool production. Woolen fabrics have a soft feel and fuzzy surface, very little shine or sheen, will not hold a crease, and are heavier and bulkier than worsteds. Blankets, scarves, coating, and some fabrics are considered woolens. Worsted wool is smoother than woolen, takes shine more easily, does not sag, holds a crease well, is lighter and less bulky, and wears longer than woolen. Worsted wool's require a greater number of processes, during which fibers are arranged parallel to each other. The smoother, harder-surface worsted yarns produce smoother fabrics with a minimum of fuzziness and nap. Fine worsted wool is even seen in clothing for athletics such as tennis. No, they are not hotter than polyester but actually cooler, as the weave of the fabric allows wool to absorb perspiration and the fabric "breathes," unlike polyester.
WOOL SPECIALTY FIBERS, although still classified as wool, are further classified by the animal the fiber comes from.
Alpaca fleece is very rich and silky with considerable luster. It comes from the Alpaca.
Mohair is from the angora goat and is highly resilient and strong. Mohair's luster, not softness, determines its value. Mohair is used in home decorating fabrics as well as garment fabrics including tropical worsteds.
Angora wool is from the angora rabbit. This soft fiber is used in sweaters, mittens and baby clothes.
Camel hair is from the extremely soft and fine fur from the undercoat of the camel. Camel's hair can be used alone but is most often combined with fine wool for overcoating, topcoating, sportswear and sports hosiery. Because of the beauty of the color, fabrics containing camel's hair are usually left in the natural camel color or dyed a darker brown. Light weight and soft, it is said that a 22 oz. camel fabric is as warm as a 32 oz. woolen fabric.
Cashmere is from the Kasmir goat down. Separation of the soft fibers from the long, coarse hair is tedious and difficult, contributing to the expense of the fabric. The soft hair is woven or knitted into fine garments and can also be blended with silk, cotton, or wool.
Vicuna is the softest coat cloth in the world. The amount of coarse hair to be separated from the soft fibers is negligible and yields the finest animal fiber in the world. Vicuna is a member of the Llama family and is small and wild. Since it is generally killed to obtain the fleece, it is protected by rigorous conservation measures. This fiber is rare and very expensive, costing several hundred dollars per yard. One of the best, most luxurious wool for suits is the vicuna wool taken from the vicuna of the Andes mountains in South America.
The vicuña is a member of the camel family. It is the smallest of the six species of camel, and is thought to be the wild ancestor of the alpaca. It lives on the high, grassland plateaus of the Andes mountains which range from southern Peru to northern Chile and into parts of Bolivia and Argentina. Only tough bunch grasses and festuca grows here. The sun's ultraviolet rays burn through the thin atmosphere during the day. At night the heat of the day escapes into the atmosphere and the temperatures go down to freezing.
Although they look fragile, the vicuña is specially adapted to its high-altitude habitat. It has an incredibly thick, soft coat that traps layers of warm air close to its body and protects it from freezing temperatures. The lower teeth of the vicuña grow constantly, like a rodent's, so they can eat the tough grasses. The vicuña also walks on the soles of its feet so it can flex its toes and grab on to the rocks and gravel-covered slopes. Vicuña milk is very rich so the babies grow quickly.
Vicuñas weigh between 75-140 pounds. They are about 4-6 feet long and stand 2-3 1/2 feet at the shoulders. They have very long necks, round heads, and large, forward facing eyes. Their ears are long and pointed and stand up on their heads. Their fur is a rust color, with white around the muzzle,the chest, belly, and the insides of the legs. The white hair on their chests is longer than their other hair.
Vicuñas graze mostly on grasses. Their teeth are large and grow constantly like those of a rodent. They chew their cud when resting getting more nutrients out of the nutrient poor grass.
Vicuñas are very shy animals and run away very quickly. They have two territories that they defend from other herds; a feeding territory or about 45 acres, and a smaller sleeping area on higher ground where they are more protected. The vicuña live in herds of 5-10 members, which includes one dominant male and several females and their young. They mate in March and April and their young are born 11 months later. The young stay with their mother and the herd for another 10 months, when they are driven off by the herd. Young males will form bachelor groups and the young females try to find another group to join. This ensures that the herd stays the same size, which is important with their limited food supply.
The vicuña was almost hunted to extinction for its beautiful soft wool. The Incas used to round up the wild vicuñas and pen them in stone corrals, where they were sheared for their wool. In modern times they were almost wiped out for their meat and wool. By 1960 there were only 6,000 vicuñas left in the wild. Chile and Peru established protected national parks and put a halt to trade in vicuña wool. Now there are about 125,000 vicuñas, but they are still listed as threatened. The vicuña is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, and as endangered by the USDI.
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