A soft and comfortable fibre
Sheep’s wool is the main natural fibre used to produce soft, warm and enveloping fabrics. It is obtained from the species “Ovis Aries”, bred mainly in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.
The thermo-insulating and hygroscopic properties of the wool make it perfect for fighting harsh winter temperatures. Its wavy structure makes it a naturally elastic and comfortable fibre, it is also very tear-resistant thanks to its ability to fold on itself more than 20,000 times. These characteristics allow a wool fabric, once worn, to return to its original shape increasing the value and duration of the product.
The most common and sought-after colour of wool is white because it is generally thinner and easier to dye than brown, grey or black wool. Its ability to absorb and retain liquids allows the fibre to be dyed without the use of chemical agents.
The origins of wool
The use of wool as a fibre to make garments dates back thousands of years ago: it is assumed that the selection of animals for the production of wool began around 6000 BC in Mesopotamia, Palestine, Syria and Assyria.
In Europe the first documentation of the use of wool dates back to Ancient Greece, where the processing of this fibre was entrusted to women. Initially, the wool was drawn to the sheep manually or with bronze combs: the Romans devised the techniques of shearing and weaving.
Since then, wool has been at the centre of trade throughout Europe. The major wool producers were England, the Iberian Peninsula and Burgundy. Their fibre was processed in the famous Flemish workshops to be transformed into fine fabric. Even in Florence, the processing of wool became extremely important: about a third of the Florentine population was employed in this sector. In the late Middle Ages, Spain began to breed merino sheep, which contributed to the success of the country in the wool market.
With the industrial revolution, the wool industry was automated: in 1810 the first mechanical spinning plants were built in Great Britain and in the middle of the century the first weaving plants were born. The wool market remained a major player until the mid-twentieth century when artificial fibres put it in crisis. Since then, the textile industry has been striving to create an increasingly modern fibre that meets the needs of the new world.
Techniques of wool processing
The sheep are sheared once a year, getting from each of them from 2.5 kg to 4 kg of wool. Qualified professionals collect it and separate the less noble fibres, those of the shoulders and hips, from the most valuable ones of the back and belly.
After shearing, the wool is subjected to the processes of charring, beating and washing in order to eliminate all impurities. It is then dried and ready to be subjected to other processes that will transform it into the fabric: carding, combing, weaving and finishing.
The increasing sensitivity to sustainability has posed the problem of the reuse of wool. Until a few years ago companies used to work with pure virgin wool fibres; today they are increasingly working with regenerated fibres, which are obtained from the recycling of old clothes and processing waste. The rags are divided by quality and colour to obtain the mechanical wool, which will be spun and woven again. At the end of the process, the finished fabric will maintain the original characteristics of virgin wool.
The process of recycling wool has had its greatest expansion in Prato during the post-war period: Menchi follows the tradition of Prato and the use of regenerated wool is certified by Global Recycle Standard. Its commitment to the protection of the welfare of sheep and the land on which they graze is attested by the Responsible Wool Standard certification.