Wool—That Useful Fiber
By “Awake! correspondent in Ireland
“GOOD morning, may I help you?
“Do you wish to buy some material? Certainly. We have a very large selection. Which kind would you like?
“We have silk, a beautiful, soft material, but a little expensive. Or perhaps you prefer linen. It is cool and hard wearing, but good linen can be quite costly too. Cotton is a neat, cool and inexpensive fabric; and we can also offer you all sorts of man-made fibers, such as nylon, Orlon, Dacron, and so forth. These synthetics are economical, easily washed and quite versatile in their uses. Or what about wool? Ah, yes, wool! It too is a very versatile material, and there is a wide variety of cloths made of wool.
“You didn’t realize that different cloths were made of wool? Oh, I assure you a great variety of them are. Very satisfactory they are too. Look at this length of beautiful worsted suiting. This is made from the wool of the very best of the merino sheep. At the other end of the scale is the wool carpet. That was made from a much coarser type of wool, produced from crossbred sheep. In between we get materials such as this length of tweed—not as fine as the worsted, of course, but very satisfactory for making warm clothes for our northern latitudes.
“You wish to have a suit made for the spring? Well, may I recommend that you look through some lengths of tweed material? Our Irish spring weather usually demands a warm suit, and a tweed one will certainly serve you well. Excuse me a moment while I fetch some lengths of Irish tweed for you to see.
“Irish tweeds used to be woven in the home on handlooms. Now, however, they are no longer made in homes—except perhaps as a hobby. There are, though, a large number of mills in Ireland that still use nothing but handlooms, so that the product can be labeled ‘handwoven.’
“No, Irish tweed is not made entirely from Irish wool. It used to be. Irish sheep produce a rather coarse wool that is excellent for our tweeds. But now demand has grown so much that wool of a similar quality has to be imported. Additionally, even spun yarns ready for weaving are brought in from the mills of Yorkshire, England. This gives greater variety to our woolen products.
Buying the Material
“Anyway, let’s get down to business. What particular weight did you have in mind?
“Oh, certainly, cloths are usually made and sold by a specific weight. For example, in Ireland a sixteen-ounce cloth would be a cloth of which a section one yard in length and fifty-four inches in width—the usual width of a bale of cloth—would weigh sixteen ounces. In tweed we call this medium weight. A nine-ounce cloth would weigh nine ounces for every yard of its length—this would be a light weight. Heavy weight would be a cloth weighing between twenty-four and thirty ounces per running yard.
“I would suggest in your case a medium-weight cloth, around sixteen ounces. For late spring and early autumn, a length of light-weight (nine to ten ounces) fine-weave tweed will make up a nice suit or dress. The heavy tweeds are used more for winter overcoats and the like. There is a very good choice of materials in each weight.
“It’s important that you check the label carefully when you select your cloth. There are a number of things you need to look for.
“What sort of things? Well, first of all, if you are buying a material that is made of wool, check to see if it is 100 percent wool. Do you see this length, for example? It is a very pleasant color, isn’t it? Notice, though, that the label does not say that it is 100 percent pure wool. Undoubtedly there is some cotton or man-made fiber woven in with the wool in this tweed. Now, these fibers are fine in their own field and when they are mixed with wool they can make the cloth somewhat lower in cost; but cloths containing mixtures have disadvantages. Due to static electricity, for example, a garment made from them is likely to pick up bits of fluff from all over the place, and it will not have the resilience of an all-wool garment either.
“Many persons prefer to buy handwoven cloth, but let me tell you a little secret of the trade. In actual fact, handwoven cloth has no advantage at all over cloth that comes from the power loom! Does that surprise you? Yet it is true. In fact, if the handloom weaver has been inexperienced, he might have beaten the weft (or woof) into the cloth in an uneven manner. (You remember, the warp consists of the long threads in a cloth, and the weft is the thread that is interlaced across with a shuttle.) A properly maintained power loom cannot give uneven cloth. In weft-patterned material, such as a check, or plaid, evenness in the weft is vital for maintaining a regular pattern.
“How would you test the quality? If you buy a length of cloth marked ‘handwoven,’ make sure that it has no uneven places, where the check looks narrower or broader than its neighbors.
“Another thing: feel the firmness of the material. You can do this by gently pulling the material diagonally—that is, diagonally to the way the warp and weft threads run. Notice, this cloth does not pull too much, but a looser cloth will feel rather spongy. Now I’m not saying you should not buy the looser cloth. You might like the color and design of a looser material, but just remember it will not be as durable as the more closely woven tweed. Loose-woven tweeds have a habit of catching on door handles and other projections and of ‘fluffing up’ or ‘rubbing’ where the sleeves come into contact with the rest of the garment, or where you sit down. So if durability is your prime concern, look for a firmer cloth.
“Oh, yes, the color. Well, as you can see, this fabric comes in a variety of colors. Do you have a preference? I’m sure you do. Just remember, though, that not all colors last equally well. For example, if your favorite color is a bright pink or a bright green, it may, after some use, fade a little. Something else to be careful of too. If you buy a ready-made garment, one that has been on display in a shop window, make sure that it has not faded in the sunlight there!
Tips on Care of Garments
“Here is a hint on caring for wool garments. Wool cloths, when hanging in an unheated room, tend to gather up moisture—in fact, they can gather up to 18 percent moisture if hung in an unheated damp atmosphere. This is very good for the cloth. By this means the fabric recovers its texture and the garment resumes its shape. Just remember to hang it in a warm place for an hour or two before wearing it, to dispel the moisture.
“Yes, I agree. Wool garments are very practical in our cool climate. And attractive all-wool clothes do look smart so much longer. Cotton and linen fabrics tend to crease easily. Even if they are treated with a crease-resistant process, these processes are never 100 percent sure. But a woolen cloth will not crease so easily, and any creases that do appear will tend to disappear when the garment is hung up for a while.
“True, this can be a drawback in garments such as trousers and skirts where you want creases to stay. They have to be pressed frequently to keep looking smart. So nowadays many of such garments are made of a mixture of wool and a man-made fiber, and in these permanent creases can be made. This is a decided advantage of a mixture.
“Wool does have a tendency to shrink. That is indeed a disadvantage, and knitted garments are particularly prone to this; so are loosely woven tweeds. It would be a real nuisance if you were ever caught out in a prolonged downpour, and your overcoat shrunk, wouldn’t it? But most good manufacturers put their cloths through a shrinking process during production; this preshrinking prevents further shrinking during use. That is something to ask about when you make a purchase.
“As a matter of fact, this tendency of wool to shrink is put to good use by some manufacturers. They use deliberately shrunk and felted wool in the production of melton-type overcoats.
“Did you know that tweeds are used for other things besides clothes? Yes, many people use them for making curtains or covering furniture. They look very attractive, too, when the curtains and furnishings are made of matching shades of some of the brighter colors.
“Yes, that is quite true, these colors do have that tendency to fade, as I mentioned before. A loosely woven tweed, too, will have similar disadvantages in a furniture cover as it would have in a suit. Although curtains usually just hang in one position and so would last longer, furniture coverings get some really hard wear. A cover made of one of the more durable moquettes would last longer than one made of a loosely woven tweed. On the other hand, you could have attractive and quite durable covers made from a fine woven tweed.
“Oh, so you have decided on this fabric, have you? That is fine. I’ll be happy to wrap it.
“Not at all. It is a real pleasure to be of service to you.”