The Wonder of Wool
Wool is an amazing natural fiber that has many characteristics making it ideal for both rugs and wall-to-wall carpets. The majority of wool that is used in this type of production comes from sheep, however it can also be obtained from a variety of animals including goats, muskoxen, vicuna, alpaca , camels, and even rabbits! When viewed under an electron-mircroscope wool fibers can be seen to be covered with a series of interlocking scales similar to the shingles on a house. These scales serve to repel moisture, lint, dirt and dust, making it easy to clean and inhibiting the growth of dust mites, mildew and bacteria.
The fineness of wool is determined by the amount of crimp (number of bends per unit length along the wool fiber). Wools with the highest amount of crimp are used exclusively for fine clothing like men’s suits, coarser types of wool with less crimp are reserved for rugs and carpets. Because of this crimp, wool produces a bulkier fiber that traps air and is more insulating resulting in greater heat retention. When used in flooring wool significantly reduces heat-loss through the floor. This insulation works both ways and some desert tribes actually use wool garments to help keep the heat out.
In addition, this crimp gives the fibers a built-in "memory" meaning that after being stressed or crushed they will spring back into their original shape unlike synthetic fibers. For example: If you were to move a heavy chair that had been sitting on top of a wool carpet the pile will slowly bounce back to it's original height so that after a few days there would be no marks left of the chair's presence. This is something that is still beyond the ability of the majority of synthetic fibers used in carpet production. Due to this toughness and resiliency, wool is often blended with synthetic fibers to add strength to the yarns made with these products.
Of course one of wool's greatest benefits is that it is a renewable resource and biodegradable. Sheep are shorn once a year, usually in the spring, to produce anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds of wool per animal depending on the breed. While sheep are raised all over the world, those raised in more temperate, less arid climates, and especially those raised at higher altitudes produce the best wool for flooring production. This is because sheep that are raised in cooler climates develop a higher lanolin content in their wool which make the fibers not only stronger, but more insulating and with a natural built-in resistance to soil and dirt. This makes wool from New Zealand, the British Isles and the Himalayas especially prized for rug weaving.
Wool is remarkably flame-resistant; it ignites at a higher temperature than cotton and some synthetic fibers and is self-extinguishing which means when the source of flame is removed it puts itself out! On top of that wool contributes less to toxic gases and smoke than other flooring products when used in carpets. Airplanes, trains, and other environments that demand a high level of safety actually require wool carpet for these reasons.
In addition to it’s flame retardant and insulating properties, wool is also highly resistant to static electricity making it an ideal choice for flooring. Wool also readily absorbs sound resulting in a quieter, more peaceful environment.
Wool is also hygroscopic, meaning it readily absorbs moisture. Able to absorb up to 1/3rd it’s own weight in moisture this aids tremendously during yarn production allowing the fibers to soak up large amounts of dye resulting in more vivid, longer-lasting colors in the finished product.
Perhaps the greatest testament to wool's durability and excellent suitability as a rug & carpet fiber is the Pazyryk carpet (right) discovered frozen in the tomb of a Scythian prince in the Altai Valley of Siberia in 1949. Radiocarbon testing demonstrated that the carpet was woven in the 5th century B.C. and yet it remains largely intact with it's colors only somewhat diminished by it's great age. Perhaps even more astounding, the Pazyryk carpet boasts 232 knots per square inch, making this over 2,000 year old carpet similar in quality to rugs being woven today!
Wool truly is a wonder fiber. Naturally resistant to dirt, fire, mildew and static electricity, wonderfully insulating, sound absorbent, biodegradable and environmentally friendly in it's production and among it's many other beneficial properties it is also extremely durable and can stand up to even the test of time! What more could you ask for in a fiber for your next rug or carpet purchase?
For more information on the wonder of wool please see: