When you think of ‘woollens’, one thing may come to mind. A byword for the staid and age-worn, woollens seem forever associated with an England made up of stone huts and sheepherders. Like fish & chips and the English pub, woollens have played a starring role in the history of Britain. You could even say wool made Britain the country it is today. But that doesn’t mean you should think of woollens as old-fashioned and dated. Quite the opposite.
Wool continues to be incorporated into the forefront of British and international fashion. Famous names flock to integrate British wool into their collections. Invigorated using vibrant colours and avant-garde designs, you would be mistaken into thinking that wool is stuck in the past. It certainly isn’t limiting. Think of all the wonderful different types of wools out there. Variety is the spice of life after all, and woollen fabrics certainly offer impressive variety. But do you know your cashmere from your mohair, your lambswool from your angora? There is more to wool than you may think. For one, it doesn’t just come from sheep.
Spot the difference
Reliable, time-tested, if there is one wool that is as well-known and loved as David Attenborough, it’s good ol’ sheep’s wool. Spun for thousands of years, it’s a solid choice for staying wrapped up on frosty winter days. And this is all down to its natural makeup, as the wool fibres form a layer of insulation by trapping air between its layers. Our bodies then heat this layer of trapped air, hence keeping us warm and helping to fend off the cold weather. It’s a little bit like a hug from your own clothing.
Because it’s the most common and inexpensive knitted wool on the market, it’s normally the type of wool that people own. Have a look at the winter jumper knitted by your Auntie Barbra that’s collecting dust at the back of your wardrobe. It is almost certainly made from sheep’s wool. Although a sturdy and versatile wool, in comparison to other softer types of wool it can be itchy and irritating on the skin. This can make it uncomfortable to wear, making pulling your winter knit out every December a dreaded task.
If you hadn’t guessed, lambswool comes from lambs (it’s fairly self-explanatory). But hold up, put down your pitchforks, it’s not as cruel as it may sound at first. While sheep’s wool is made using the fleeces from sheep that are sheared every year, lambswool is specifically made from the first shearing of a sheep when it's just several months old (hence being called lambswool). It’s like a baby’s first haircut –– baby’s hair is a lot healthier, softer and shinier than adults’ hair and the same goes for sheep and lambs. Lambswool is softer, smoother, and more resilient to the elements than the wool from more veteran, worldly sheep.
But because it can only be made from lambs, it's rarer. After all, you can only shear a baby sheep's hair once, as by their next haircut they’ll be considered sheep (they grow up so fast *cue the sobs*). Because it’s limited, and it’s softer than sheep’s wool, it's more sought after and highly prized, making lambswool clothing more expensive.
Merino wool is the wool that is made from the fleeces of Merino Sheep, hence the name (funny that). If you imagine a Pug that has been turned into a sheep, that’s what a Merino Sheep looks like – they often have multiple rolls of fleece that can make them look a little bit on the chubby side. But these rolls of fleece are a good thing, as it helps to give merino wool it’s fine, soft appearance. Although all types of wool are durable and naturally insulating, not all wools are created equal. Merino wool is more breathable as well as being more resistant to pilling than other types of wool, meaning that it is more durable and insulating without making you feel like you're wearing a portable sauna. It is often used in high-end clothing due to its superior texture and breathability.
Mohair wool is not anything to do with sheep with mohicans. It is, in fact, made from the fleeces of Angora goats (stay with us, there is a reason it’s not called Angora wool). Not only are Angora goats hilarious to look at (their long fleeces can make them look like teenagers who refuse to trim their excessive fringes), but they also produce luxuriously silky wool. Durable and resilient, mohair wool is known for its sheen, giving it a silk-like appearance (hence its nickname ‘Diamond Fiber’). However, although it looks beautiful due to its glossy appearance, mohair wool is not as soft as the other types of wool and a lot of people find it a very itchy fabric to wear.
According to legend, Angora wool comes from rabbits that originated in the Turkish capital of Ankara centuries ago. Hence why Angora goat wool is not called Angora wool (we told you to stay with us). Prized by the capital’s most fashionable for its fine, soft texture, the Angora rabbit eventually caught the eye of foreign merchants and sailors, who decided to introduce this luxurious wool back to their homelands. Or at least, that’s how the story goes. Although this legend is likely to be the product of someone spinning a yarn long ago, one thing can be certain – Angora wool is one of the most luxurious types of wool that you can clothe yourself with.
Heavenly to touch, this uber soft wool is known for its high-quality (and illustrious history) and is often used in premium clothing. But before you go off skipping to the nearest seller of Angora wool to adorn yourself in its cloud-like softness, here’s a word of caution. Be selective about who and where you’re getting it from, as some harvesters of Angora wool use unethical and cruel means of obtaining it from the rabbits. Unlike these harvesters, we don’t believe that cruelty is a necessary evil for the sake of fashion. Hence why all of our fibres are sourced from Angora rabbit herds that are healthy, happy and respectfully treated, from certified Caregora farms.
We all know cashmere to be a luxurious, soft woollen fabric that exudes sophistication. All you have to do is adorn your person with a cashmere scarf and you become immediately dignified and refined. But while you are admiring your premium cashmere jumper in your favourite shade of ochre, cast a thought towards where cashmere actually comes from. You might be surprised to learn that cashmere wool actually comes from a cashmere goat. Yes, that’s right, a cashmere goat. We’re not making that up, you can Google it. What makes the fleece of the cashmere goat so plush, is the specific areas of the fleece that the wool comes from. Cashmere cannot be made out of any bits of fleece, oh no. It is made from the soft undercoat of these special goats, which is why this fabric is much more exclusive, as it is not only made from high-quality fibres, but needs more goats to produce the same amount of wool in comparison to Sheep’s wool.
Alcapas have an innate ability to make us smile. Probably because they are not so different from many humans –– socially awkward, not photogenic in the slightest and can occasionally have more facial hair than is necessary. Fundamentally social creatures, alpacas make great pets if you think dogs are too mainstream. Adding to this, their fleeces can be used to make wool. Quite nice wool in fact.
Alpaca wool is similar to sheep’s wool, in that it is known for keeping you cosy and warm, but is also quite versatile in that it can be both light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. Typically made from the fleeces of Peruvian alpacas, alpaca wool is lustrous and silky in appearance, making it a wonderful woollen fabric to have in your wardrobe. Although you are welcome to keep one as a pet, if you are wanting to stock up your wardrobe on alpaca wool, we’d recommend purchasing clothes made out of it, instead of attempting to sheer an alpaca yourself. Afterall, alpaca’s spit.
Normal wool vs sustainable wool
Because wool comes from the fleeces of animals, it is a completely natural fabric. This makes it a great natural insulator, as it is breathable and biodegradable – in theory. Unfortunately, conventional wool on the high street is not as eco-friendly and sustainable as you would expect. Often chemicals are added to dye the wool or to preserve its quality, which can mean that this once natural fabric is damaging the environment every time you wash it. Not only that, but your favourite cosy knit could have been transported thousands of miles just to be sold down your local high street.
To buy more sustainable woollens, opt for British-made clothing made out of high-quality woollen fabrics. That way, your jumper won’t have had to travel across continents just to reach your wardrobe. Not only that, but because you’ll be investing in higher-quality knits, you will be less likely to need to replace them in the near future as they are designed to be durable, not disposable. This means that you will be reducing the amount of waste created by throwing away and replacing clothes. These types of clothes are also less likely to have been treated with damaging chemicals, meaning that investing in higher-quality knits also makes your attire that bit more green!
Designed to be stylish yet durable, our range of sustainable, premium clothing is made using the highest quality fabrics. Taking the best from the textile heritage of Yorkshire and the Lake District, our clothes are made with traditional craftsmanship and expertise honed over generations.