Knitwear know-hows: Everything you need to know about wool

Find out how to wash cashmere, prevent pilling and treat moth holes with a little help from our Cashmere Care Guide.

Wool

Wool

With the cooler temperatures and frosty mornings comes the perfect excuse to dig out your treasured knitwear staples to stay cosy and comfortable this winter.

From chunky cable jumpers to fine-knit cardigans, woollen knitwear offers a seasonal style upgrade that oozes sophistication, but is still practical enough so you can be prepared for whatever mother nature throws at you.

Wool has been a popular material for thousands of years - and for good reason. Aside from being a natural and renewable fibre that can react to changes in body temperature, wool is also odour-resistant and easy to clean – to name just a few of its benefits.

To celebrate the arrival of peak knitwear season, we’ve assembled a complete guide to answer the most frequently asked questions about knitwear, including the different types of wool, where it comes from and how to unshrink it!

We hope that our handy care tips help to give your favourite woollen beauties a longer life-span. If you have any other queries, head over to our Facebook page and speak to our friendly team of experts.

Shop the collection of men’s and women’s knitwear at The Edinburgh Woollen Mill to find premium Aran, wool and cotton clothing

The origin of wool

Where does wool come from?

This natural fabric wonder typically comes from sheep (not to be confused with ‘hair’ which is sourced from other animals such as goats, alpacas and rabbits). It offers animals effective all-weather protection - keeping them cool during the summer and warm in the winter. Wool’s unique properties are yet to be replicated by man-made fibres, making it an unbeatable choice for practical clothing.

How is wool made?

First, wool is sheared from the animal in the springtime, before being graded and sorted according to its quality (this will vary depending on which part of the animal’s body it’s been sourced from).

The next step in the process involves cleansing the raw wool of its impurities - such as sand, grit and grease - by scouring it in alkaline baths. This scouring process is unique to wool, as hair from goats, alpacas or rabbits doesn’t contain lanolin.

After this, the wool is carded – in other words, it’s straightened and blended into slivers by being passed through a succession of metal teeth. This also helps to clear away any remaining dirt in the wool. Then comes the drawing stage of the process, through which the slivers are further straightened and thinned so that the wool can then be sent for spinning.

Once spun, the wool is woven into fabric and subjected to a number of finishing procedures which can include dyeing, decating, crabbing and fulling.

Types of wool

Types of wool

Wool is most commonly associated with sheep, but it can also be sourced from different animals. We’ve taken a look into some of the most common types, here.

What is Merino Wool?

Merino wool is sourced from Merino sheep; the most highly sought-after kind due to a number of qualities including its breathability and incredible softness. This popular breed of sheep originates from Spain, but a huge proportion of Merino wool now comes from Australia.

Merino is considerably finer than other sheep wool (famous for its ultra-fine staples of less than 15 microns in diameter). This fineness helps to prevent the itchiness against the skin that some people may feel when wearing ordinary wool, meaning that Merino wool can be a very practical and extra soft base layer.

What is lambswool?

Lambswool is wool which is collected form the first shearing of sheep, which occurs around seven months after a lamb grows its first coat. This fine, soft wool can come from any breed of sheep, meaning that its micron count and yield per sheep can vary.

Certain breeds produce fleece with a high resilience, making it ideal for use in products that need to be hard-wearing such as carpets, rugs and upholstery. Others grow a much softer fleece which is a popular choice for clothing.

What is Aran wool?

The Aran jumper that you dig out of your wardrobe when the cold weather hits actually takes its name from a trio of islands located off the coast of County Galway, Ireland. The term ‘Aran’ describes a type of knitwear which is crafted with traditional patterns, typically involving raised cable stitching and large diamond designs. Each stitch pattern and shape has its own special symbolism.

A traditional jumper was originally made from undyed, cream-coloured báinín yarn (a yarn made from sheep’s wool), but nowadays these are available in a whole host of hues. They were initially crafted with unwashed wool that still contained natural sheep lanolin, meaning that jumpers were water-repellent with the ability to absorb 30% of their weight in water before feeling wet!

How to wash & dry

How to wash wool

The Aran jumper that you dig out of your wardrobe when the cold weather hits actually takes its name from a trio of islands located off the coast of County Galway, Ireland. The term ‘Aran’ describes a type of knitwear which is crafted with traditional patterns, typically involving raised cable stitching and large diamond designs. Each stitch pattern and shape has its own special symbolism.

A traditional jumper was originally made from undyed, cream-coloured báinín yarn (a yarn made from sheep’s wool), but nowadays these are available in a whole host of hues. They were initially crafted with unwashed wool that still contained natural sheep lanolin, meaning that jumpers were water-repellent with the ability to absorb 30% of their weight in water before feeling wet!

  • Always make sure you check the label (before!) for information on how to wash your wool jumper.
  • The safest bet is to wash it by hand, especially if it has any fastenings or decorative features - use a mild detergent but avoid more alkaine formulas so as not to damage your wool garment.
  • To wash it in the machine, make sure you stick to using mild detergents and gentle machine settings such as the hand-wash or wool cycle. This will wash at a cooler temperature and keep spin speed to a minimum, reducing the risk of damaging your beloved knits.
  • If you’re using a machine, try soaking your item in cold water beforehand to minimise agitation which can cause shrinking.
  • Try and remember to wash your wool items before storing them away - this will prevent pests such as moths and silverfish from munching through them and destroying your knitwear.

How to dry a wool jumper

When drying a wool jumper, avoid wringing it out as wet wool is easily stretched out of shape. Remove as much water as possible by rolling it into a small ball and gently pressing on it. Lay the jumper out on a clean, dry towel and press down to help soak up any excess water.

Once dry, fold your jumper carefully – don’t hang it up, as this could again cause it to lose its shape.

Shrinking

How to unshrink wool

If your wool jumper does shrink in the wash, don’t panic! It’s quite common for wool garments to shrink while being washed - particularly when you haven’t read the label properly (we all do it!), as they’re exposed to heat and moisture. But, you may be able to salvage it with our top tips. Keep reading…

Here’s how to unshrink your wool jumper when you’ve tried everything else:

  • Submerge your jumper in a sink or basin filled with lukewarm water and two tablespoons of fabric softener or a gentle wool detergent. Leave it to soak in there for about 20-30 minutes (the most you should leave it in for is two hours).
  • Drain the liquid away, but don’t rinse the jumper. Squeeze the excess water out, but don’t wring the wool as this could cause uneven stretching. Press the jumper against the sides of your sink or basin instead, before wrapping it in a towel to help remove the extra moisture.
  • Take the jumper and lay it flat on a large cork board, pinning it to the board so that it stays stretched to its normal size or reshape the jumper as it air-dries if you feel it necessary.