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Sheep wool before further processing
Sheep wool before further processing
Fiber type

natural animal fiber


mainly from sheep, also from other mammals (e.g. goats, camel-like and angora rabbits)


usually whitish, but also brown and black

Fiber length approx. 4 cm to 7.5 cm (fine wool), up to 14 cm (coarse wool)
Fiber diameter 20-50 µm
density 1.32 g / cm³
tensile strenght 130-210 N / mm²
Elongation at break 28-48%
Water absorption <33%
Chemical resistance good acid resistance, poor alkali resistance
Flammability hardly inflammable
Products Textiles; Insulation material

As wool after one calls Textile Labeling Act , the soft hair of the fur (as opposed to outer coat ) especially the sheep. In a broader sense, it also refers to spinnable hairs obtained from other mammals (e.g. goats, camel-like and angora rabbits), which are often provided with an animal-specific attachment (e.g. angora wool) or expressly as "hair" ( e.g. camel hair) impress.

Wool is a renewable raw material that has been used since the 4th millennium BC and, despite synthetic fibers and cotton , is still of great importance in the international economy.


The word for wool , which can be traced back to an Indo-European word stem, occurs in all Indo-European language families except Tocharian, e.g. B. in the Germanic languages English , Dutch , Swedish , Icelandic , but also in Baltic languages ( Lithuanian vìlna ) or in Celtic ( Cymrian gwlân ). In the Romance languages , such as Spanish Lana , French Laine , Portuguese or Romanian Lână , there is hardly any resemblance to the Latin vellus . The possible relationship with the Latin vellere , which means “plucking” and refers back to the time when wool was not yet sheared, but rather plucked , has not yet been clarified . The Latin noun vellus (wool) is originally related to German fleece . Examples of extinct languages ​​are Old Norse ( ull ), Hittite ( hulana ), Old Indian ( ūrna ).

Cultural history


Large spindle whorl from the late Bronze Age of Central Europe (Netherlands)

Wool in the narrower sense is a special type of hair (fleece type - the wool that is coherent in a flat piece after shearing) in domestic sheep , which has arisen from the fur of wild sheep in a long process of breeding changes . In Europe, sheep's use of wool finally established itself in the transition to the Bronze Age at the latest , after only plant fibers , especially flax fibers , had previously been used for textile production, as is shown by finds from Neolithic lake settlements in Switzerland from the 4th and 3rd millennia BC.
The development of the hair coat from the hair sheep (wild type) to the wool sheep took place in a long selection process with the following steps:

  • Formation of a fleece by reducing the hair diameter of the top hair or by completely eliminating it.
  • Loss of natural hair color.
  • No annual hair change, so that the wool was preserved and could be sheared.

The prehistoric people who used sheepskins for clothing may have gradually learned in the Neolithic to make yarn and fabric out of the fur hair. The selective breeding of sheep then gradually eliminated the long and coarse hair of the protective outer layer, so that finally a fur was created that consisted only of the soft, insulating fleece of the former lower layer with its fine wool fibers.

Origins: Middle East

The Middle East is considered to be the oldest area of ​​wool use . Since the 4th millennium BC there have been increasing references to the occurrence of woolly sheep, especially in sculptures from Mesopotamia . Much older, however, is a clay statuette from Tepe Sarab in western Iran ( Kermanshah valley), the interpretation of which as a woolen sheep is, however, disputed. It seems, however, that only in the course of the 6th and 5th millennium BC did a fleece develop through breeding and that hair and wool sheep continued to exist side by side for a long time. As early as the 4th millennium BC, sheep's use of wool was known far outside of Mesopotamia, as demonstrated by textile remains from the Nahal Mishmar cave in Palestine. Sumerian documents from the 3rd millennium BC then already list wool and milk as the most important products in sheep farming, and wool at that time was an independent use of sheep farming in the Far East.


Little is known about the beginnings of wool production and processing in Europe , as wool as an organic material does not last long in the soil under European climatic conditions, with the exception of the wet soil finds in lake settlements. There are therefore only archaeozoological findings available, which mainly relate to the newly emerging striking size difference of the skeletal remains of sheep compared to the previous sheep breeds. First of all, this applies to the finds in the Carpathian Basin in the period of the late Baden culture .

Replica of Gerumsmanteln (ie “cloak of Gerum”) in the Falbygdens Museum in Falköping , Västergötland , Sweden. The cloak was found in 1920 in the Hjortamossen moor on the Gerumsberget table mountain, Västergötland, Sweden. It is oval, measures 200 × 248 cm and is made of woolen fabric. The cloak is dated to the pre-Roman Iron Age.
  • In Central Europe, the larger sheep appear from 3000 BC. On ( Bernburg horizon ). Especially the corded ceramics in the 1st half of the 3rd millennium BC and the early Bronze Age show a strong displacement of the previous flax fabrics , which had apparently been largely replaced by wool. Occasionally, mixed fabrics made of wool and linen can be found , for example in the peat bog of Wiepenkathen ( Stade ) (around 2400 BC). A charred piece of wool from Switzerland was found in 2900 BC. Dated.
  • In Central and Southern Europe , wool seems to have been used relatively suddenly within a short period of time in the transition from the 4th to the 3rd millennium BC. That speaks more for an import of this technology to Europe and not for the fact that it originated in this area, i.e. for the introduction of woolly sheep, possibly via the Eastern European steppe areas from the Middle East, where large breeds of sheep can also be found. The legend of the Golden Fleece could also be an indication that wool sheep farming did not develop in Greece, but that it was brought there from the Black Sea.
  • From the European Bronze Age there are mainly sheep with primitive fleece like the Soay sheep on the St. Kilda Islands north-west of Scotland, which possibly go directly back to these Bronze Age sheep.
  • In the Iron Age , sheep were apparently bred with increasingly dense fleece, and black, white and gray are now also used as colors in addition to the wild colors. However, white wool can already be found in the Bronze Age. As in the Bronze Age, mixed wool continues to dominate , in which there are also larger components of the finer undercoat obtained by picking or combing out in spring.
    It is known from the Celts that men and women wore the
    inar over a linen shirt (the léine ) , a short overskirt and over it a woolen coat ( brat ).
  • Even in Roman times , like the Greeks and Etruscans, this mixed wool dominated with its high proportion of fine, white wool (up to 40%), which was often obtained from lambs because of its color and softness. During the imperial era , new types of wool were then bred, especially fine wool, as the Greeks already knew (5th century BC) and as it was also found in Palestine (4th – 1st century). In general, wool, linen and leather dominated the population of Europe as clothing materials in Roman times. Pliny the Elder reports in his Naturalis historia (natural history) that the finest wool came from Taranto , where selection was used to breed a sheep with an excellent fleece, which, however, required special care. Silk and cotton, on the other hand, were considered extravagant and luxurious goods that were imported from the Orient, especially China and India, and that only the richest could afford.
  • In the Germanic area of ​​Central Europe , too, there were independent efforts to improve the quality of the wool in breeding, as evidence from the Feddersen Wierde settlement (Kr. Wesermünde) shows. Since the production of woolen textiles was a long and laborious manual work, from wool extraction and preparation to spinning and weaving, woolen clothing items were considered valuable. Princes rewarded their followers, they were attracted to the noble dead and sacrificed to the gods. Linen was also in great demand, but because of the poorer cultivation possibilities for flax in the northern regions of Central Europe, the main settlement area of ​​the Germanic peoples, it came into use relatively late except as an expensive commodity, but was then also a status symbol.

In contrast to the sheep, the coat of the goats has only undergone few changes in breeding in the use of wool. Only the angora goat is an exception, and its fleece is similar to that of the woolen sheep. However, cashmere wool is only an undercoat that is combed out of the goats when the wool is changed, and the coat of the cashmere goat is only slightly changed compared to the bezoar goat . Little is known about the beginnings of the extraction and processing of goat wool.

other areas

From the areas of origin in the Near East, wool technology spread further to Asia and East Africa, in particular Iran and Egypt were reached by the new technology soon after the first appearance in the Near East.

  • Little is known about sheep farming in industrial farming . In the texts of the Rigveda there are various statements (1500–1000 BC) relating to sheep shearing and the weaving of woolen fabrics.
  • In Egypt wool-bearing sheep occur from the Middle Kingdom . They were probably imported from the Middle East. From the 18th dynasty screw-horned hairy sheep are no longer detectable on images.
  • In the Judaism of Palestine the sheep was an important domestic animal from the earliest times, from which meat, milk, fur and skin as well as its wool were used in many ways, as the Bible reports in numerous places. Wool was a coveted commodity that was also traded as a tribute (2 Kings 3, 4). The clothing of the Jewish temple priests was also made of linen (Exodus 28). There were no religious reasons for this, however, because since flax was only grown sporadically in Palestine, linen garments, the fabrics of which often had to be imported from Egypt, were rarer and more expensive than woolen garments and were therefore considered appropriate for the extremely valuable official robes of the priests. Linen clothing was therefore rarely worn by private individuals and was also considered the clothing of heavenly beings.
  • In ancient America , wool was found in the central Andean region and in the adjacent areas from around 5000 BC. Used; it came from domesticated and wild camels , presumably alpacas , is a real weaving mill from 2500 BC. Proven in Peru, reached between 2000 and 200 BC. In the central Andean region in the weaving mill reached its peak and could from around 800 BC. On the southern Peruvian coast (so-called Paracas textiles).
  • There are also wool weaving mills in North America . They were mainly made from mountain goat wool, such as the blankets of the Tlingit Chilkat on the northwest coast of Alaska. In addition to cotton, the Navajos of the south-west used sheep's wool for their weaving mills, with which they made clothes and blankets.
  • In Central Asia , particularly Uzbekistan , Mongolia and China , wool weaving came very late. Wool was mainly used for making felts and for making carpets , or else it was limited to the use of the skins as furs, for example with the Karakul sheep .
  • In China , sericulture was widespread early on. The higher ranks wore clothing made of this material, the people had clothing made of the rougher hemp fibers . Early on, sheep were only used for meat production and for furs.

Further historical development using the example of England

The Woolsack in the former Irish House of Lords

For England in particular, wool production and processing has always been of great importance since the late Middle Ages, sometimes in competition with Flanders . Refugees from the Netherlands, who had fled the religious repression there by the Spanish, brought new wool technologies with them to England, especially worsted yarn production, and thus made England's already important wool industry the most important in Europe. The fact that the Lord Chancellor (or since 2006 the Lord Speaker ), who chairs the British House of Lords, does so on the Woolsack illustrates the early importance of the wool industry. Under the reign of Henry VII , the economy began to recover from 1485 after the horrors of the plague epidemic in England, mainly on the basis of wool and textile production and the trade and export of wool products. This importance continued later, and at times the wool industry in England was the only important one. While wool products were exported, food had to be imported, also because large agricultural areas were used as sheep pastures by the wealthy nobility. This led to strong social tensions and also promoted the hierarchization of English society economically. On the other hand, since the wool economy favored the advancement of individuals, English society remained more flexible than other European societies. New machine spinning and weaving technologies in the 18th and 19th centuries, analogous to cotton processing - in connection with the sharply increasing import of wool from the colonies, especially from Australia (1851: 30 million pounds) - led to new social upheavals and a rise of the trade unions .

Religious meaning

In religious history, wool has taken on very different, even contradicting symbolic meanings. On the one hand, the cleaning power due to its absorbency was in the foreground and made wool fabrics the preferred material for sacrifice and cult. In this context, protective abilities were attributed to her, the power to avert disaster.
On the other hand, it was also considered unclean, as in ancient Egypt, with the Orphics and Pythagoreans , and priests were not allowed to wear woolen robes. On the other hand, the white of wool in Judaism could serve as an image of innocence (Isa. 1:18, Ps. 147:16). Lambs and rams were used as sacrificial animals. In the Middle Ages, wool was the preferred material for simple frocks in monastic communities. This also applies to Islam , where the Sufis may even be called suf after the Arabic word for woolen material . (But there are at least three other explanations.)

Main properties of wool


  • Like silk, wool is made up of fibrous structural proteins or framework proteins (scleroproteins). In the case of wool, this is keratin ; However, wool and other animal hair differ from the fibroin thread in silk, for example, in their high sulfur content (three to four percent), which is based on the high content of the keratin in the double amino acid cystine , which with its disulfide bridges links the keratin in a particularly stable manner.
  • These bridges can be broken down thermally or chemically so that the keratin can be deformed (e.g. permanent wave).
  • Keratins are insoluble in water, acids and bases and are not attacked by most protein-splitting enzymes, so they are also indigestible (except by clothes moths ).

Physical and technical properties of the fiber

  • The fiber proteins are more susceptible to chemical damage and unfavorable environmental conditions than the cellulose material of vegetable fibers.
  • The wool fiber is coarser than textile fibers such as cotton , flax , silk and rayon . The wool fiber has a diameter between 16  µm and 40 µm. The coarser fibers are the longest. Fine wool measures approx. 4 cm to 7.5 cm; extremely coarse fibers even reach a length of up to 14 cm.
  • Wool fibers have an approximately round cross-section.
  • The fiber surface has a tile-like scale structure. As a result, differently oriented wool fibers can get caught and felted (which explains the tendency of wool to pilling).
  • Characteristic of wool is its wavy structure with up to twelve waves per centimeter for fine fibers and two or less for coarse fibers.
  • The color is usually whitish, but it can also be brown and black, especially in the coarser types, which in turn have a greater sheen than the fine fibers.
  • The maximum tensile stress of the individual fibers in the dry state is between 130 and 210 N / mm² and the fineness-related maximum tensile force between 0.10 and 0.16 N / tex. In the wet state, the fibers lose 5 to 25% of their strength compared to the values ​​in the dry state, which is in contrast to the behavior of plant fibers. The maximum tensile elongation dry is 28 to 48%, when wet it is between 29 and 61%.
  • The elastic fiber returns to its original length after limited stretching or compression, giving garments made from it the ability to keep fit, fall nicely and not shrink easily. However, wool that has been stretched during the manufacture of the cloth returns to its original fiber length when it is washed.
  • Because the ability to pucker and curl enables fibers to adhere to one another, even loosely woven yarns make a strong fabric; and both crimp and elasticity allow the production of loosely structured yarns and fabrics that trap and retain heat insulating air.
  • The low density of wool allows the production of very light fabrics.
  • Wool absorbs color very easily.

(Sources below)

Practical use properties

Wool quality assigned to the surface of a sheep (Ovis orientalis aries, cultivated form “Skudde”). The figure shows the wool quality with 1 for the best and 6 for the worst quality.
  • Wool has a so-called natural thermoregulatory property. Since woolen goods (based on their total volume) consist of up to 85% air and the fabric prevents convection , they are suitable as heat insulators. Colloquially it is therefore said that wool "warms" well, although wool itself actually only stores the warmth of the body.
  • Wool can absorb large amounts of water vapor , but the surface repels water. The absorption can be up to 33% of the dry weight of the wool without it feeling damp. In addition, it wicks away moisture much faster than, for example, the much-used cotton .

For example, cloth diaper covers made of wool can be around the child all night without the rest of the clothing being wet, as they keep the moisture in the diaper and can absorb some urine if necessary.

  • Wool does not accept dirt very well and the elastic fiber hardly creases.
  • It is very color-fast and flame-retardant . It doesn't burn, it just charred.
  • In contrast to synthetic fibers, wool absorbs few odors (e.g. sweat) and has a natural self-cleaning function - the smell that has been absorbed is released back into the air, and the wool smells neutral and fresh again after a short ventilation.
  • It can chemically bind sweat and thus neutralize it for a long time.
  • Wool tends to lint (Pilling), which is carried lint-free equipment may reduce or processing quality.
  • Woolen clothing can be perceived as uncomfortable or scratchy . This can be mitigated by special treatment.
  • For technical applications, wool from sheep is particularly suitable as an antistatic and flame-retardant material, e.g. B. in the seats of cars and airplanes.
  • As an insulating material .
  • As a traditional home remedy for colds in the form of socks and neck roll: In the smelly socks that have been worn with unwashed feet in shoes, formed after days of wearing antibiotics .
  • Because of their water-storing and air-absorbing properties, wool socks (at least 70% pure wool) are ideal for keeping feet warm. Only a damp foot gets cold. Wool socks are therefore more efficient than a double layer of (cooling) cotton socks.

Extraction and processing


Sheep (see also sheep wool ), cashmere goats ( cashmere wool ) and angora goats ( mohair ), angora rabbits ( angora ), camels (camel hair) and small camels such as alpacas , llamas and vicuñas , musk oxen ( quiviut ) and yaks ( yak wool ) are used for wool production .

To obtain wool, the animals are sheared (new wool) or combed out, some breeds of sheep ( soay ) are plucked (this is painless for the animals, one carefully loosens only the almost loose hair).

Even the ancestors of the Incas made the finest yarns from the wool of the South American alpacas and the even rarer free living vicuñas. Even today, alpaca is considered a particularly high-quality yarn .

Further processing

Wool yarn
Naturally dyed balls of wool

First the wool is washed, combed or carded , possibly bleached and / or dyed and spun into worsted or carded yarn . The wool to be spun is brought into a long, thin thread ( yarn ) by means of high-precision, electronically controlled spinning machines . This can be on substances weaving , for knitting (knitting) and knitwear use or is manually or mechanically to carpets made.

The wool receives additional properties through so-called finishing , for example protection against moth damage ( eulanizing ), freedom from felting ( Hercosett method, EXP method), machine washability and others.

Consideration is being given to producing fertilizer pellets from wool that can not be used for textiles .


By type of manufacture

The terms new wool or pure new wool mean that it is new wool that comes directly from a living animal, and not a re-used, i.e. recycled product made from old textiles such as shredded wool or that slaughtered from the skins (Schwöde-, Schwitz- or Gerber's wool) or dead (death's wool) from animals.

“Super 150”: 150 meters of the yarn used for this new wool material weighs one gram

According to origin

Sheep wool :

  • Kurkwolle comes from the first sheep sheared .
  • Merino wool is a very high quality wool that is obtained from merino sheep .
  • Crossbred wool comes from Crossbred sheep, a cross between merino and coarse wool sheep.
  • Cheviot wool comes from the Cheviot wool sheep, e.g. B. the Shetland sheep.

The undercoat of the musk ox is QIVIUT and is difficult to spin because the hair lengths are low. It is processed from a very high quality wool.

Goat wool:

Alpaca wool :
wool of alpacas keeps the heat five times better than sheep wool yarns. Microscopic air pockets keep it warm better than almost any other animal fiber. Alpaca does not contain lanolin and is therefore suitable for people who are allergic to wool . Alpaca wool is available in different tones from pure white to beige to all brown and reddish brown tones up to shades of gray and deep black. ("Alpaca" or wool see above)

Angora wool :
The hair of the angora rabbit is finer than that of the sheep. Angora wool is particularly soft and hardly puckered.

Merino possum wool : Merino possum wool is also
characterized by its very low weight and exceptionally good insulation properties. It is mainly produced and used in New Zealand. The production of this mixture helps to reduce the numbers of the undesirably numerous fox cusus (a possum species) that endanger the native flora and fauna .

Special fabrics

  • For centuries, coarse woolen fabric ( loden ) was used to make weather clothing for the rural population of Europe. Loden fabric subsequently milled has an equally long tradition .
  • Tweed is a particularly coarse, warm and durable wool fabric. Original Harris Tweed comes from the Outer Hebrides . Well-known Italian weavers of high quality wool fabrics are u. a. Cerruti , Zegna , Guabello and Loro Piana .
  • The names like “Super 100”, “Super 120” etc. can be found on every better suit made of new wool . It should be attached to the label of the fabric manufacturer. It describes the fineness of the spun wool yarn, e.g. B. Super 100 means: 100 meters of the yarn weigh one gram. The higher the number, the finer the yarn, currently (2005) up to Super 210 for very fine and very expensive fabrics. However, the name is not protected, so you should also pay attention to renowned fabric manufacturers.

Economical meaning

Wool award since 1984

Around 2.2 million tonnes of wool are produced annually in almost 100 countries worldwide, most of it in Australia, followed by China, New Zealand, Argentina, India, Great Britain and Northern Ireland with more than 50,000 tonnes per year (FAO 2009). Sheep wool production in Germany is around 8,000 tons. German wool has a difficult position on the world market, however, compared to New Zealand with its bright white, fine qualities, local producers can only compete poorly in terms of price and quality. A large part of the wool is processed in the clothing industry, while larger fractions are used for bedding, upholstery, carpets and fertilizer pellets.

The wool seal , English: Woolmark, is a quality mark for products made from pure new wool and a standardization in the quality labeling of textiles.

See also


Web links

Commons : wool  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Bobeth (Ed.): Textile fibers. Texture and properties. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1993, ISBN 3-540-55697-4 , p. 90.
  2. a b c Wolfgang Bobeth (Ed.): Textile Faserstoffe. Texture and properties. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1993, ISBN 3-540-55697-4 , p. 166.
  3. Fabia Denninger, Elke Giese: Textile and Model Lexicon . Volume 2: LZ. 8th, completely revised and expanded edition. Deutscher Fachverlag, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-87150-848-9 , p. 798.
  4. Wolfgang Bobeth (Ed.): Textile fibers. Texture and properties . Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1993, ISBN 3-540-55697-4 , p. 279.
  5. Brockhaus, Volume 24, p. 335.
  6. Almut Bick: The Stone Age . Theiss WissenKompakt, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8062-1996-6 .
  7. An etymological relationship to forest is also conceivable , which originally possibly means "tuft" and could also be related to the Latin vellere . Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language . 24th edition. de Gruyter, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-11-017473-1 , pp. 969, 996.
  8. Benecke, p. 137.
  9. Benecke, p. 136 f.
  10. ^ Britannica, Volume 12, p. 746.
  11. Benecke, p. 137; Brockhaus Volume 24, p. 336.
  12. Benecke, pp. 137-142.
  13. ^ Dillon / Chadwick, p. 196 f.
  14. ^ Britannica, Volume 17, pp. 481 ff.
  15. Britannica, Volume 17, p. 485; S. Fischer-Fabian : The first Germans . Droemer Knaur Verlag, Locarno 1975, ISBN 3-85886-043-3 , pp. 191, 193.
  16. Benecke, p. 234.
  17. Benecke, p. 233.
  18. Koch / Otto, p. 309.
  19. Brockhaus, Volume 24, p. 336; Haberland, pp. 180, 214.
  20. Läng, pp. 304, 378.
  21. Benecke, p. 237 f.
  22. Sherratt / Loewe, p. 250.
  23. Britannica, Volume 18, p. 645; Volume 29, pp. 45, 53 f., 80.
  24. Hennig, p. 882; Koch / Otto, p. 550.
  25. Brockhaus, Volume 24, p. 336.
  26. Brockhaus, Volume 11, p. 607.
  27. ^ Britannica. Volume 12, pp. 746 f.
  28. Eberle et al. a .: Expertise in clothing . 9th edition. Europa, Haan 2007, ISBN 978-3-8085-6209-3 , pp. 18th f .
  29. Myth or medicine: Does warmth or cold help against a sore throat? on: Spiegel-online. 17th March 2014.
  30. han-online.de ( Memento from March 29, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  31. Germany's largest processor stops wool combing. Setback for processing - insight into the market for virgin sheep's wool. nova Institute for Political and Ecological Innovation GmbH, August 14, 2009, accessed on October 31, 2010 : “News portal for renewable raw materials closed its doors in early summer 2010 and is now starting again in December 2010 as a“ specialist portal for industrial biotechnology and Biomaterials "." It is aimed specifically at a narrow specialist audience and can be subscribed to for a fee.