What I know about wool…
…isn’t a great deal, but after an interpreting gig for some Japanese suit retailers this week, I sure know a lot more about wool than I did before. Visually this post is not going to be stunning, but hey, I gave you rainbows (woolly ones at that) earlier this week, and you might find some of what I learned interesting, so hopefully you will excuse the fairly dull photos.
The Japanese guys were on a kind of study tour which we started in Geelong at the National Wool Museum, which was absolutely fascinating – did you know that some machines once used revolving THISTLES to make blankets fluffy? – but I didn’t get any photos there as I was too busy keeping the group together and interpreting. I did manage to snap some of what we saw at the wool auction centre though. The auction centre is packed full of wool samples from all over the east coast of Australia, all of which vary in quality and price. Buyers receive a catalogue full of data about the wool (more about that later) but they still need to come here and actually see and feel it for themselves before they bid (the auctions take place once a week over two to three days).
In the old days apparently the wool was left in bales like this (there is about 175kg of wool in each bale) rather than being put into sample boxes. The bales below are premium wool so there is not much of each type, and that is why the wool has not been taken out and put into boxes.
So where do the buyers get the data about the wool that they are potentially buying? Well, once the fleece is off the sheep’s back, “core samples” (ie from the centre of a bale) are taken for testing at the Australian Wool Testing Authority. There are lots of processes that the wool goes through and lots of tests. As I was interpreting I didn’t get photos of everything, so these are just a few examples of what happens to the wool that gets tested (which is apparently most wool grown in Australia, even though the testing is not mandatory).
First of all, the wool gets washed…
… then dried for an hour in this machine…
And after that the sample gets cut into two sections and goes through other tests, at which stage I think I got a bit busy explaining things to the Japanese clients because I don’t have photos! Anyway, at some point, all the seeds and burrs and bits and pieces that were stuck to the fleece are removed. This is done by running caustic soda through the fleece – the soda dissolves the fleece but not the grass seeds etc, so they remain after the fleece is gone…
Then all these bits and pieces are separated into three categories, which I think are burrs; seed and shrive, and hardheads, which of course will probably mean little to you as they would to anyone not in the wool industry, but wool processing is more or less difficult depending on what is stuck in the fleece, so of course this affects costs. This lady here is categorising the seeds etc.
Something which really blew my mind were these super-scientific looking machines, which determine the fineness of the wool, which is measured in microns. Basically the lower the micron, the finer (and higher quality, and more expensive) the wool. I think microns usually hover around 19 or so – about 11 would be very, very fine and super expensive. Anyway, these machines measure microns by floating wool fibres in water, then running them past a laser which measures the fibres’ shadows to calculate the micron. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF MEASURING A SHADOW?!
The wool is also tested for strength and so on, but I think you’ve seen enough photos of machines for one post. I just found it impressive that 1. wool is so rigorously tested and 2. someone came up with the machines for all these tests! There are even COMFORT METERS to measure how comfortable clothing is. Look at all the tubes of wool samples just waiting for testing… some day you might be wearing something made from wool out of the same bale as these!
Thanks so much for this post! As a knitter I am fascinated by wool production.
thanks for sharing your newest experience. translating must be an interesting way to find out a lot about very different subjects. As one of the knitters for Yarn Corner I very much appreciated your blog today.