More fun facts about wool from another one of our old Education & Testing Department pieces:
Wool has been an integral part of human life and culture. One of its nicknames is the fiber of civilization.
The sheep industry began in central Asia over 10,000 years ago.
Wool-spinning began in 3500 BC. The first sheep were black; white sheep were a genetic exception that became highly prized because they produce dyeable fiber. Today, black sheep are the genetic exception.
In biblical times, wool was used to collect water; a fleece was left out overnight in the desert to draw dew, to be wrung out the next morning.
Wool fiber has overlapping scales. When heat, moisture and pressure are applied, the scales interlock into an irreversible tangle, as you may have discovered if you ever accidentally washed and dried your favorite wool sweater. This is called “felting.”
Wool was probably first used in felted form as lining for helmets and armor, padding for sandals, cushions for riding horses and camels, and as durable, portable housing for nomadic peoples.
For Asian nomads, wool was so important that in the fourth century, the Chinese called their territory “the land of felt.”
Today, felt is used in felt-tip pens, industrial applications, garments and heavy-duty wool blankets.
The Politics of Wool:
Spain recognized the commercial value of wool, making it a capital offense to export merino sheep.
England’s first great industry was wool. In the Middle Ages, it was the natrion’s largest export resource, with every European country relying on England for wool.
Germany eventually broke England’s hold on the wool market in 1765, when a Spanish king sent 92 rams and 128 ewes to Germany. By the turn of that century, Germany was flooding England’s wool market.
The Medici family of Florence, Italy built their wealth on the wool trade. Their banking industry allowed them the financial ease to offer patronage to artists like Dante, da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Australia’s economy is based on wool and sheep. The first sheep arrived in Australia in 1788 on an English ship full of convicts.
The American Revolution was in part ignited by a stiff tariff imposed to restrict American wool trade to England.
“Dyed in the wool” means genuine and permanent.
To “fleece him” means to swindle him.
To “pull the wool over his eyes” is to fool him.
“Shoddy” is also a wool reference. The term meant re-used wool in Civil War times, and became associated with inferior workmanship.
A “spinster” was an unmarried woman who earned her keep by spinning wool.
A “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is a predator disguised with gentleness.
A “bellwether” is the lead sheep in a flock, and is used to note a change or new direction.
More fun facts about the properties of wool will be coming your way this month, because January is a wonderful month for staying warm, and wool does that so well.