About 200 B.C. the development
of skins for writing led to parchment, which is made
by simply removing the wool or hair from the skin
and allowing it to dry in a stretched condition, parchment,
unlike leather, is not tanned. The very first parchments
were the fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, roughly
2,000 years old.
In around 1800 B.C. the civilization of Babylonia was
famous for its wool. The people distinguished food sheep
from wool sheep. There was also a unique grading of the
wool into three groups; Mountain Wool, Second quality
and Good quality.
The first fleece is dated back to 5000 B.C. in the form
of a crude clay image of a sheep found at Sarab in Iran.
The earliest remains of true fine wool came from the Greek
colony of Nymphaeum in the Crimea, dating back to the
5th Century B.C.
The wool of the early wild species of sheep tended to
have a short, woolly undercoat covered by long coarse
straight hair. But this has disappeared in the domestic
breeds instead improving the quality and abundance of
the wool. They also had black or brown coats to act as
a camouflage against predators. The oldest wool cloth
was found in a bog in Denmark, which was made in about
The finest wool during Roman times came from Tarentium
in about 37 B.C. and during these times there were definite
signs of selective breeding. The Romans developed a special
strain of sheep called the Terenton that had a superior
fleece, but required special care, as it lacked hardiness.
During the Middle Ages wool was England's main export
trade, with every European country relying on England
for it. By the end of the 18th Century there were
more than 300 British laws detailing every aspect
of the sheep trade.
The world's animal population has many species
with bodily covering of hair, fur or wool. Animals in
cold regions developed over millions of years a combination
of long, tough hairs, combined with a fine, dense underfur.
This produced a layer system to insulate out low temperatures,
wind and water. In equatorial regions, animals developed
short sleek coats (which may change seasonally) in order
to protect their skins from the burning and heating effect
of the sun's direct rays.
Mankind has the body least equipped to live in the world's
varied climatic conditions, but he has used his intellect
and enterprise to compensate for this.
Primitive man protected his body with animal skins, and
he learned to appreciate the merits of alternative furs
according to fibre length, fibre fineness (or fibre diameter)
and fibre density of the pelt. Innovative man eventually
looked beyond furs to other fibrous materials, and he
began to prepare them; to twist them, to interweave them,
and make garments to suit his needs.
In the world's hot and temperate zones, the fibres
used were usually cellulosic or vegetable-based: cotton,
linen, jute ramie and hessian. Cellulosic fibres grow
readily in hot climates, and the resultant garments were
designed appropriately for wear in hot weather. These
fibres are all vegetable in origin and have a common chemistry.
In colder regions, nomadic tribesmen combed their animal
flocks as they moulted each spring, and spent the long
winter nights spinning and weaving the soft, woolly fibres
into garments which would keep them warm and dry throughout
the cold winter season ahead.
In the late 18th Century, the Industrial Revolution began
a movement which took the textile industry from the home
into the factory. Machines were invented to carry out
processes which for countless generations had been carried
out by hand. The machines and factories developed an insatiable
demand for fibre, and an international trade in textile
fabrics began to develop.
Bradford in Yorkshire, England, became the centre
of the wool textile industry. The demand for sound,
fine wool was capitalised on by the fledgling colony
of Australia. Australian graziers found that the vast
areas of dry pasture land were suited to the fine-wool
breeds of sheep. Rams of the Spanish Merino breed
were imported and these provided the basic breed lines
on which the Australian Merino was established.
The most recent evolution in the textile industry has
been the introduction of man-made fibres. The first group
of man-made fibres which are still widely in use were
"regenerated" from naturally occurring products. For example,
cellulose from trees is regenerated into fibrous cellulose
to produce viscose rayon.
The next evolutionary step was to completely synthesize
the fibrous material. The oil industry yielded the base
products for the synthesis of nylons, acrylic and polyester
fibres. These are termed "man-made synthetic fibres."
Wool is an extremely complex protein,
evolved over millions of years for the protection of warmblooded
animals in a great variety of climates and conditions.
By comparison, synthetic fibres are simple, having been
designed for specific limited purposes.
Wool fibre is so resilient and elastic that it can be
bent 30,000 times without danger of breaking or damage.
Every wool fibre has a natural elasticity and wave or
crimp that allows it to be stretched as much as one third
and then spring back into place. Its complex cellular
structure also enables it to absorb moisture vapour but
repel liquid - try and soak up water with a wool cloth.
No synthetic fibre has been able to combine all these
Wool fibre comprises:
An outer layer of scales and the
bulk of the fibre, called the cortex. This is made up
of millions of long cells held together by a strong natural
binding material. This material is made up - put simply
- of paracortex and orthocortex, each with slightly different
qualities, that give wool fibre the characteristic "crimp"
or small curls.