Here I sit in an office in Bradford, England - one time centre of the global wool industry. It is hard to believe that wool which in 1930 had 20% market share of the global fibre market, now in 2009, accounts for only about 1% of a much larger market. Why then has wool been overlooked and forgotten?
Many reasons are given: - an itchy scratchy feel, difficult to wash, poor choice of bright colours, too expensive, but I think folks have just forgotten how much wool can do for you, and why our forefathers and mothers loved it.
In this article, which I hope will be the first of a series, let us look at one particular end use. Wool in bedding: No other fibre is so uniquely adapted for this end use. What do you want/need in a bedding fibre? Firstly, warmth and insulation. Wool has this is spades, after all over a billion sheep can't be wrong! Look at the wool fibre closely and you will see that it is naturally curly. The degree of curl varies from breed to breed and is known as crimp. This is the facet of wool which allows it to trap still air. Still air is the best insulator there is. Think of a vacuum flask!
What about Goose down I hear you say? Goose down is even better at trapping air and is superbly light but it has the drawback of clumping when wet or damp. When moisture is trapped in a duvet, the humidity is increased under the cover, leading to restlessness and disturbed sleep. Wool on the other hand, allows moisture to be absorbed very quickly yet will not feel damp to the touch until it has absorbed more than a third of its weight in water. Synthetic fibres like Polyester and Nylon can only absorb less than 1% of water and so can not buffer or control humidity. Wool has such an appetite for moisture; it will condition the air surrounding it as it absorbs water faster than air. For those who wish to understand more about this aspect of the Fibre there is wonderful paper written by a British scientist A.B.D. Cassie in the 50's "The physics of fibres with special reference to wool" details how the chemistry and structure of wool allow it to act as a natural humidity controller.
For those who share their bed with a partner, banish those midnight arguments! Wool is so clever that it allows you both to enjoy your own unique under-cover environment at the same time.
Everyone has a different metabolism and accordingly perspires at differing rates. This can lead to poor sleep for one or both of you. If you become too hot, your body naturally uses perspiration to reduce internal temperature, but then if the air above you becomes too humid this perspiration will not evaporate, and you will become restless and may wake. For a great night's sleep it is really important to get the balance of insulation and moisture management correct.