Wool

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Sheep farming, as any other animal farming, entails using the animal from tail to head, if it is to be considered humane and justified. To this effect sheep shearing is a big part of the process, and sheep fleece needs to be consumed as well. That is where crafts step onto the stage, providing a meaningful life for its main component – wool!

Name of Material in the local and Latin language
Vuna
Type of Material
Organic
Commonly Found Locations
In Serbia there are 11 autochthonous breeds of sheep, several of which are endangered – Sjenica–Pester, Svrljig, Pirot, Krivi Vir, Lipska, Karakachan, White Metohian, Balusha, Sar Planina, Vitoroga Zackel, Tsigai. Alongside these, breeds such as Merino sheep and Il-de-France sheep are bred. The Zlatibor region, for example, represents a cross-section area where several breeds can be encountered, with Sjenica-Pester sheep traditionally being the most common.
Major Industrial Producers or Suppliers
The industrial producers of natural wool in Serbia are rather scarce, with only ten still functioning wool spinning mills (Zlatibor region, Pirot and Dimitrovgrad). The largest and the best-known are “Kosteks” (Pirot) and “Alempijević” (Zlatibor). The largest producer of wool globally is Australia (the McBride family, Paraway Pastoral Company, Willoway Grazing, TA Field Estates). _____________

Colour
White, black, brown, and grey
Density
1.31 g/cm³
Hardness
Wool is a soft material, with crimps in the fibre which allow for air trapping, thus increasing its natural insulating properties. The softness of wool is determined by the number of crimps per inch of the fibre – the Merino wool being the softest with close to 100 crimps per inch.
Melting/Boiling Point
It does not melt, but when exposed to fire it is directly charred.
Solubility
Water insoluble. The interior of the wool fibre can absorb water vapour, while its outer surface is water-repellent.
Chemical Composition
Wool is a protein fibre, as silk or casein, differentiated from other animal hair by high percentage of sulphur, coming from the prominent presence of double amino acid cystine.

Industrial and Crafts Applications
Industrial application of wool is wide-ranged, from construction to textile and medicine. Natural wool is used as a thermal isolator for outer walls. Even though it was replaced by its synthetic counterparts, today it is valued as a building material with highly natural characteristics. For this purpose, it is pressed in 50-, 75- and 100-millimetre plates. The lanolin oil, which wool contains, is used for making antirheumatic preparations and in cosmetic industry. Additionally, due to the amino acid wool is resistant to viruses and bacteria. In textile industries and crafts, wool has been used as a resistant fibre, making thermally isolating textile that is elastic and durable, and therefore fitting for making both garments and rugs. When coloured, natural wool very slowly, especially if properly dyed with natural pigments. Throughout history it was replaced by synthetic versions of the fibre, whose polluting nature is finally understood today.
Historical or Cultural Uses
Wool has been used as a material since 4000-3000 BC and imported to Europe from the Near East in the early part of the 4th century BC. In Europe, wool was a dominant textile fibre (alongside linen and leather) until cotton from India and silk from China became widespread, which occurred significantly later. In the Middle Ages and all the way through the Renaissance wool trade was one of Europe’s major economic lines. In the local Serbian context, wool braiding and knitting were a significant realm of female emancipation. Traditionally, the processing of “raw” wool belongs to the female domain and is conducted in the intergenerational gatherings of women named prelo. During the late 1930s and early 1940s it was claimed that women’s rights activists used these events for spreading their ideas. In the aftermath of WWII in the Zlatibor region several female-run communes for producing wool and textile were formed as a means of achieving economic independence for women in rural areas. The best-known and internationally most recognized endeavour of this sort is the establishment of Sirogojno Style, formed and led by Dobrila Vasiljević Smiljanić, producing knitwear based on the locally braided wool and with traditional pastoral motives.
Environmental Impact
The production of wool is one of the fashion industry’s top five pollutants due to the natural resources needed to raise sheep. Although wool can be composted with other organic waste, a solution for lowering the carbon footprint of its production is searched for. Its venturing into industries where it can replace synthetic materials might be one of the options. For example, producing natural wool for construction and building industries would use less than 14% of energy needed to produce its synthetic counterpart.
Innovative or Emerging Applications
From the aspect of development of microbial and mycelium-based materials as a plastic and packaging substitute, wool is seen as viable feedstock for the process. Additionally, the trend of making “net-zero carbon” clothing is emerging, and it does involve wool, which in combination with other biomaterials can also be applied in the furniture industry.

Extraction Methods
Wool is one of the by-products of sheep farming, and the first phase of its production is shearing. “Raw” wool is then washed and prepared for combing and braiding, which is done with mechanized spinners or by hand. Additionally, wool can be pressed into “plates” used for different types of objects and in different industries – from duvets and chairs to facade walls.
Processing Techniques
“Raw” wool is combed and then either pressed or braided (one, two, or three threads).
Sustainability and Environmental Considerations
Sheep farming, hence also wool making, is a high pollutant, due to the volume of resources and energy needed for breeding sheep and the amount of CO2 produced by them in their lifetime. However, bearing in mind that the synthetic counterpart still does produce significantly more pollution, smaller avenues for reducing the negative impact are searched for: from discussing the potential of wool as organic feedstock to combining it with other biomaterials in the production of objects. As in many cases of industries going green, it is a matter of achieving a political decision and social consensus on limiting consumption and using natural materials.
Recycling and Waste Management
Wool is fully biodegradable and can be composted with other organic waste.

Interesting Facts or Historical Anecdotes
In the period between 1980s and 2021 the number of sheep per capita in New Zeeland was reduced from 22 to 5.
Regulations or Restrictions
The quality of wool is regulated by Institutes for quality control, trading regulations, as well as regulations aimed towards ecological issues and waste reduction. EU Green Deal (2019) New EU Circular Economy Action Plan (2020) EU Climate Law (2021) & EU Taxonomy (2020) Sustainable Carbon Cycles (2021) Sustainable Products Initiative (2022) / Proposal for a new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation Waste Framework Directive (revision 2023)
Relevant Organizations, Associations, Producers
International Wool Textile Organisation, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Waste & Resource Action Program, Sustainable Fibre Alliance
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Supported by
  • Ministarstvo kulture