WeatherWool Jacquard Fabric
This page talks about WeatherWool Fabric. To read about wool in general, and why we believe wool is the best outerwear, please click over to Why Wool?
The first paragraphs below tell about buying Fabric from us. The rest of this page tells about our wool ... starting with the sheep and continuing to our finished FullWeight and MidWeight Fabrics. And here is a fantastic quote from the WeatherWool review published in Guns Magazine: “WeatherWool is durable, comfortable, warm, and probably the most perfect fabric I've ever used in cold and wet weather.”
Here are pictures of our FullWeight Fabrics. The first picture shows all four Fabrics (DUFF, DRAB, LYNX Pattern and BLACK, moving from left to right), then individual pictures BLACK, DRAB, DUFF and LYNX Pattern. Please note that colors can appear somewhat different depending upon the calibration of the viewing screen.
We are very interested to know what you might have in mind ... your ideas might well point us in a good direction that we would not have considered otherwise.
Our Fabric is sold by the running yard. Our running yard is 36 inches (91.4 cm) long and 46 inches (117 cm) total width, with 43 inches (109 cm) of the width being usable Fabric, as described below.
Our fabric bolts are 46 inches (117 cm) wide. Our width includes 3 inches (7.6 cm) of selvage -- 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) on each side, meaning the width gives 43 inches (109 cm) of usable Fabric. This usable width is conservative; the selvage is usually narrower than stated. Selvage, also known as selvedge, is the “extra” fabric running the entire length of a bolt of Fabric. It is created when the weft (horizontal) fibers get to the end of a row and loop back toward the other side. The selvage is also where the various machines grab hold of the bolt of fabric as it is processed. Generally, selvage is considered non-usable fabric, but people do find uses for it. The selvage contains the same premium fiber as the rest of the bolt, and we left the selvage on when we made our Poncho ... the selvage has a slightly rough, rugged look that we thought was appropriate for the border of an old-fashioned garment like a Poncho.
Our FullWeight Fabric is priced at $100 per running yard and our MidWeight at $95 per running yard. Our online ordering system ignores decimal points (I will never understand how software developers think!) so an order for any whole number of yards is processed properly. For example, 6 yards is fine ... But if you try to order 6.5 yards it comes to us as 65 yards. So if you want a fraction of a yard, please add that information to the notes or just phone us. We don't permit the system to run credit cards automatically. All charging is done by a human at the time we package and ship.
ABOUT OUR FABRIC
WeatherWool is all about our Fabric, and naturally, many people have asked us what makes it better than other woolens. The following material refers to our wool specifically. For more information about wool in general, and why we believe wool is the best material for our purposes, please click over to Why Wool?
We are making the best pure-American woolen outerwear we can figure out how to make; clothing that enables you to enjoy a wide variety of weather conditions and outdoor activities in comfort, in a wide variety of social (or not) settings. The best clothing starts with the best Fabric. And of course, the best fabric can only be made with the best wool.
When we started our company, we had a clear vision of what we wanted to do, but we did not know how to do it. So among the first things we did was search for someone who understood our goals and had the knowledge and experience to advise us. Bob Padula of Montevideo, Minnesota, is a lifelong outdoorsman, a sheep man ... a breeder of breeding stock, a sheep industry consultant, and a very easy guy to work with. And this year, we will be using some of his fleece for our Fabric. Almost all of the wool we purchased for 2015 was from breeders of breeding stock. The raw fleece we purchased from these ranches is the proof of the genetics and the reason other ranchers pay to have these genes in their own flocks.
People have been raising sheep for wool, meat and milk for thousands of years. There are many different breeds of sheep, each raised for a different blend of purposes, and many different strains within those breeds. And any individual sheep can be raised under highly variable conditions. So, clearly, there are a lot of moving parts, all of which can affect the sheep's wool. And there is an absolutely enormous body of knowledge that has accumulated over the centuries. Lucky for us, Padula has been immersed in all this for over 30 years.
We explained to Bob that we needed a fabric that would be good in warm weather, great in the cold, a pleasure to wear, soft and silky, tough and dead quiet, beautiful but inconspicuous, non-reflective, and highly resistant to rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind, dirt, odor, fire and electricity. And, we wanted our Fabric to provide a 50-degree range of comfort. The WeatherWool outfit that is warm enough for 20F/-7C is cool enough for 70F/21C. The WeatherWool garment that cuts the mustard in serious outdoor conditions can also be worn to church ... we have customers who do exactly that.
Construction of such a fabric imposes many constraints, some of them conflicting, on the characteristics of the fleece from which it will be made. In order to be soft, wool needs to be thin; that is, each strand of wool needs to be small in diameter. Many people believe wool is itchy, and it can be. The thicker a strand of wool, the stiffer it is. And when the end of a THICK strand of wool contacts human skin, it sort of jabs instead of bending, and it is the jabbing that creates the itch. Thinner strands jab less and bend more, and therefore itch less. So, if you want to make a soft fabric, you must use fiber that is thin. Merino is famously itch-free because it is a thin fiber, about 19 microns (a micron is one millionth of a meter) in thickness.
Another way to enhance the softness of a fabric (and strength!) is to use longer fibers ... fabric made from longer fibers has fewer ends to create the itch in the first place, but also, fabric made from longer fibers is stronger than fabric made from shorter fibers. Long-fiber yarn is stronger partly because there are fewer and longer fibers (our fiber is 4 inches/10 cm long, which is very long) but also because longer fibers twist together and touch and hold each other in place better than do shorter fibers. Longer fibers also pill and migrate less. So for WeatherWool, fiber length is critical, and we are fortunate that longer fiber improves the feel and the durability and weather-resistance of our Fabric. Not surprisingly, because fiber length adds so significantly to quality, and because the longest fiber is not plentiful, wool prices increase rapidly as fiber length increases.
Because our need for soft fiber is somewhat at odds with our need for a tough fabric, it is necessary to find additional ways of increasing the durability and strength of our yarn without decreasing the softness. Our somewhat contradictory need for softness and strength brought us directly to the Rambouillet (French Merino) Sheep. Merino is deservedly very well known worldwide for its softness and comfort and performance. Lately, many companies,
But it is not necessary to use quite so thin a fiber as typical Merino in order to create soft and silky fabric. Our Rambouillet Merino fiber averages 21 microns in thickness ... just a little thicker than Spanish Merino, still plenty soft on the skin, but also quite a bit more durable.
With the selection of Rambouillet Merino, it was next necessary for us to find the best Rambouillet. When serious quality raw wool is offered for sale, samples are submitted for laboratory testing. The labs evaluate the wool according to many different factors including length and strength of fiber, thickness, uniformity of thickness, location of the weakest parts of the fiber, amount of crimp, presence of paint, presence of polypropylene, amount of vegetable and other contaminants and quite a bit more.
“Our” sheep are growing fleeces that are very long (yielding exceptionally strong and low-itch fabric), but even so, there are different length and quality fibers on every sheep. We use only the choicest parts of the choicest fleeces. We use the wool from the back and sides of the sheep, and not the wool from the face, belly, lower legs and other parts that grow shorter fiber. This is not normal industry practice. Most people making woolens use the entire fleece, so there will be a mixture of the higher and lower quality fibers within the typical yarns. Using only the best parts of the best fleece obviously ramps up our costs, but every decision we have ever made with WeatherWool has been consistent with pure-American and highest quality we can figure out.
It will surprise no one that tough fabric needs to start with strong fiber. The labs also test the tensile strength of individual fibers. How much weight can a fiber hold before it breaks. Again, we buy the best, strongest fiber. Tensile strength is partly a result of thickness ... thicker fibers are stronger, all other things being equal. But in the real world, all other things are seldom equal, and in the case of fiber, there are other factors that have a very significant influence on strength. As a sheep grows its fleece throughout a year (sheep are normally shorn annually), the thickness of the fiber will be influenced by many factors. For a thin fiber to be strong, it needs to be of uniform thickness. And what variations in thickness are present must occur gradually, rather than abruptly, or the fiber will be weakened, and the result will be weaker fiber yielding weaker yarn and inferior fabric. For fiber to be of uniform thickness, the sheep must remain healthy and well-fed. A sheep that experiences illness or inadequate nutrition will grow a fleece that reflects her overall physical condition.
Because almost all available wool comes from ewes, it is also vital to properly coordinate shearing with pregnancy and lactation. Pregnancy and milk production impose enormous physical demands on the ewe. And the ewe's body assigns a lower priority to wool production than to pregnancy and lactation. So even with the best nutrition, the ewe's fleece will be weakened at these times. Shearing and pregnancy and lactation need to be coordinated so that the weakest point in a fiber is near the end, not the middle. This is another way of strengthening the fabric. Our ranchers shear their ewes about a month prior to birthing. Even the most careful, gentle and professional shearing is somewhat stressful to the ewes, and it is important to avoid stressing the ewes near lambing time. Shearing is timed also so that the winter weather has broken, and things are warming up and greening up. With the ewes being shorn a month prior to lambing, the times in the ewe's annual cycle when she is devoting the greatest energy toward her lamb are also the times just prior to, and just after shearing. Therefore, the portions of the fleece that receive the least energy during growth are at the ends, rather than in the middle. It is important that whatever weak points and variation in thickness there may be in a fiber be as near the ends of the fiber as possible.
Our shepherds do not allow any polypropylene on their ranch. Polypro is widely used in tarps and feed bags, and is present on most farms. However, polypro will inevitably be broken down by wind and abrasion and sunlight and get into the sheep's wool. And at this point, there is no practical way of separating polypro from wool. When polypro is mixed with wool, it creates weak spots in fabric, and the polypro does not accept dye. Polypro is bad for fabric. So, no polypro on our source farms. The story is somewhat similar with paint. Many ranchers paint numbers on their sheep, but the paint hurts the ultimate product.
Labs also measure the crimp ... the curliness ... of the fleece. The greater the crimp, the better the performance of the fabric made from the fiber.
Learning about these and other factors helped us understand why we could only achieve our goals by purchasing the best, most expensive fiber America has to offer. For reference ... our 2015 purchases of raw wool average $3.12 per pound ... $3.23 with lab testing included. The run-of-the-mill stuff was bringing 60 to 75 cents per pound, and is not normally tested.
We have actually gotten to know personally the ranchers whose sheep grew the wool we bought in past years, and we really love that those shepherds now wear WeatherWool, making us a ‘sheep to shirt to shepherd’ operation. And we will get to know our new ranchers for 2015. As mentioned, we know Padula very well, and Bob in turn already knows our new ranch families.
But acquisition of the finest raw wool is only the beginning of our process.
Next, the wool must be scoured (cleaned). Because our wool is of such fine diameter, we cannot have our wool follow thicker wool through the scouring process because that would contaminate our wool with thicker fiber. We need our wool scoured immediately after the scouring line itself has been cleaned. So we need special consideration from the scouring plant. We are well acquainted with the gentleman who runs the plant, and we could achieve the results we need without his special assistance.
Once our fiber is cleaned, it needs to be spun into yarn, and then the yarn needs to be woven into fabric.
In order to resist rain as much as possible, we needed to eliminate all cotton from our Fabric. It seems weird, but most woolen fabrics include cotton. It is standard industry practice to use cotton warp threads. The warp are the long threads that run lengthwise through a bolt of fabric. There are hundreds of warp threads strung across a loom. In our case, we replaced all cotton warp threads with 100% American, 100% virgin, worsted wool. Not only is our worsted warp far more expensive than cotton, but we must also pay to have each individual warp thread replaced manually.
It probably will not surprise anyone that there are many different ways to weave woolen fabric. Our Fabric is woven on a Jacquard loom, which is quite a bit more expensive than having fabric woven on a standard loom. But a Jacquard loom has two critical capabilities. First, it would not be possible to create our complex LYNX Pattern any other way. But also, even more importantly, the Jacquard loom creates a three-dimensional fabric that offers performance that cannot be matched by a typical flat-woven fabric. The Jacquard loom blends together five different yarns, and can bring any one of them to the surface at any given point, thereby creating any type of visual, but also creating a fabric that has a structure that can resist the weather much
All of our Fabric is woven on a Jacquard loom, which is far more expensive, and difficult to schedule, than the industry-standard loom. And in fact, from the visual point of view, only our LYNX Pattern Fabric must be woven on the Jacquard. However, we go to significant added expense to weave all our solid colors on the Jacquard so that the solids have the same performance as the LYNX. There is just no way we would be comfortable with having different performance with different colors! If you look closely at our solid color Fabrics, you can see that they also actually do have a slight pattern to them. This is strictly a result of the weaving, because all the yarns are of uniform color. This subtle pattern does help to make even our solids less conspicuous, and is one of the reasons that, depending on the angle of the light source, the color of our solids can be difficult to describe.
What about fabric weight? When people talk about wool fabrics, they will often speak as if the weight of the fabric is a magic number that tells all you need to know. But there are plenty of factors beside weight that influence the performance of wool fabric. And what's more, remarkably enough, merely quoting a weight -- 22 ounce or 26 ounce -- actually doesn't even provide truly useful information because weights of wool fabric are quoted by the running yard, and there is no standard width for a running yard! Sounds crazy to me, but I assume there must be good historical reasons for the situation.
Our FullWeight Fabric is about 19.4 ounces per square yard (661 grams per square meter -- GSM). But the mill people call it 24 ounce wool because a running yard weighs 24 ounces. Some looms produce 56 inch and even 72 inch bolts, and such fabric is, by industry standard, designated as correspondingly heavier. But unless you quote weight by some standard size, you don't have any real basis for comparison. So, we normally say our fabric is “about 19 and a half ounces per square yard”, and we usually have to explain that our fabric is probably heavier than someone else's 22 or 26 ounce fabric. Our MidWeight Fabric is about 14 ounces per square yard (473 grams per square meter).
However, the weight of the fabric is not even as important as the quality of the fiber from which it was made and the way that fiber is cleaned, processed, spun, woven and finished. There are a great many steps in turning raw wool into finished fabric, and all of those steps can be made in a variety of ways ... each choice along the way impacting the performance of the fabric that is ultimately made from the raw wool. In the case of WeatherWool, every time we make a decision, we make the decision that will improve the performance of our fabric. But ... back to Fabric weight ... a lighter fabric can definitely outperform a heavier fabric if it is made from superior fiber and processed to withstand weather. And of course, we have gone to great lengths to get the best possible fiber and weaving for our purposes. Because we are using very fine Rambouillet Merino fiber, a given weight of our Fabric will contain more individual fibers than the same weight of a fabric made with a thicker fiber ... and it is standard to make performance outerwear from thicker fiber (because it is cheaper and much more readily available). Also, most everyone else is using a flat weave rather than a three-dimensional Jacquard weave. Because of the Jacquard loom, and because WeatherWool has more, finer fiber, the spaces between our fibers are smaller and therefore our Fabric is stronger and denser and tighter, which means our Fabric can shed more rain and retain more heat than a fabric made of thicker fiber.
It may be helpful to imagine fiber thickness on a larger scale. If you are stacking a cord of firewood, you'll need four times more pieces of 6-inch diameter firewood than you would if you were stacking 12-inch diameter logs. And the spaces between the 12-inch diameter logs will be much larger than the spaces between the 6-inch logs.
Our Fabric is the best we know of, and it is the best we have been able to figure out how to make. But we will keep trying to improve it, and by listening to your suggestions and feedback, and to the ideas of Bob Padula, the shepherds, the scourers, the weavers and our design and production consultants, we hope to come up with additional enhancements as time goes by.