Feels like Cashmere, Wears like Iron!
Wool, the way it should be!
When we started WeatherWool, fabric that met our specifications was simply not available. So we spent our first three years developing our Fabric. We offer our Fabric for sale because we are inspired by what others do with it, and because there is nothing else like it.
Our Fabric production process begins with an extremely careful evaluation of the raw wool offered by America's most select ranchers. Every step of our Fabric production is customized for our specific goals. WeatherWool has reasonably been characterized as a Fabric company that makes garments.
WeatherWool’s requirements from wool are extreme because our fabric performs in a wide range of temperatures, weather conditions, activities and natural and social settings.
Our Hardcore Luxury® Fabric is very tough in order to stand up to the rigors of outdoor work and recreation, but also very soft and comfortable worn directly against the skin. The toughest woolen fibers are the thickest. However, thicker fibers are uncomfortable against the skin. The thinnest wool fibers will bend when in contact with the skin, resulting in a wonderfully soft and silky feel. But other things being equal, the thinnest fibers are the weakest, both in tensile strength and in abrasion resistance. Only the very best, most expensive fibers offer both softness and strength.
Other manufacturers rely on sub-par liners to protect the skin from the "itchiness" of their wool. Regardless of the marketing hype, the liners don't perform in adverse conditions. The liner materials, synthetic acetate usually, readily get wet, and constant contact with a soaked liner results in wool wicking water from the liner. Even worse, the liner will be essentially just a wet rag on the back of your neck and at your wrists, places where you can lose a LOT of heat.
So, how to make a fabric that is tough and weather-resistant but still soft and comfortable on the skin? The concise answer is to buy the most expensive raw wool available. We chose Rambouillet Merino. Rambouillet fibers are longer and slightly thicker than Spanish, Australian and New Zealand Merino. Our Rambouillet fibers are about 21 microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter) in thickness, whereas the traditional Merino is about 19 microns. The Rambouillet fiber is thin (with a very high crimp) but strong.
Please click here for a list of ranchers who have supplied our wool. We know personally all the Ranchers who have raised our wool.
Not All Wool is Created Equal
Another way to make fabric stronger and softer all at the same time is to use longer fibers. Fewer fibers, fewer ends. WeatherWool is made from carefully selected flocks of Rambouillet Merino. We use the longest fiber that the spinning machines and scouring equipment can handle. Fiber of this length is more usually used for worsted woolen dress wear. We have purchased our raw wool from growers whose flocks have extremely long fiber. And even then, we use only a fraction of the fleece.
The best fibers are found on the sheep's back, sides and top of the body and head. WeatherWool Fabric is made from only the best fibers of each fleece, and only from the Rambouillet flocks with the best fleeces to begin with. It won't surprise anyone that the finest woolens can only be made from the most select wool.
These sheep at the Jewell Ranch in Colorado have just been ‘crutched’ ... the wool has been sheared from their lower legs and disposed of so that it does not contaminate the higher-quality parts of the fleece that we buy.
When high-quality raw wool is prepared for sale it is laboratory tested across about 20 parameters: length of fiber, thickness of fiber, tensile strength, presence and placement of weak spots (mostly caused by the annual cycles of the ewes of pregnancy and lactation), crimp, presence of paint, presence of polypropylene (from feedbags and tarps), color, among others. Our wool graded out to the highest. In 2015, outerwear was generally made from raw wool that sold for $0.65 per pound. Our raw wool cost $3.23 per pound, five times the usual.
Tensile strength is very important to us. We need strong fabric. Less appreciated is something like the presence of polypro. If there is any polypropylene anywhere near the sheep, it will inevitably find its way into the fleece, where it cannot be effectively separated. (Please click for an unfortunate story about polypro in wool fabric.) Polypro fibers will mix with the wool and ultimately be woven into fabric, where they will create weak and unsightly spots. The only way to avoid this problem is to buy from a grower who does not permit polypro anywhere near the flock. Avoiding polypro raises costs for the ranchers.
Scouring Greasy Wool
Scouring is the first step in processing raw wool as it it sheared from the sheep.
We do not superwash the fiber we use in our woven garments, but we do use superwashed fiber in our knitted items (Watch Cap and Neck Gaiter). Superwashing is a fairly big topic, so we have created a separate page for it.
Our millers put this in writing in a recent email: “You are a special customer ... you have your own Mill within the Mill. We do not do this for any other customers.” All of our Fabrics, even our solid colors, are woven on a Jacquard loom, which is capable not only of producing complex patterns, but also creates in our Fabrics a three-dimensional Fabric that enables performance significantly superior to the typical flat loom.
Our Jacquard Loom creates a truly 3-dimensional fabric that sheds rain and wind and insulates much better than a much less-expensive flat weave. Our complex pattern, LYNX, can only be woven on a Jacquard Loom. Solid colors and simple patterns are virtually always woven on a standard loom, but we take the very exceptional and expensive step of weaving even our solid colors on the Jacquard loom because all of our Fabric must perform to the same high standards.
After the weaving is done, the "finishing" begins. Napping is one step in the finishing process for WeatherWool Fabric. Among other things, our napping process tightens and softens our wool, and creates a directionality to the Fabric that helps channel rain off our garments a bit like shingles on a roof. Wool naturally resists rain quite well. We use absolutely ZERO cotton in our Fabric and never cotton thread, (Other makers of outerwear normally sabotage their own garments by using cotton thread and even cotton in the fabric.)
The napping and the 3-dimensional weave reduce the reflectivity of our Fabric and greatly improves the insulation properties.
Fabric Color and Weights
Our running yard is now 36 inches (91.4 cm) long and 52 inches (132 cm) total width, with 50 inches (127 cm) of the width being usable Fabric. For some applications, the entire width is usable.
Our FullWeight Fabric is about 19.4 ounces per square yard (661 grams per square meter). 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).
We also have a separate page that addresses the differences between FullWeight and MidWeight Fabrics.
The weight of the fabric is not 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 done in a variety of ways. Each choice along the way impacts the performance of the fabric. In the case of WeatherWool, every decision we make is to improve the performance of WeatherWool Fabric.
But ... back to Fabric weight. 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.
A lighter fabric can outperform a heavier fabric if it is made from superior fiber and processed properly. 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 (and cheaper) "run of the mill" fiber.
WeatherWool Fabric is stronger, denser and tighter and therefore can shed more rain and retain more heat.
When Only the Best Will Do
WeatherWool Fabric is fine in warm weather, great in the cold, a pleasure to wear, soft and silky, tough and dead quiet, non-reflective, highly resistant to rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind, dirt, odor, fire and electricity. Our Fabric provides a 50-degree range of comfort. The WeatherWool outfit that is cool enough for 70F/21C is also warm enough for 20F/-7C or even 0F-18C. The WeatherWool garment that cuts the mustard in serious outdoor conditions can also be worn to church. Wear the same jacket outside and then in the car; at the bottom of the ski-lift and at the top.
Most importantly, "clothing is your primary shelter", as professional outdoorsman and Advisor Bill McConnell teaches. It can be the difference between life and death. We take that responsibility dead serious.
27 August 2021