Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fuzz Factor!

So any of you who have used wool for any length of time know that it tends to get a bit fuzzy. If you are new to wool but have been looking into it, you may have noticed the words "needs a shave" in the description for some used items. What is the deal with fuzz?
Well, here's the thing. Sheep's wool is intended as a weatherproof covering. It is designed to stick together and for the fibers to go in multiple directions to prevent the sheep from being impacted by crazy weather changes. Wool also has a good "memory" meaning that the fibers tend to always try to return to their original organization.
This is a photograph of what sheep's wool looks like right after it has been removed from the sheep. Notice the matted fibers (and the dirt! LOL!). This is actually a really good thing because it is part of what "waterproofs" the sheep (this is why sheep are not miserably wet and cold even when standing in the rain). Now, when wool is being prepared to be made into clothing, it goes through a process:
First, it gets carded by hand or machine. Carding is basically running the wool between 2 big brushes to make the fibers lay in the same direction (more or less).
Once it has been carded, the wool looks like this. Notice how the fibers are all more or less in a straight line now.
Then the fun part-it gets dyed into gorgeous colors! Now it is called roving.
Once you get to the roving stage you can either spin it into yarn OR just knit the roving.
Now, this  characteristic of wool is actually one of the major things that makes it most suitable for diapering! The more the fibers stick together, the more absorbent the diaper cover is, because the fibers will fill in the "holes" that are created with knitting. I typically knit out of roving instead of yarn because this makes the cover more absorbent and "leak proof." However, it also makes it slightly "fuzzier" in appearance as a new cover. A cover knit from yarn will have less initial fuzz, but also more holes and thus a bit less absorbency/will leak sooner. So it kind of depends on what you are wanting! If you are ordering from me, if you prefer yarn over roving, please tell me-I am more than happy to do either!
One thing to know about wool though, is that because of the "memory" that I talked about earlier, ALL items that are made out of wool will fuzz eventually. The more wool content, the more tendency to create that fuzzy effect. Because diapering wool is usually at least 75% wool (preferably 100%), the "fuzz factor" is high! So even items made of wool yarn will eventually look fuzzy (though they will probably nto start out looking that way-that completely depends on the yarn used). The other thing to know, especially if you are considering buying used, is that the fuzz does not show up well in photographs. You kind of have to take an out-of-focus, oddly angled photograph to capture it. I tried to do that this morning so you could kind of see....
This is what a pair of woolies made from roving looks like from a "top shot"

The same pair from that weird side angle-you can probably see the mild fuzz. This is probably a typical amount for the type of roving I usually work with. Of note, these have not been lanolized. The lanolization process does decrease the fuzz.

This is my store bought sweater that is 20% wool. I've worn it about 15 times total, I think. You can see the fuzz forming on the bottom, and this sweater was machine knitted from yarn made of 80% cotton and 20% wool.

This is the fuzziest/"worst" roving I have ever worked with, so this is about as bad as you can expect it to get.

This is the leg of a pair of overalls I am working on, knitted from yarn. So you can tell that even yarn can end up pretty fuzzy!

Hopefully those images give you a bit of an idea of what to expect!
Now, I am personally not bothered by a slight bit of fuzziness. To me, it just lends a "soft" look to my baby's woolly bottom, which is okay with me. However, you do have some options if you just hate the fuzzy look-aka shaving your garments (so when you see the phrase "needs a shave" that means the garment has become fuzzy). Please note-no matter what wool fiber (yarn, interlock, roving) your garments are made from, if you want to keep them looking "sharp" and completely not fuzzy, you will have to do this process on a regular basis.
The way a wool shaver works is exactly the same as the way an electric shaver works for a person. It runs over the top and "cuts" the fibers close to the smooth surface of the fabric while vacuuming the cut fibers into a little container. I have not personally used wool shavers, so I cannot give you a review on different brands or suitability for use. I can tell you that I would not recommend using one that looks like this:
The reason is that these types of shavers are intended to pull the errant fibers out instead of clipping them close to the source, and by doing so, you are likely to eventually cause your wool garments to unravel. The good ones look more like this:

This one is being used on a 50% wool sweater (machine knit out of yarn)-you can see the difference between the shaved fibers on the left and the unshaved fibers on the right.
If you are going to purchase a wool shaver, I would recommend that you read lots of reviews first! The thing I would worry most about is the fibers getting caught in the shaver and pulling, potentially creating a hole. I have friends who have told me that this has happened to their sweaters. Even better, if you know of a friend who has a shaver and likes it-go with their brand!
Shavers are pretty easy to use-you just run it over the garment in question!
Hopefully this was helpful-as always, let me know if something was unclear or could use more information!

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