Straight, parallel combed wool fibres create the lightweight fabric known as worsted wool that for centuries has been used for making durable but comfortable suits, coats and other clothing. The term "worsted" refers to both the yarn and resulting woven fabric.
Worsting--the process of combing wool fibres in one direction--removes irregularities and ensures that the fibres all lie in the same direction in straight, parallel lines. The process softens the original wool and when woven creates an easily draped lightweight fabric, according to the New York Fashion Center website. Fabrics with twilled patterns in the weave such as gaberdine and serge usually are made from worsted yarn.
Fabrics known as tropical worsteds use a loose weave to allow air to flow through the tightly spun worsted yarn.
The worsting process comes from the English village of Worstead, located in Norfolk County, according to the New York Fashion Center website. The area became a centre of yarn and cloth manufacturing in the 1100s.
Traditional worsted wool fabrics are made from the fibres of longhair English sheep.
Worsted wools, unlike regular woollens, go through a process known as "combing" that pulls the fibres parallel to each other, straightens them and removes short fibres, according to the Woolcrafting website. Worsted wool fibres are four inches or longer, whereas woollen yarns can have fibres as short as one inch.
Worsted yards are spun and twisted more tightly than other woollens, making the resulting fabric firmer and stronger. Regular woollens are weaker and bulkier, but often softer. When viewed under a microscope, worsted wool yarn looks like smooth strands of rope, whereas regular wool yarns appear fluffy with many loose ends, according to the University of Houston Engines of Our Ingenuity website.
The differences in the yarns create different fabrics. Worsted wool fabrics are more closely woven with a distinct pattern, according to the Woolcrafting website. Worsted wool fabrics have a hard finish, giving them a flatter and smoother look than woollens. Worsted wool fabrics hold creases and shape better than regular woollens, wrinkle less and last longer, making them ideal for tailored clothing.
Regular wool easily felts. When washed in hot water, regular wool's short irregular fibres bunch up onto each other, shrinking and softening to form fluffy felted fabric. Worsted wool will not felt.
The additional processing needed to create worsted wool fabrics makes them more expensive than regular woollens. Worsted wool suit and fashion fabrics in 2010 can cost more than £13 per yard while regular wool suit fabric and blends often are half that price at fabric and sewing shops.
Worsted wool fibres and fabrics, and the items made from them, should be dry-cleaned or hand-washed to avoid damaging the delicate fibres or shrinking the finished product by machine washing, according to the New York Fashion Center website.
Worsted wool fabric may develop a shine from the abrasion that comes with use over time.
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