Wool is by far the most popular of the natural protein fibers used to make yarns. The word “wool” has become so general that some knitters refer to all yarn as wool, regardless of their fiber content. Lately, I’ve noticed that online and other resources mistakenly describe the “wool-like” fibers from other breeds of animals as wool, such as those from Kashmir goats (cashmere), Angora goats (mohair) and Alpacas. What is wool?
Wool refers to a specific type of protein fiber found in a sheep’s fleece. Wool fibers are known for their crimp and elasticity. They also have an amazing capacity to absorb and release moisture. There is an immense variety of breed specific wools from around the world, that produce differences in softness, durability and versatility.
Other animals produce “wool-like” fibers in their coats, but categorizing them as specialty hair fibers is a more apt phrase to describe these ones. They include cashmere, mohair, camel, alpaca and llama. Wool has unique properties that are different than those from this category. Specialty fibers may well have wool-like characteristics, but they have their own special properties distinct from wool and from each other.
Yarn made from Merino breeds of sheep is my favourite to knit with. Once you are acquainted with wool’s amazing properties, you’ll notice its differences from the natural fibers grown by animals other than sheep. Not all nuts are nuts!