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Module 3 - History of Wool


Sheep ewe and lambs


Wool is a natural fiber that grows on the bodies of sheep. Since ancient times people have used wool to make their lives more comfortable for shelter and in clothing, floor coverings and decoration.

Animal skins have been used for clothing since prehistoric times and sheep have been domesticated, primarily for meat and milk, since around 9000-7000 BC. By then, the prehistoric breed, which had a hairy rather than woolly coat, had developed into an animal that was closer to the domesticated sheep we have today.

The first sheep reached the United Kingdom about 3000 B.C. when the Stone Age settlers were crossing the English Channel. By 1000 BC the Greeks had further developed the animal into a number of different breeds and had acquired the ability to process wool into cloth. By the seventh century BC, the Phoenicians were trading woollen spun goods with Britain, which they had acquired from the Israelis in exchange for tin and raw wool. This trading in raw wool marked the early origins of the wool industry in England.

By 1000 BC the Greeks had further developed the animal into a number of different breeds and had acquired the ability to process wool into cloth.

By the time Caesar's Roman legions had occupied Britain in 55 BC, spinning and weaving wool was long established, and a weaving factory was built inWinchesterfor shipping fine woolen garments back to Rome. With the arrival of the Saxons, the industry declined and flocks were destroyed. But the Vikings, and subsequently, William the Conqueror, introduced new sheep breeds into Britain. These became the most important descendants of the world's coarse wool-producing sheep. After 1066, the woolen industry was re-established in Britain and was of major importance for the next 900 years. The first Guild of Weavers dates back to 1080.

In this new era, the Roman town of Winchester was no longer the center of the industry. Instead, it had moved Southwest, around Bristol and Exeter, where the Cotswold breed, a breed still living today (although now reduced to approximately 1000 breeding females), gave its name to the region. Geographical diversification followed when, in 1111, Henry I introduced a textile industry on the Tweed River, which separates England from Scotland, a name that is still associated with wool textiles even today. Another name that has been preserved, dates back to the thirteenth century when Worstead in Norfolk (a parish in England and a noted early site for manufacture of cloth made from worsted yarn) became an important center for spinning wool (worsted wool – long-staple, combed wool fiber that is spun into yarn).

By this time, expertise in weaving and finishing wool had shifted to Flanders in France where English wool was converted into fine textile materials. Some of it was then shipped back to England for retail sale.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, wool production was the most important industry in Britain, and indeed, the famous Woolsack, upon which the Lord Chancellor sits in the House of Lords, was installed by Edward III as early as 1350, lest Parliament should ever forget how important the industry was to the country. By the reign of Elizabeth I, wool represented four-fifths of Britain's total exports.

By decree, funeral shrouds had to be manufactured from wool, wool caps had to be worn, and women had to wear flannel next to the skin. Exporting sheep was punishable by death.

By the early eighteenth century, specialized breeds were being developed; breeds that are still important today. By the end of the century, the wool manufacturing industry was so vast that it became necessary, for the first time, to begin importing wool.

With the industrial revolution, the UK wool textile industry became established in Yorkshire. Indeed, Yorkshire became the center of world trade, where wool grown around the world was bought and sold at the Bradford Wool Exchange.

Columbus brought sheep to Cuba and Santo Domingo on his second voyage in 1493, and Cortez took their descendants along when he explored what is now Mexico and the southwestern United States. Navajo and other Southwest Indian tribes are famous yet today for their magnificent woolen rugs and colorful wall hangings.

Britain's Empire and colonies became major suppliers and the wool producing capabilities of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa became increasingly important. 

Despite the fact that England tried to discourage a wool industry in North America, a few smuggled sheep had multiplied to about 100,000 by 1665. Massachusetts even passed a law requiring young people to spin and weave. Traditions and folklore grew with the industry. Spinning duties fell to the eldest unmarried daughter in the family, hence the term “spinster.” Spun yarn was wound on a reel (weasel) which made a popping sound when a given yardage was reached. "Pop goes the weasel!"

King George III of England made wool trading in the Colonies a punishable offense. Cutting off the offender’s right hand was the chosen punishment. This policy, together with other oppressive actions including the Stamp Act of 1765, which required that revenue stamps be affixed to all printed matter and official documents in the Colonies, helped incite the Revolutionary War.  Despite the King’s attempts to disrupt wool commerce, the wool industry flourished in America.

Both Washington and Jefferson maintained flocks of sheep; both were inaugurated in woolen suits. New inventions like the spinning jenny, combing machines and water-powered looms, expanded the industry rapidly. Sheep moved West with civilization and beyond; at the turn of the 18th century small flocks in the hands of pioneers started the industry in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. 

Australia and South Africa in particular became important in the supply of fine soft wool from the Merino sheep, a breed that could not survive in Britain, as was discovered in 1787 when several rams and 36 ewes, presented by the Spanish throne to George III, all failed to survive the cold, damp climate. The Merino is believed to have originated in North Africa around the eighth century AD. From there it was taken to Spain and, by the 1450s had become the basis of a flourishing wool industry.

The Australian Merino sheep produces fine soft wool for clothing.

Elsewhere in the world, production was also flourishing. Two rams and four ewes given by Spain to the Dutch in 1789 established the great South African production industry, which survives to this day. This stock provided the basis for the Australian industry whose sheep population exceeds 100 million, consisting mostly the fine-wool Merino breeds from the South African flock.

New Zealand, which has a climate more like that of Britain, has considerably fewer Merino flocks and specializes (like Britain) in Crossbred wools. These wools are coarser and more suitable for carpet. Considerable research in New Zealand has resulted in further development of breeds of particular fleece characteristics that will be discussed later.

New Zealand cross-bred wools are coarser and more suitable for carpet.

American wool has many uses. In addition to its well-known uses in clothing, fabrics, yarn, felt and carpet, American wool is used to make insulation, rug pads, baseballs and tennis balls.  Some of the major wool processors in the United States include Burlington, Pendleton, Forstmann and Chargeurs.

U.S. mills must purchase Australian and New Zealand wool in order to meet their wool needs.  Australia provides mostly finer wool, which is used in making apparel while New Zealand provides mostly coarser wool, which is used in making numerous industrial and home interior products. Although the United States buys Australian wool, it is not even in Australia's top 10 destinations.

China and Hong Kong are the largest wool buyers, regardless of where the wool is produced. Together, the two countries annually purchase approximately 20 percent of the world's wool clip. Italy is the second largest user of Australian wool, purchasing approximately half as much as Australia and New Zealand combined.

Down through the ages, two protein fibers had been used in carpet and rugs. They are wool and silk.  Wool dominates the carpet and rug market; however, silk has been used to a limited extent in carpet, and it is used as the primary fiber or accent fiber in many high-value rugs that are considered works of art.


Sheep are as versatile as the fiber they produce. All parts are used; they provide tender, delicious meat and wool is a renewable resource. Sheep thrive in all 50 states and most nations of the world, often in rough, barren ranges, or high altitudes where other animals cannot survive because of lack of vegetation. Sheep can survive and flourish on weeds and vegetation other animals will not eat, therefore they convert to protein a group of natural resources which would otherwise be wasted. Sheep fill our food and fiber needs today just as they have for centuries. 

Today, most wool used in clothing is produced in Australia from Merino sheep. Most wool used in carpet is produced in New Zealand from cross-bred sheep.

End notes:

1J Gordon Cook, Handbook of Textile Fibers I, Natural Fibers, Merrow Publishing Co Ltd, 1993.

2G Meadows, Sheep Breeds of New Zealand, Reed Books.

3The American Sheep Industry Association, Inc.

Module 2

Module 2 - Dye, Chemical and Spotting Definitions

"Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure." ~ Edward Thorndike

Having discussed terms related to wool fiber, and carpet and rug construction in Module 1, Module 2 contains chemical, and cleaning and spotting terminology.

absorbent - A material that draws liquid or gaseous substances into itself, usually from surfaces or from the air.  Absorbents are used in carpet cleaning, spotting, concrete cleaning, and spill control.

acetic acid - A volatile, colorless, pungent liquid acid (C2H4O2) that is the chief acid of white vinegar (5% acetic, pH 3) and is used in the synthesis of acetate fiber. Many acid spotters are comprised of 5-7% acetic acid.

acid – Any chemical that undergoes dissociation in water with the formation of hydrogen ions. Its properties include the ability to react with bases or alkalies to form "salts." Acids have a bitter or sour taste and may cause severe skin burns. Acids turn litmus (pH) paper light-green, to yellow, to red and have pH values that are less than seven (7) on the pH scale.

acid dyes – Negatively-charged coloring material used primarily on nylon and wool carpet fibers.

acid dye blocker- An anionic compound used to balance the cationic polarity of the amine groups at the ends of nylon polymers (to block open dye sites), thereby reducing or eliminating the affinity between the fiber and foreign acid dyestuffs that are commonly found in household foods and beverages.

alkali – Any soluble chemical substance that forms soluble soaps when mixed with fatty acids. Alkalis also are referred to as "bases," and they may cause severe skin burns.  Alkalis turn litmus paper light-green to dark-blue, and they have pH values that are above seven (7).

alkalinity - The property of water soluble substances that causes the concentration of hydroxyl ions (OH-) in waterbased solutions to be higher than the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). Soap is mildly alkaline and detergents may be formulated with any desired degree of alkalinity. “Alkaline” denotes values above seven (7) on the pH scale.

anionic surfactant - A surface active agent usually derived from reacting aliphatic hydrocarbons and alkalis to form a salt, and in which detergency and other properties depend in part on the negatively charged ion of the molecule. Anionic surfactants are sensitive to water hardness, and are particularly effective in emulsifying oily soils and in suspending particulates. Anionic surfactants are used widely in high-sudsing detergents.

antichlor - A chemical used to neutralize chlorine bleach; e.g., reducers such as sodium bisulfite or sodium hydrosulfite.

antistatic - Carpet treatment to reduce the effects of static electricity generated by walking across carpet.

benzoyl peroxide - A bleaching agent (C14H10O4) commonly used in acne medications, adult fade creams and other
cosmetics, which can progressively remove color from some fabrics. Its bleaching effect is often accelerated by moisture and heat.

bleeding - The migration or transfer of dyes within or from wet fabric, usually due to improper dyeing (fixing), from the use of poor dyestuffs, or from exposure to high-pH chemicals. Fabrics that bleed when wet may stain fabrics that come in contact with them; or color may be transferred from one portion of a multi-colored fabric to another.

buffer - Any substance in a solution that is capable of neutralizing both acids and bases, thereby maintaining the original pH of the solution when either acid or alkali is added.

carpet protector - Materials that enhance the performance of fibers or yarns, especially in the area of soil/stain retardancy/repellency.

cationic surfactant - A surface active agent in which detergency and other properties depend in part on the positively charged ion of the molecule. Cationic surfactants are marginal cleaners; but they have other properties that allow them to perform effectively as disinfectants, antimicrobials, antistatic compounds, etc.

chlorinated solvent - An organic, non-polar solvent that contains chlorine atoms (e.g., perchloroethylene, trichlorethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane).

cleaning - The purposeful activity of removing soil and undesired substances from an environment or surface to reduce damage or harm to human health or valuable materials. Cleaning is the process of locating, identifying, containing, removing and properly disposing of unwanted substances from an environment or material.

According to IICRC S-100 levels of cleaning include:
1. Preventative maintenance;
2. Appearance/interim cleaning, and
3. Restorative cleaning

defoamer - A liquid or powdered material (usually silicone based) that suppresses or inhibits the formation of foam during cleaning (especially hot water extraction).

discoloration – A condition in which color or dye structures have been altered or removed.

disperstat -A wool-specific antistatic treatment for carpets.

dry solvent – A non-water liquid (hydrocarbon) that has an ability to dissolve oils, greases, and other oily, tarry or waxy substances.

enzymes – A large class of complex protein molecules that encourage biochemical reactions (digestion). Amylase, lipase and protease enzymes are the type most frequently encountered in the textile cleaning industry, primarily as detergent additives, spotters or deodorants. Enzymes are most effective in neutral environments, at moderate temperatures, and after a dwell time in excess of twenty minutes to several hours.

fluorochemical soil/stain repellent - Fabric protectors that serve as soil retardants, and as water and oil-based stain repellents at the same time.

fading - Gradual, irreversible loss of color intensity, usually due to exposure to light (actinic radiation, especially direct sunlight); or from contact between dyes and various soils or oxidizing gases (ozone); or fumes from certain liquids (oxides of nitrogen, sodium hypochlorite), etc. Fading may occur locally or throughout a fabric, depending on exposure to outside agents and airflow.

fiber - A generic term for any natural or synthetic strand or filament that is strong enough to be used in thread or yarn in the manufacture of a textile product. Important properties of fibers include elasticity, fineness, uniformity, durability, soil resistance, and luster.

grooming - The process of pile setting following cleaningand additive (fabric protector) application, using a shag rake, carpet comb, brush, or groomer.

hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) – A clear, colorless oxidizing liquid. Used as an antiseptic, bleaching agent, oxidizing agent, and laboratory reagent. Normally peroxide is used in a three percent (3%) solution primarily for spotting and browning correction. In solutions of 3% or greater, hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant.

lignin - A reddish-brown binding gum forming, and cementing together the cell walls of cellulose comprising jute, linen, or cotton fiber. Lignin is easily dissolved in the prolonged presence of alkaline cleaning solutions.  Lignin comprises about 1% of fully processed cotton fiber and about 24% of jute fiber.

matting - Entangling and compression of yarns or fibers after a period of use, which produces a flat and distorted appearance of carpet pile. Usually matting is most apparent in entry, pivot, and high-traffic areas.

mystery spots - Spots that have no obvious point of origin. If the spot appears in a pattern during or immediately following installation, it may be manufacturer related. Spots and discolorations appearing days or weeks after installation in a random pattern, generally are use or maintenance related.

non-volatile dry solvent (NVDS) - A spotting compound that may contain aromatic and chlorinated solvents, alcohols, amyl acetate, and fatty acids (oleic), and used in removing heavy oils and greases, or paints, lacquers, varnishes, and synthetic resins.

neutral cleaner - A cleaning agent having a pH of 7 and which is, therefore, neither acid nor alkaline. In a less technical sense, a "neutral" cleaner has a pH between 6 and 8.

neutralize - To eliminate potential hazards by inactivating strong acids, caustics, and oxidizers. For example, acid spills can be neutralized by adding an appropriate amount of caustic substance to the spill. A neutralizer is a chemical used to bring the pH of a textile or surface to approximately 7.

oxalic acid - An organic acid (C2H2O4) primarily used in the cleaning industry for rust removal. An 8% oxalic acid solution has replaced the more aggressive (and dangerous) hydrofluoric acid rust remover (HF).

oxidation - A chemical reaction involving the combining with oxygen atoms or molecules containing oxygen. Oxidation is the principle behind the degradation of natural substances over time (i.e., latex adhesives), the effect of oxygen bleach (NaClO, H2O2) on dyes, or of ozone gas (O3) on organic odors.

pH - The negative logarithm of the concentration of hydroxyl ions in a water-based solution that is used as an indication of relative acidity or alkalinity. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH from 7-14 is alkaline, and from 0-7 is acidic. Each whole number on the pH scale represents a 10 fold change in the acidity or alkalinity of a solution.

photo bleaching - Exposure to light in the visible or near visible region of the spectrum (blue and violet light - not ultraviolet) which can result in the natural yellow color component of wool being bleached. This becomes apparent when a protected area is uncovered, such as under furniture. Exposing these areas to this light range will ultimately cause the yellow to disappear. Mostly a problem with wool carpet or rugs in light and pastel colors during the first six months after manufacturer.

pooling - One of several terms used to describe carpet pile distortion. Originally, "pooling" described characteristic oval or round distorted areas in wool pile carpet (primarily in entry and high traffic or pivot areas) in which yarns were "splayed out" in circular or oval patterns, causing a change in light reflection; however, the term has evolved to include virtually any form of pile distortion on any carpet.

reducing agent - In a reduction reaction, the reducing agent is the chemical or substance that: (1) combines with oxygen, and (2) loses electrons in the reaction. In the context of cleaning, reducing agents are used in spotting (color-added stains), or as an antichlor (neutralizer) for chlorine bleach (spot dyeing, upholstery stain removal). Common reducing agents encountered in cleaning are sodium bisulfite and sodium hydrosulfite.

silicone-based stain repellant - A silicone based fabric protector, usually suspended in a dry solvent solution, that lowers the surface tension of a fabric to enable it to repel water-based staining materials. Silicone stain repellents do not retard dry particle soiling and void many carpet manufacturers' warranties due to soil attraction.

sodium hypochlorite (NaClO) – The chemical name for chlorine bleach.

spot – The result of a material adding substance or texture to a fabric or surface. The terms spot, stain and discoloration (color loss) often are used interchangeably in a non-technical context.

stain – The result of a material adding color (without texture) to a fabric or surface. In a non-technical context, the term "stain" is often applied to discolorations, or color removal from fabrics, as well. Stains (added color) may be left after removing spots.


You must answer the following question(s) to pass this section. Please select the answer that you think is correct and click  next (Submit) to receive the feedback. Please choose your answer carefully, since you cannot attempt a question again within 2 hours of an attempt:

Module 1 - Natural Fiber and Related Definitions

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.~ Rudyard Kipling

This on-line training course assumes that the student has reached a reasonably high level of competence and experience in cleaning carpet and other fine fabrics. It is also intended to be an essential reference and resource for those who are concerned with maintaining residential (domestic) or commercial (contract) wool carpet and rugs, whether they become a WoolSafe-Approved Fiber Care Specialist or not.

There is no special mystique involved in cleaning wool carpet or rugs although there is an understandable reluctance among those who are not very familiar with wool fiber. After all, wool carpet often is the most expensive, and hand-knotted Oriental, flatweaves and other fine woven rugs can be extremely expensive. However, provided that some simple rules are observed, there is little difference between cleaning carpet or rugs made of wool and with any other fiber.

This on-line course has been prepared assuming that sound technical training such as IICRC-approved (Clean Trust) Carpet Cleaning Technician, Commercial Carpet Maintenance Technician, Rug Cleaning Technician or similar courses and experience has already been obtained by the cleaner. Such knowledge ensures not only that the best possible service is provided to customers, but it also provides a means of promoting one's own skill to potential clients, in contrast to the lack of skill displayed by those without the necessary training, expertise and experience.

With this objective in mind, this course initially follows wool fiber from fleece, to yarn, to carpet, and therefore, it describes aspects of textile processing and carpet manufacture. Initial processing and carpet or rug construction is followed by basic issues concerned with actual cleaning. These aspects of what are essentially textile technology, determine the ways in which wool carpet and rugs should be maintained and cleaned.

Before anyone can hold a comprehensive discussion about wool carpet maintenance, cleaning and spotting alternatives, it first is necessary to understand a few terms that are used throughout this course. Definitions that follow are taken from several sources including the WoolSafe Compendium, Glossary of Wool Terms - Colorado State Extension Service, the IICRC S100, IICRC S300 and the Cleaning, Restoration, Inspection and Safety (CRIS) Glossary by Clean Care Seminars, Inc.

Read more: Module 1 - Natural Fiber and Related Definitions


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