Wool is a protein, a sheep’s hair. It looks very much like your hair, with overlapping cuticles that hold on to one another when it is fulled or felted.
The huge variety of wool resources tends to focus on agriculture and industry. Let’s skip most of those. The American Wool Council has several PDF documents with basic wool info. Or, you may want to pick through assorted links of various aspects of wool. If you have a shelf full of old National Geographic magazines, look for the 1988 history of wool.
Fuzbaby wool resources:
Wool for Children
Carding, spinning, weaving or felting and fulling are great ways to help kids understand properties of wool. American Sheep Industry Association has a “For Kids” section with basic information and activities. (Requires an awkward download.) There are quite a few good sources of wool information and curriculum for children, from agriculture to fiber to dye to fabric. In-Touch Science is a program sponsored by Cornell University and the National Science Foundation. One of their publications, ITS: Fibers and Animals, has ten activities for grades 3-5 to show how science concepts relate to fibers used for textiles and animals. Addresses microstructures and includes wool felting activity. Gardening Know How has simple plant dye activities for children that can be used with wool.
Melanie Falick’s Kids Knitting is a useful favorite for helping children learn to knit with projects they can use.
If you want to help children back up and see sheep and wool in context, a 17-minute video history of wool is available from Utah Agriculture in the Classroom, “Fiber to Fabric,” for grades 3-11.
Why Choose Wool for Babies and Children?
Wool keeps sheep dry. Why? Wool’s structure produces an elegant combination of water repellency, breathability and moisture absorbency.
At a microscopic level wool consists of a series of overlapping scales (called cuticles) which have a tendency to repel water droplets. This structure, in combination with a thin coating of lanolin (an oil secreted from the sheep’s skin) causes water to run off the fibers. (The duck’s back effect is also a sheep’s back effect.) Natural water repulsion makes wool a good candidate for a diaper cover.
Why is wool a sustainable choice? Farmers shear wool, and sheep keep growing wool.
How about organic wool? Wool can be grown and processed organically. That is not to say that all sheep are grown sustainably or that all wool is processed sustainably. On the contrary, in the past it has been difficult to find wool that is BOTH grown and processed organically. Notice when you buy organic wool, if the label is very specific: “Organically grown,” this may mean the wool is not organically processed. Despite all good intentions, sheep in certain areas would die without certain treatments for parasites (in some geographical areas the parasites are inside; in some areas they are outside). Such treatment disqualifies wool from most organic certification. As organic certification strays further from the intentions of ethical and sustainable food and fiber, we have been less attached to “organic” and more focused on sustainable.
Sustainable Made in USA wool. Have you noticed wool used more as a performance fiber recently? The higher consumer demand and greater willingness within the outdoor and other industries to seek out U.S. sources of wool means more U.S. wool sourced ethically from more U.S. sheep. From Outside Online Magazine: “This is a major change from a decade ago. In 2007, the American Sheep Industry Association reported that 71 percent of U.S. wool was exported. Today only half is.” We started Fuzbaby before the great export of American wool, and we are incredibly happy to see the resurgence now as more manufacturers and consumers recognize wool as a performance fiber. More at: “Your Gear Is Saving American Wool Ranchers,” 7 February 2017.
Wool remains the best choice for diaper covers, changing mats, and even clothing because of its performance.
For more wool science for diapering parents, see our article, “Why Use Wool for Diaper Covers?”