Did You know about the History of Wool?

The shorn hair of sheep has probably been known as a textile material since the Bronze Age. Among the Egyptians, wool manufacture was already practiced on a large scale.

The Wool Sheep

The wool sheep as we know it today descends from wild sheep, the so-called mouflon. The wild sheep had only very little wool. In spring, it threw off this wool completely. Only when man began to keep sheep about 10,000 years ago, the wool sheep slowly developed.

Sheep are one of the oldest farm animals. Sheep are very social animals and relatively undemanding in attitude. They look for their food on their own and need relatively little care from humans.

Since the domesticated animals reproduced in the human environment, gradually changed the nature of your hair. The long coarse upper hairs were overgrown by the ever longer and denser becoming under-hair.

With the further breeding of the ever-lengthening undercoat, its color also changed. Sheep were no longer just brown. The hair also got lighter and darker tones, from white, light reddish to black. The coat of these new wool sheep consisted mainly of the undercoat, the soft insulating fleece with very fine fibers.

With the color and shape of the wool, the natural hair change that took place annually in the spring was bred away – since then, the sheep must be shorn!

European Mouflon
European Mouflon

History of Wool - Beginnings of the usage wool

The oldest area of wool use is considered to be the Near East. Since the 4th millennium B.C., there is increasing evidence for wool sheep’s presence, especially in Mesopotamian images.

Much older, however, is a clay figurine from Tepe Sarab representing a sheep in western Iran, but its interpretation as a wool sheep is disputed.

It seems, however, that only in the course of the 6th and 5th Pre-Christian millennium a fleece developed due to breeding, and for a long time, hair and wool sheep still existed side by side. 1

Already in the 4th millennium B.C. – the wool use of sheep was known far outside Mesopotamia – as textile remains from the cave of Nahal Mishmar in Palestine prove.

Sumerian documents of the 3rd millennium B.C. list wool and milk as the essential products of sheep farming.

History of Sheep Breeds | Linessa Farms

From the areas of origin in the Near East, wool technology also spread further into Asia and eastern Africa. Iran and Egypt, in particular, were reached by the new technology soon after its first appearance in the Near East.

In Egypt, wool-bearing sheep occur from the Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1782 BC) onwards.

Egyptians kept sheep for their meat, milk and wool. Flocks of sheep were also used to trample newly sown seeds into the ground.

Rams, considered a symbol of fertility, were associated with various gods, especially Khnum, a creator god, and Amun, the great god of Thebes. Ram-headed sphinxes flank the entrance to the temple of Amun at Thebes.

Wool and linen were still the two main textile fibers available to the people of Egypt in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods (third to seventh centuries A.D.)

Alley of the ram-headed Sphinxes. Karnak Temple. Luxor, Egypt.
Alley of the Ram-Headed Sphinxes. Karnak Temple. Luxor, Egypt.

History of Wool - Emergence of a wool industry in Europe

As early as 2000 BC, wool was definitely one of the world’s most important textile fibers. In Europe, an artisanal wool industry developed from the 13th century.

Spain finally became the center of sheep breeding. Always with the purpose of achieving the best quality wool. For a long time, only Spain was allowed to produce the fine merino wool. The export of merino sheep was forbidden until the 18th century under the threat of death. However, this monopoly could not be maintained. So the Spanish king finally allowed the sale of Merino Sheep – after that, the Merino sheep spread all over the world.

Spain and England earned a lot of money through the production and processing of wool, which is why the wool was also called golden fleece!

Until the 19th century, wool was a precious material and wearing wool clothing was a privilege of wealthy citizens.

Only since sheep’s wool was imported to Europe from Australia and New Zealand and became available in sufficient quantities- the warming material was affordable for the rest of the population.

In the 19th century, cotton became competitive, and the invention of synthetic fibers made it possible to produce clothing more and more cheaply.

Today, Australia and China are the largest producers of wool.

For thousands of years, wool was an expensive and sought-after raw material, even though wool jackets, sweaters and scarves are currently in fashion again. Wool has largely been replaced by cotton or synthetic fibers.

However, more awareness about a sustainable lifestyle, also regarding the production of clothing, could give wool a further upward trend.

A Brief History of Wool Textiles | IWTOCHANNEL

Problem 3: The issue of fast fashion.

Fast fashion is a concept that sounded great at the time but has become highly dangerous. The idea here is that younger generations get through clothing at a faster rate than ever before.

It all comes back to that notion of increased supply from the wide-scale manufacture of synthetic items. There is a long-term notion that we need something new for each season, or just whenever we feel like it.

Clothing brands need to compete for sales with a wider range and become wasteful. Good items end up on landfill when they are simply out of fashion or don’t sell. Or, the garments simply don’t last long enough and are thrown out and replaced.

Do the benefits of wool outweigh the disadvantages?

There are solutions to some of these issues. We can reduce air miles by making the most of locally reared sheep and wool products within a local economy. We can also pledge to regulate the welfare standard on these farms to deal with any concerns about the treatment of the animals.

This could be more than enough to convince most animal lovers that the wool is ethical and a great way to celebrate the sheep. Hard-line vegans that are adamant about all animal products may be harder to convince.

Is there the possibility of converting the younger generations into wool advocates?

There are some clear pros and cons here in the use of wool and sustainable fashion. While there are lots of reasons for the average consumer to look into choosing long-lasting, ethically sourced wool, some younger buyers may need more convincing.

The stumbling block is the issue of veganism and animal welfare. If some passionate Gen-Z consumers aren’t convinced that the product is ethical, they won’t make the switch. The fight becomes an issue between sustainability in fashion and ethical production of sustainable materials.

Once consumers can be sure of a 100% ethical and sustainable wool garment, made to last, and fashionable, wool has a chance to be a big player in the sustainable fashion world.

Sustainable living girl

Wool has the potential to be a game-changer in the fashion world.

Right now, this desire to decrease synthetic textile production and turn to wool is still a big ask. The younger generations may be the last to use natural wool in fashion as they struggle with some of the implications.

Others may just be too hooked on fast fashion to change. Yet, some are more inclined to find quality items that will last. There are certainly enough benefits in using wool to make it a great choice for a more sustainable fashion industry.

There is no need for things to continue the way they are, but we just need a change in consumer spending and attitude to relay that message to fashion brands.

What is your opinion about the role of wool garments in a Sustainable Fashion Industry? Feel free to leave us a comment!

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  1. Ensminger, M. E.; R. O. Parker (1986). Sheep and Goat Science, Fifth Edition. Danville, Illinois: The Interstate Printers and Publishers Inc. ISBN 0-8134-2464-X.