Whether you like snuggle into soft sweaters or strike a dashing pose in a bespoke suit, chances are you enjoy wearing wool fabric! This incredibly diverse material comes from the hair or fur of many animals, including rabbits and goats. Check out this complete guide to learn all about different types of wool fabric.
Wool fabric contains animal hair or fur spun into yarns with soft texture. Wool fabric comes from many animals, including sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, and rabbits. After spinning the animal hair into yarns, the type of weave used can turn wool into dozens of different types of cloth, such as tweed or gabardine.
In this article, you will learn the key characteristics of wool fabric. You will discover 40 different types of wool fabric. Finally, you will find out what kind of wool is the most expensive, the softest, and the finest!
What is Wool Fabric?
Wool fabric comes from protein-based animal fleeces, including sheep, goats, alpacas, and rabbits. Any fabric that uses animal hair fibers falls into the “wool” category. No matter what animal the fibers come from, wool is always made out of keratin, the same stuff contained in human hair.
Wool Fabric Characteristics
You may think of wool as a warm sweater material, but it has many stellar characteristics!
- As its most famous characteristic, wool has excellent insulating properties. This is because its fibers have a naturally crimped shape that allows them to trap heat. Some types of wool, such as rabbit wool, also contain hollow cores that become tiny heat bubbles when you wear the fabric close to your skin.
- Wool fibers also have tiny scales across the surface, though. Too much friction can cause the cloth to become matted and felted. Because of this, you often need to dry clean wool garments.
- Wool can naturally repel water because it contains about 97% protein. Sheep’s wool has extra water resistance because it also contains a substance called lanolin that acts as a protective, weather-resistant coating.
- Wool provides a breathable structure that keeps you warm without feeling stifling. The shape of the proteins in the fibers allows air to move through the fabric much more easily than it can through a synthetic fabric.
- Wool can naturally resist odors such as body odor, which makes it a good choice for outdoor wear, such as hiking socks.
- Believe it or not, wool fibers rival silk fibers for tensile strength! Depending on the type of weave, wool fabrics can have remarkable strength and durability.
Uses of Wool Fabric
Some of the most popular uses of wool fabric include coats, sweaters, and suits. Different types of fabric work better for specific types of apparel. For example, midweight kinds such as serge and gabardine work well for tailored suits, while heavy-weight tweeds work well for sports coats and outerwear.
40 Different Types of Wool Fabric
You can find more than 40 different types of wool fabric available today. One big difference in the types of wool fabrics is the type of animal the fibers come from, such as sheep or a goat. Another difference lies in the weaving or knitting methods used to create the fabric.
The three most commonly used types of wool fabric come from sheep, a special breed of sheep called Merino sheep, and cashmere goats. But as you will soon see, you can get lots of rare and interesting types of wool, such as fabric from Angora rabbits, and much more!
The most obvious way to classify types of wool is to divide them based on the kind of animal the fibers come from.
SheepWhen you think of wool, fleecy lambs bounding across green grass probably spring to mind first. This makes sense, as most of all wool products contain sheep wool. Because of its easy availability, this wool costs the least, though it remains pricier than synthetic cloth such as polyester.
Sheep’s wool provides a great deal of insulation, good water resistance, and–depending on how it is produced–usually feels soft and comfortable.
Lamb’s WoolLamb’s wool is a kind of sheep’s wool, but this subset describes the first shearing of a young sheep, usually around seven months old. Technically, the individual hairs in the fleece must measure less than 50 millimeters to fall into this category as well.
This wool has a softer, springier texture than average sheep’s wool and often sells for a higher price.
Merino WoolMerino wool also comes from sheep, but in this case, this semi-luxury material comes exclusively from a special breed of Spanish sheep that produces thin hairs.
The finer texture of the merino fibers means that this wool has a lighter, softer, and silkier feel.
Merino is not the rarest or most expensive wool in the world, but it is a luxury good and comes with a high price tag!
CashmereCashmere wool comes from a special breed of goats originally found only in the Himalayan mountains.
Cashmere or Kashmir goats have an incredibly soft undercoat of fine, silky hairs that goat herders obtain by hand-combing the goats. Cashmere fabric is even softer than merino wool, though less durable.
Authentic cashmere is a luxury item that costs a lot. You see it used primarily in high-end sweaters and in pricey suit coats.
MohairMohair wool fabric comes from goats but from a unique breed called Angora goats with a particularly fluffy and soft fleece. This type of wool is still a luxury item but has more durability and resists shrinking better than softer versions of luxury wool like cashmere.
Traditionally, Angora goats come from South Africa, but today they live around the globe, including in the United States.
Llamas come from the same animal family as camels, known as camelids. Traditionally they come from South America.
The wool from these adorable animals contains a hollow core, which makes llama fur insulating. However, it does not have the same level of softness as wool that comes from its cousin, the alpaca.
AlpacaAlpaca wool comes from another species of South American camelid, but these animals have a smaller size and softer fur than llamas. Alpaca wool traditionally comes from Peru, though these days, you can find alpaca farms all around the world. The wool has a famously light and silky feel.
Besides its softness and warmth, some people prefer llama or alpaca wool over sheep wool because camelid fleece does not contain lanolin like sheep wool. Lanolin provides some water resistance but can also cause allergic reactions in some people.
VicunaVicunas also come from the camelid family and live primarily in wild, mountainous sections of the Andes. This rare animal produces some of the most expensive and rare wool fabric in the world! Vicunas look like llamas or alpacas but have a thinner, more deer-like overall shape.
Vicuna wool is the most expensive kind of wool globally because of its rarity and extreme softness. Today, only about 200,000 vicunas still exist, and there are strict limits on the amount of wool people can collect because of that. A garment made out of vicuna wool often costs five to eight times as much as a similar garment made out of merino wool, to give you a comparison point!
CamelCamel wool comes from camels and has a light and shiny texture. While not as soft as other kinds of wool, this fabric traditionally makes high-end coats or suit jackets. Camel wool is warm and weather resistant like sheep wool, making it a good choice for outerwear.
Not to be confused with the Angora goat, Angora fabric comes from a long-haired breed of rabbits. Rabbit wool does not contain lanolin, making it less likely to spark an allergic reaction. It also has an incredible softness and a silky feel.
Despite its fine texture, angora fabric provides amazing insulation because each fiber has a tiny, hollow core. This traps warm air and keeps you even warmer than sheep wool!
By Fabric Weave
The method used to process wool into yarn and the weaving or knitting pattern used to create the finished cloth can also define many different types of wool fabric. The kind of pattern used to put threads together is the key distinction that describes the differences in most kinds of material.
Before wool is woven or knitted into cloth, it goes through two different types of yarn production. Wool yarns can fall into either the woolen or worsted category. Worsted yarn gets combed smooth and silky before it is spun into long, fine threads. Woolen yarn does not get combed and has a springier, less smooth texture once spun into yarns.
This means that wool fabric can also have key differences depending on whether it uses woolen or worsted yarns in its weave.
This alphabetical list gives you a comprehensive overview of types of wool based on fabric construction.
BaratheaWool barathea uses a hopsack weave, which means that two warp and weft threads cross each other at a time, forming a slanted, slightly pebbled surface.
This unique type of twill weave often blends wool fibers with a small percentage of silk to create a light, distinctive, suiting material.
BasketweaveBasketweave wool fabric uses a plain weave method of yarns that cross over and under each other, but it has one key difference: it uses double warp threads, which create a raised texture that looks like a woven basket. The texture gives this material a rich sheen.
Basketweave wool is used primarily in high-end suits, though its cost also depends on the animal the fibers come from.
Boiled WoolBoiled wool has a compact surface that provides more weather resistance than most types of wool cloth. You see it used in hats, scarves, and coats. It goes through a loom knitting process and an intense dip in boiling water that causes the tiny scales on the wool fibers to lock together, forming a tighter and more compacted surface.
Boiled wool has some similarities to felt, but you can still see the individual yarns in boiled wool fabric instead of the flat, fuzzy surface of the felt.
Boucle WoolBoucle wool contains a special type of loose, looped yarn called boucle yarn. This creates an airy, loosely woven kind of material often used over a lining for dresses and skirts.
The word “boucle” means loop in French, which is why this distinctive fabric gets its name!
Challis is a plain weave form of wool that uses fine worsted yarns, often blended with silk fibers, to form a light, matte fabric perfect for shirts or dresses. This material had more popularity in the days before synthetic fabric emerged, but you can still find it in some high-end brands today.
CrepeCrepe fabric has a wrinkled surface formed by using a twisted weft thread within a plain weave structure. You can find many different types of crepe fabric, but wool crepe, in particular, has a rather wiry, slightly wrinkled surface.
It makes an interesting type of suiting fabric, though you can also find it used in dresses and skirts.
Usually, it has a lightweight weave that makes it better suited to shirts and jackets than pants.
Delaine fabric traditionally combined a cotton warp yarn with a wool weft yarn to form a sleek dress material. Today, “delaine” more often means any plain-weave wool that uses fine, combed yarns. This makes a type of compact wool that drapes well and still works very well for dresses and jackets.
DonegalDonegal is a special tweed pattern originating from, and produced in, Donegal County Ireland.
This pattern has a distinctive coloring effect because it uses two colors of wool for the warp and weft threads and also intersperses small scraps of yarn in a third shade to form a heathered design.
Donegal tweed is used in hats, scarves, jackets, and vests.
FeltWool felt contains layers of fibers that stick to each other because of heat and agitation that cause all the scales on the fibers to lock onto each other.
Unlike boiled wool, wool felt does not go through a knitting or weaving process–it does not become cloth before the felting process takes place. It forms a thick, compact, sturdy type of cloth often used for coats and jackets.
FlannelWool flannel typically contains worsted yarns in a twill or plain weave structure, with napping on one or both sides of the material.
The napping process involves using a scraping tool such as metal brushes to abrade the surface of the finished cloth, which causes tiny fibers to break free and form a soft fuzz on the surface of the cloth.
Wool flannel costs much more than polyester flannel or cotton flannel, but it has a unique softness and provides much more insulation. You see this fabric primarily in certain types of suites.
Wool gabardine is a kind of suiting fabric that uses a warp-facing twill weave. This gives the pattern a diagonal appearance and forms slightly raised ribs on the outer side of the material as well. It has a compact structure because it uses worsted, or combed, wool.
Wool gauze has an open weave, meaning that the warp threads never touch, creating open gaps in the fabric’s structure. This is a lovely, airy material that works best in draped shirts or light sweaters.
HerringboneHerringbone fabric is one of the most popular types of tweed patterns.
It uses a broken twill weave that forms a distinctive “v” shape by alternating the direction of the diagonal lines in the pattern.
The V-shaped design looks kind of like the skeleton of a fish, which is how it got its name!
HarrisHarris tweed wool comes only from the Outer Hebrides and features virgin or lamb’s wool handwoven in a tweed pattern.
Because of its particular location-based nature, this fabric costs a lot and is seen as a luxury good.
Houndstooth is another type of tweed characterized by a unique checked design in the fabric. The famous pattern of checks with notched edges that look like teeth comes from weaving together warp threads in rows of four dark and then four light threads, crossed by weft threads in rows of four dark ad then four light threads in a twill weave structure.
Melton wool has a tough, warm texture caused by exposing heavy twill-weave wool to a napping process. It looks similar to boiled wool but is more suitable for warm coats. Traditionally, it came from a town called Melton Mowbray.
Prince of Wales
Prince of Wales tweed is another type of checked fabric with large stripes of color crisscrossing each other to form distinctive squares. Originally known as Glen Plaid, the fabric got its name when Edward VII made it popular during his tenure as the Prince of Wales.
Serge has a sturdy twill weave featuring a diagonal pattern on both sides of the fabric. It is one of the types of cloth traditionally used in uniforms before the invention of synthetics, but it remains popular for suits and coats today because it has a silky feel but excellent durability.
Sharkskin is one of the finest and most high-end types of wool suiting fabrics. It features two shades of thread, often black and white, woven in a diagonal twill weave design to form a sleek grey surface. This material also uses fine worsted yarns for an extra silky texture.
Suiting wool describes a wide spectrum of light or midweight wool fabrics used to make suit jackets, blazers, and sports coats. Wool suiting can also come from pretty much any wool fiber type, though you do see sheep’s wool used most often.
Wool has a softness, drape, and breathability, making it the most popular type of natural fabric used in suits.
While many types of wool fabric have a bit of natural stretch in them, modern manufacturers have also created a special type of cloth that contains a small fraction of elastane fibers. This type of wool can conform to the shape of your body, just like skinny jeans can stretch a bit because of the elastic fibers woven into the denim!
Tartan describes a specific plaid design associated with a Scottish clan. These patterns have a long history and often feature several colors in crisscrossing rows and squares. Tartan wool almost always uses a twill weave, technically falling into the tweed category.
Tattersall or tattersall check wool fabric has a fine pattern consisting of narrow lines in two different colors crossing each other at even intervals. This creates the appearance of tiny squares laid out on a white background. The name comes from the famous Tattersall horse market because horse sellers used blankets featuring the checked pattern.
Tweed fabric uses rougher woolen yarns in a variety of thick twill weaves. It can feature designs like herringbone, houndstooth, or harris. It usually has a rougher, thicker feel than other types of wool fabric and works well for lined coats. Traditionally, tweed served as outerwear for farmers and then for sporting jackets for the wealthy.
Venetian wool is a super-luxurious type of fabric made out of fine worsted wool in a satin weave pattern. A satin weave places three, four, or more weft yarns floating over each warp yarn, which creates a smooth, shiny, and very soft surface. This high-end wool is used mostly for expensive suits.
Wool voile has a soft, lightweight texture and a semi-sheer appearance. While less popular than its cousin cotton voile, it makes lovely summery blouses and dresses. It features a plain weave using a high thread count and fine yarns.
Wool batting is a layer of stuffing used between the top and bottom of a quilt. It is made by bonding wool fibers together using either heat or a type of chemical. It creates a sturdy, easily sewable layer of filling that will not shrink. Wool batting costs more than cotton batting but provides extra warmth and breathability.
Before cotton jersey knit dominated the market in t-shirt form, jersey fabric always featured wool! Wool jersey knit contains a unique knitted structure of looped yarns that gives it more stretch and flexibility than woven fabrics. Today, you still see wool jersey cloth in various garments like cardigans or sweaters.
Woolen describes a method of yarn production that spins uncombed wool fibers into long strands of thread. This produces a rougher, more textured type of cloth. It is popular in tweeds and used for other types of wool cloth, such as boiled wool. However, most suiting or apparel fabrics use worsted wool instead.
Worsted wool means wool yarns made out of combed wool fibers. This creates silkier, smoother threads that, in turn, form a softer and smoothly textured fabric. Most apparel wool, such as suiting or wool used in dresses or sweaters, will contain worsted wool.
One easy way to keep straight the difference between woolen and worsted is to remember that worsted wool does not mean “worse quality.” Instead, it means smoother, finer yarns!
What is Lightweight Wool Called?
Lightweight wool comes in various types, including challis, gauze, voile, and Venetian wool. The lightest weight type of wool fiber comes from Angora rabbits. Cashmere and Vicuna wool also have a light, silky texture that can create lightweight wool depending on the weave used.
What is the Finest Wool Fabric?
The finest wool fabrics include Angora, Vicuna, Merino, and cashmere. The fineness or thinness of a wool fiber is described in terms of microns, a tiny unit of measurement that tells you the diameter of an individual animal hair.
- Merino wool hairs have a diameter measuring 20 microns or less.
- Cashmere wool has to have a diameter of fewer than 19 microns.
- Angora rabbit fibers range in diameter from 12 to 16 microns.
- Vicuna wool fibers have an average diameter of just 12.5 microns!
What is the Softest Wool?
Vicuna wool is both the finest and softest wool fiber in the world. You will find much disagreement over what luxury wool has the softest hand or texture. Vicuna always ranks highly, but so do alpaca wool, Angora rabbit wool, and cashmere.
Merino wool is a luxury item, forming only about 1% of all sheep wool sold yearly, but it is not as soft as wool from other animals like alpacas.
What is the Most Expensive Wool?
Vicuna wool is the most expensive in the world, sometimes selling for as much as $3,000 per yard. This is due partly to its high quality but mostly to its extreme rarity.
Almost every type of wool aside from regular sheep’s wool can be considered a luxury fabric, though. Alpaca wool costs quite a lot, as does angora rabbit or camel hair wool. An angora rabbit sweater will easily cost at least $300, for example, while a similar acrylic sweater will cost less than $30.
How Many Types of Woolen Are There?
You can argue that there are ten different types of woolen fabrics, or over forty depending on how you define the different types of fabric. This is because you can classify different types of wool based on the animal the fibers come from or by the production method used to make the cloth.
Wool can come from ten different animals, including sheep, goats, rabbits, and camels. After that, fabric manufacturers can weave or knit the wool yarns into a wide variety of unique styles of cloth, such as tweed, suiting, or felt.
Which Quality of Wool is Best?
Determining which quality of wool is best depends on whether you want the softest, strongest, or warmest type of wool cloth.
- Vicuna is the finest and most expensive type of wool in the world.
- Merino is the softest type of sheep’s wool, also known for its strength.
- Alpaca wool has fine fibers with hollow cores that provide extra insulation.
- Angora rabbit wool has a very fine, silky texture and also has hollow-core fibers for more warmth.
- Regular sheep’s wool provides great water resistance and a durable surface that will last a long time.
Wool fabric is one of the softest, warmest, and most breathable kinds of cloth in the world. It comes from protein-based animal fibers such as the fleece of sheep, goats, and alpacas. It can come in various types and styles depending on the animal it comes from and the structure of the weave.
Luxury wool comes from expensive animal fibers like Vicuna, Angora rabbit, or Cashmere goats. Sheep wool can also have varying levels of quality, such as lamb’s wool, which has a softer texture, or merino wool, which comes from a rare breed of Spanish sheep.