Australia's Sheep-Cooperative Research Center (SheepCRC) was formed as an independent research body funded mainly by the Australian government and not-for-profit industry partners to support wool and lamb marketing efforts.
Over the last seven years, research to increase wool's market share through the development of a total quality system for wool knitwear that allows manufacturers to produce next-to-skin wear garments in wool with superior comfort and handle has been ongoing.
As a result of this research, two machines were developed that can assess fabric hand and comfort properties. Seven prototype instruments have been made. Global meetings to present the findings and to demonstrate the functionality of the machines are being conducted. Parvez Mehta, Ph.D., wool research consultant for the American Sheep Industry Association, attended the New York City meeting on Sept. 26 and submitted the following information.
The two machines developed are a fabric handle meter and a fabric comfort meter. The equipment usage and the interpretation of the results are based on algorithms especially developed for lightweight next-to-skin knitted fabric and knitwear.
Two trials, one in Melbourne, Australia, and one in JinAo Province, China, are expected to be completed at the end of 2013 with the commercialization plan finalized in the first quarter of 2014. The objective is to bring awareness to key retailers and knitters in developed markets, such as the United States and Europe.
The wool handle meter condensed more than 90 descriptors specifying fabric hand into seven measurable descriptors being rough-smooth, clean-hairy, hard-soft, tight-loose, heavy-light, warm-cool and greasy-dry.
The fabric is placed on a circular plate and a transducer anvil is pushed through a calibrated hole in the center of the plate. The force-displacement curve that is produced is then interpreted into the seven descriptors.
The comfort meter is calibrated when a thin metal wire rests on the fabric surface under a very light load (2gm) and traverses across the fabric surface. The force exerted on the wire by the protruding surface fiber-ends is evaluated.
"One interesting conclusion of this study," according to Mehta, "indicated that the previously held view of next-to-skin wearability being 'less than 5 percent of fibers coarser than 30 micron' is not valid."
The prickle factor is purely dependent on mean-fiber diameter and on the environment temperature. For example, a 19.5 micron wool jersey that is rated as prickle free by 95 percent of wearers in a cool environment will be judged prickle free by only 60 percent of the wearers in a warm environment. For all environmental conditions, 16.5 micron wool is needed to be totally prickle free while 18.5 micron will be acceptable for 80 percent of the wearers in a warm environment.
Mehta continued by saying, "Another interesting observation was that there was no co-relationship between softness of fabric hand and prickle rating."
The equipment will continue to be manufactured in Australia, but will be available for purchase through a not-yet-approved distributor. Although no price has been determined, it is anticipated that the machines will be on the market by the middle of 2014.