(Nov. 1, 2012) “I could not believe how many changes wool goes through to make fabric.”  

“I didn’t realize the effects that contamination, poly and black fibers, had on wool processing costs – that it was the last thing to be removed and very costly at the completed fabric stage.” 

“I am most impressed with the intricate details involved in producing a consistent end product – from fiber manipulation to the wide variety of regional wool differences and how each type are utilized into fiber products.”  

“My shearing crew can make some minor changes to help remove things that contaminate wool, increase wool values to the grower while reducing costs for processors of wool.”   

These were a few of the comments made by 10 wool shearers and wool handlers who recently visited the Chargeurs top making facility in Jamestown, S.C., and International Textile Group’s fabric making plant in Raeford, N.C. The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)-sponsored mill tours began educating classers in the early 1990s and now have expanded to wool handlers and shearers. The goal has always been to educate the wool-harvesting community about wool-processing issues directly affected by shearing, wool handling and packaging at the shearing site.  

Peter Orwick, ASI executive director, and Ron Cole, ASI wool education consultant, led the group on this year’s tour. ASI Wool Quality Improvement Programs were a major focus of the tour which includes the responsibilities of the producer, shearer, handler, warehouse and finally processor.  A total effort by each segment is needed to continue to improve the U.S. wool clip and to broaden uses of American wools in the international wool community. 

At the Chargeurs facility, wool from across the Unite States was being processed into wool top for a diverse international customer base. A wide variety of top is produced in Jamestown to meet customer needs; however, processing issues such as paint, which is not able to be totally removed in scouring, poly, hair and black-fiber contamination remain challenges for this operation. The most serious paint issue seems to be fall paint branding of ewes with wool over 1.5 inches in length. When excess paint is applied at this time, “hard, dried, clumps of paint” remain on the wool through the winter and become very difficult to scour following spring shearing.   

Diego Paullier, Chargeurs commercial manager, Chris Cox , plant manager, and their staff members guided the group throughout the plant from grease wool received at the plant to completed wool top ready to be sent to spinners. Each of the various ‘contaminants’ were identified and shown to the group, as well as the resulting effects in the top-making process.  

The superwash processing line was of special interest to the group, noting how wool characteristics can be altered with this chlorination and resin process. The final product is top that can be made into fabrics that are “total easy care and consumer friendly,” resulting in a broader use of wool. Following the tour, a lively discussion was held on how shearers and wool handlers can help reduce contamination prior to processing and what steps could be implemented at the shearing site to limit these issues.  

Cox commented, “Significant improvements have been made in the past five years in terms of reducing the issues with paint and poly contamination. We really appreciate the efforts of ASI and the shearing/wool handling community in helping reduce those problems for us.”   

Paullier added, “Feedlot lambs wools, which goes into combing operations, are of concern due to the amount of poly that we see while processing those wools. Diligence is the key word in reducing contamination at those locations of shearing.”
At the International Textile Group ITG facility, better known as Burlington, wool top was being utilized in both 100-percent wool fabric as well as various wool blends with polyester depending on final garment requirements. Calvin House, plant manager, and his staff members led the discussion by outlining each department’s role in the fabric-making process. Quality control throughout the entire process is a very high priority for Burlington, starting with the procurement of wool, dying, color control, spinning, weaving and finally fabric finishing, in this processing operation. 
Calvin pointed out the highest cost of removing contaminates is after the fabric is woven; however, if it is not removed, the fabric cannot meet quality-control guidelines and has to be reworked or is rejected.  Black fiber contamination remains a major problem faced by fabric mills. These fibers, along with hair and medulated fibers, process like wool fibers except that they either do not accept dye or dye at a different rate than wool, and remain very evident in the finished fabric.   

Other plant personnel also commented that even though good progress has been made in reducing some contamination issues, we must remain diligent in keeping these to a minimum at all levels in the wool industry. Both Jeff Peck, president, and Ashley Bullock, government sales manager for Raeford Uniform Fabrics, both with Burlington, provided a review of textile manufacturing, both in the United States and internationally, explaining many of the changes in the industry the past 20 years. 

Bullock made an interesting comment, “If you want to follow the path of new processing of natural fibers in the world, follow the availability of clean water, and not necessarily lower labor costs in this industry.”

Shearers and wool handlers remain a critical and important segment of the wool industry and can have a very significant impact on overall wool quality. ASI’s quality programs continue to involve the shearing community through educational meetings, training programs for wool classers and handlers, processing tours, providing shearing manuals and involving shearers in ASI Wool Council activities. ASI also sponsors shearing schools and training to maintain the highest quality of shearing available in the United States.  

Some closing thoughts from participants:

Chase Cantrell said, “I was surprised to learn that the amount of black fibers found in some of the traditional white-face range herds is an issue – we need to be more careful when shearing to avoid spots and contamination in the trailer.”  

 “I was amazed at how many times wool fibers were manipulated through the top-making process – carding, combing, gilling – in order to have a consistent final top product for the weavers,” concluded Emily Chamelin.

Lee Langstaff added, “I was impressed with the consistency and uniformity of the wool top after reviewing the testing of the top in the lab. It sure takes a lot of steps to get that result. In addition, I am astounded at the number of quality-control checkpoints that are needed to meet fabric specs.” 

David Kier said that he was interested in the amount of wool waste of shorter fibers (noils) at the facility and how that could be reduced by eliminating second cuts and short wools during shearing. He also was impressed by the speed and volume of wool being scoured and processed in a day at the facility with minimal labor force.  

Amanda Cantrell was surprised to learn that it takes only 16 weeks total to go from wool top to completed fabric, given all the quality control steps that are involved.   

This years tour group included: Amanda and Chase Cantrell, Idaho; Emily Chamelin, Maryland; Bob Cooley, Idaho; David Kier, Wisconsin; Lee Langstaff, Maryland; Aaron Loux, Massachusetts; Ralph McWilliams, Montana; Terrance Pelle, South Dakota;  and Chuck Waterland, Montana.

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