Wool and Fiber Glossary


Alpaca Fiber: Long, fine silky fiber with characteristics of both wool and hair derived from the Alpaca animal of South America.

Angora Goat: Species originally bred in Asia Minor, later introduced into South Africa, Texas, California and elsewhere. Produces mohair fiber.

Animal Fibers: General term for fibers taken from animals - wool, silk, mohair etc.

Apparel Wool: Broad term that embraces all wool except carpet and pulled wools.


Backwasher: Machine used for washing wool after carding to remove all impurities. It also dries the tops after washing by passing them over steam-heated cylinders or perforated cylinders through which hot air is forced.

Backwashing: Removal of the oil which has been put into worsted stock in the blending, oiling, and mixing operations.

Bale: A package of wool in a standard wool pack for shipment. The common farm bale weighs between 200 and 450 lbs.

Black Fleece: Fleece containing so many black fibers that white or light colored cloth cannot be made from it; thus the wool’s value is reduced.

Blood System: Denotes fineness of wool as compared with pure Merino, which is called full-blood. In the United States, Half-blood signifies 60s/62s quality; Three-eight’s blood is 56s/58s quality; Quarter-blood is 52s/54s quality.

Bradford Spinning: English method of spinning wool into worsted yarn. The wool is thoroughly oiled before it is combed, producing a smooth, lustrous yarn. This is different from the French system where the wool is spun dry.

Branding: Stenciling on bales of wool to signify the owner, serial number, and type of wool in the bale.

Break: A temporary interference with the growth of the fiber, causing thinning and weakness of all or part of the fibers. A break is caused by a sudden change of pasture, lack of feed or water, sickness, difficult birth, or faulty dipping.

Brightness: A term used to describe the white color and light-reflecting power associated with the finer types of wool.

Burling: In the dry finishing department of a woolen or worsted mill, it is the removal of as much objectionable matter as possible from the wool.

Burry: A term applied to wool containing certain seed pods.


Carbonizing: The removal of vegetable matter, such as burrs and seeds, from wool and wool fabrics by chemical or mechanical treatment.

Carding: (1) A process in yarn manufacturing where the fibers are made more or less parallel, have considerable portions of foreign matter removed, and are put into a manageable form known as sliver. (2) A teasing process which breaks down clumps of fibers into an even film by passing the material between rollers covered with closely-set fine pins or points. (3) A term applied by the trade to wool suitable for use as raw material for the woolen system of yarn production. (4) A term sometimes used with reference to crossbred wools of less than about 6 or 7 inches (152 or 178 mm) in staple.

Carding Wool: Wool suitable for the woolen trade. It is shorter than combing or worsted quality wool.

Carpet Wools: Very strong or coarse wools, generally hairy or medullated, used mainly in the manufacturing of carpets.

Cashmere: (1) Very soft, fine fiber from the Kashmir goat of India. The undergrowth, known as pashmina, is one of the finest animal fibers known. (2) Fine worsted dress fabric.

Cheviot: (1) A broad term for heavy, rough surfaced woolen or worsted suiting and overcoating cloth. May be a plain or twill weave, similar to tweed in construction. (2) A breed of sheep.

Classification: Preparation of lot.

Classing: Wool classing is the preparation of the clip for market. The wool is graded according to type, yield, and commercial value.

Clip: Wool from a given flock; also, total yearly production.

Clothing Wool: Sound, dense wool not more than one and a half inches, fine in quality, with even crimp and good felting properties; used in the woolen trade.

Coarse: Wool that is thick in fiber diameter and also rough and inferior.

Combing: An intermediate process in the preparation of worsted yarn, which renders the longer fibers parallel and removes as noil, the short fibers, broken ends, tangled ends, and larger vegetable particles.

Combing Wool: Wool suitable for combing on British and/or Continental type machinery; it should be sound and of appropriate length for the type. Fibers of wool from 0.5 - 6 inches long used in worsted yarn.

Condition: Wool: A qualitative expression of the amount of yolk and other impurities present in the raw wool. Scoured wool: the amount of moisture present in the wool expressed as a percentage of clean dry weight.

Conditioning Wool: Testing either greasy, scoured wool or tops to ascertain what percentage of moisture they contain.

Cortex: The main shaft or body of the fiber surrounding the medulla.

Cotted: A term applied to wool that has become partially matted while on the sheep’s back.

Count: (1) Raw Wool: A number (quality number) used to indicate fineness. (2) Worsted Yarn: The number of standard hanks of a worsted yarn, each 560 yards long, which weigh one pound. (3) Woolen Yarn: The number of standard skeins (4 oz. of spun yarn), each 256 yards long (Yorkshire), which weigh one pound.

Crabbing: The finishing process of passing the cloth over rollers into hot water or steam to prevent the formation of creases or uneven shrinkage.

Crimp: A natural wave formation visible in wool. In general, the closer the waves are together, the finer the wool.

Crutch: Area between the legs, above the udder, and up to and around the anal area.

Crutchings (noun): Wool shorn from the crutch and back of hind legs during the crutching or tagging process. This is done to prevent formation of dags and also to help to prevent blow fly strike.


Dags: Staples or locks of wool on the breech area heavily coated with feces.

Degreasing: Any method or process used to remove yolk, suint, and foreign matter from wool.

Density: A term used to denote compactness in a fleece. The close proximity of fiber growth on a given surface of skin.

Depth of Staple: A term applied to the length of staple on the body of the sheep.

Dermis: The inner layer of the skin lying immediately beneath the epidermis and consisting of a loose network of collagen and elastic fibers that support the principal blood and nerve supply. Fat cells may often be found in the deepest zone of the dermis.

Dingy: A term applied to wool lacking brightness, possibly the result of excessive yolk, unfavorable environment, or the presence of external parasites.

Doggy: Short, coarse, glossy Merino wool of nondescript type, frequently found on old sheep. Straight-fibered, shiny wool; wool lacking breeding with very little felting property.

Domestic Wool: Generally includes all wool grown in United States. In a strict sense, wools grown east of the Rockies and raised under farming conditions.

Drafting: The drawing of fibers to make them take on more the appearance of yarn.


Epidermis: The outer, non-vascular layer of the skin, consisting of a horny layer of cuticle, an intermediate layer of active cells, and a foundation layer from which the hair roots generally start their development.


Fall Wool: Wool shorn in the fall. Five to six months of growth.

Felting: The property possessed by wool and some other animal fibers of closely entangling and interlocking to form a compact mass.

Fineness: Referring to the diameter of the individual wool fiber.

Fleece: (1) The coat of the sheep usually removed as one unit. (2) A luxurious fabric characterized by a thick, deeply napped surface for warmth without weight. May be twill, plain weave or variations of either. The term "fleece" correctly applies only to wool fabrics, although there are so-called fleeces of other fibers.

Fribby: Wool containing an excessive amount of second cuts and sweat points.

Fribs: Second cuts, pencil locks, or small pieces of wool clinging to the fleece.


Gilling: Manufacturing process of passing wool through one or more gill boxes to get the fibers parallel and blended.

Grade: Referring to the fineness of the wool. Fine wool grades higher.

Grease or Greasy Wool: Wool that is shorn directly from the sheep and, therefore, has not been washed or otherwise cleaned.


Hairy Fibers: A term applied to coarse, straight, often chalky fibers. In the Merino, they are more commonly observed in the breech region and on the folds of the neck.

Hand, Handle: (1) Using the sense of touch to determine certain qualities of a fiber. (2) Handle also refers to the degree of softness the wool possesses.

Hank (English Worsted): 512 meters or 560 yards of worsted yarn. The count or size of the yarn is determined by the number of standard hanks that it takes to weigh one pound.

Hair Follicle: A tubular depression in the skin from which the fiber grows.

Heterotypic Fibers: Fibers that occur in the fleeces of poorly-bred sheep. They show the physical structure and characteristics of both wool and hair.

Hungry Fine or Hunger Fine: A term applied to wool which is unnaturally fine, due to under nourishment over an extended period.


Kemp: A hard, brittle, opaque, medullated fiber found on the fleece of some sheep. Usually coarser and much shorter than the wool fibers with which it is associated. After growing for a limited time, it is shed and frequently lies loose in the fleece.

Keratin: The protein substance forming the wool fiber that is composed of carbon (50.5%), hydrogen (6.8%), nitrogen (16.8 %), oxygen (20.5%), and sulphur (5.4%).


Lamb’s Wool: Very soft wool possessing superior spinning properties that is shorn from lambs up to 7 months old.

Lanolin: An extract from the yolk which is used in ointments, etc.

Locks: "Second Cuts" and small portions of wool from the lower parts of the legs and edges of the fleece. Locks also include greasy staples from under the forearm, inside the flank, and from the crutch. Locks are found on the shearing board after a sheep has been shorn and also under the wool tables.

Lot: Any parcel of wool of similar type collected for auction purposes.


Man Made Fibers: Generally refers to all textile fibers that do not occur naturally.

Matted or Cotted Wool: Wool naturally felted on the sheep’s back, usually the result of a bad season, defects of breeding, or disease.

Medulla: Central air space in a fiber.

Medullated Fibers: Fibers possessing a medulla or core of air filled cells. Under the microscope, this structure appears spongy. When the medulla is coarse, the fibers are hairy, harsh in handle, and possess irregular dyeing properties.

Merino: A very fine, soft wool from the Merino sheep. A breed of sheep.

Micron: Diameter of wool fiber in units of millionth of a meter or 1/25,400th of an inch.

Mohair: Fiber from the Angora goat.

Moity or Moit: Wool that contains vegetable matter other than seed or burr, such as fern, bark, straw etc.


Nap or Pile: Ends of fibers raised from the body of the yarn that gives the cloth a fibrous surface.

Noils: Short, tangled, and broken fibers removed from wool during combing. Noils may contain vegetable matter. Used in the woolen and felt trade.


Pelt: Animal skin with little or no wool or hair on it.

Piece-dying: Dyeing of fabrics in the piece after weaving or knitting.


Raw Wool: The fleece shorn from the sheep.

Ropey Wool: Poorly scoured wool that has become slightly felted, tangled, and knotted in processing.


Scoured Wool: Wool that has been washed in a series of bowls by the use of alkali, soap, and water.

Sebaceous Glands: The glands in the skin that are closely associated with the follicle and can secrete wool wax.

Second Cuts: The short portions of wool staples that result when the shearer makes two "blows" over the same area.

Seedy: A term applied to wool containing grass and certain other seeds.

Shorn: A sheep that has had its fleece removed by shearing.

Skin Classing: The grading of sheep skins according to type fineness and length in preparation for sale.

Skirtings: Removing portions of wool from the fleece that are of inferior quality and value.

Sliver: A continuous rope of practically untwisted material.

Sorting: The process of dividing fleeces according to quality, length, and color. Yield is not considered.

Spinning: Inserting the required degree of twist into yarn and winding it onto a bobbin or spool.

Stained Pieces: A trade term which refers to urine-stained wool and small portions of yolk-stained wool from the crutch.

Stained Wool: Urine-stained wool from the britches of ewes’ fleeces and the stained wool from the center of rams’ and wethers’ bellies.

Staple: Common reference to length of wool fibers or numbers of wool fibers which naturally form themselves into clusters or locks.

Steely: A term applied to wool lacking character and possessing a characteristic "steely" or glassy sheen. It is produced on pastures known to be deficient in certain trace elements.

Stringy Wool: Thin, small-bodied staples that hang loosely and show a clear crimp.

Sudoriferous Glands: Glands in the skin that are closely associated with primary follicles and secrete the suint of the yolk in sheep.

Suint: The water soluble fraction of the yolk and product of the sudoriferous or sweat gland. Dried sweat in the wool of sheep.

Sweating: The removal of wool from skins of slaughtered sheep. Pelts are hung in a chamber and heated to a high temperature. As a result, the pores open up and the wool can be removed easily.

Sweating Out: The process of placing a group of sheep in an enclosed area to let the body heat generated cause the wool grease to heat. This helps to reduce second-cuts.


Tags: Heavy, fecal-covered locks of wool.

Tender: Implies that the fibers have a weakness at a certain point of the staple, and if tension is applied to the staple, it will break.

Tick Stained: Wool discolored by the excreta of the sheep tick or ked.

Tip: The upper extremity of a staple of wool.

Tippy: A term used when the tip is open or loose. The condition may be associated with severe weather damage.

Top Knot: The wool from the crest or poll of the sheep.

Tops: A continuous strand of untwisted fibers from which the shorter fibers or noils have been removed by combing.

Type: Classes or groups of wool sharing certain characteristics. They can be grouped according to spinning quality, length, tensile strength, soundness, style, color, condition, and breed.


Wasty: A wool that is thin and open with poor tensile strength. It frequently has a long weathered tip and will produce a large percentage of noil during manufacturing.

Wiggings: The wool that has been taken from around the sheep’s eyes.

Wool Fat or Grease: Greasy substance that flows from the fat glands of the sheep onto the fibers.

Wool Sorting: Grading of fleeces and pieces into lots, each of which contains one quality only.

Woolen System: A method of yarn production from wool fibers that have been carded, but not combed or gilled. The fibers in the yarn do not lie parallel to each other.

Worsted System: A system of yarn production from wool fibers that have been carded or prepared and either gilled or combed (sometimes both). The fibers in the yarn lie parallel.

Worsteds: Fabrics made from long wool fibers which lie parallel in the yarn. Worsteds are used for suitings and clear-finish tailored types of material. Worsteds hold their shape better than woolens.


Yarn: Wool fibers spun into a thread.

Yield: The number of pounds of products that can be obtained when processing 100 kg of wool.

Yolk: The combined secretion of the sebaceous and sudoriferous glands in the skin of the sheep. Grease or natural fat contained in raw or greasy wool.

Yolk Stain: A stain caused by pigment from the yolk.