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Issue 476, 4 February 2002

No-spin doctors make cloth without weaving

The county which clothed the world in wool during the industrial revolution is set to do it again, this time without looms or spinning machines.

In a second revolution for the industry, University of Leeds scientists and their industrial collaborators have used modern technology to create non-woven woollen cloth – made directly from wool fibres without spinning or weaving.

Steve Russell (pictured foreground) and John Hammond model jackets lined with the new material

Weaving cloth from wool has been going on for over 3,500 years and the language involved – warp, weft, thread, spin – is woven into the fabric of our everyday speech. Following mechanisation in the 19th century, most of the world's woollen cloth was made in Yorkshire. But even with machines, turning wool into cloth has always been a laborious process, and fast, modern methods using predominantly synthetic fibres have overtaken natural fibre fabrics for many uses.

The original invention, by textiles researchers Dr Steve Russell, Professor Carl Lawrence and Dr Abbas Dehghani, and collaborators The Woolmark Company and BFF Nonwovens, enables wool to be processed using a modern technique called hydro-entanglement, which shortens the time taken to produce fabric by eliminating the need for spinning and weaving.

The fibres are scoured and mechanically entangled to produce a web structure, from which the cloth is made.

Hydro-entangled non-woven fabrics made from synthetic fibres are already used in industrial, medical and general applications, such as wipes, car components and filters. But marrying this technique with wool has created the first non-woven fabric of sufficient quality, strength and comfort to be used in high performance clothing.

In its first application, the fabric has been bonded with a breathable membrane to line weatherproof coats. Further development is under way to produce cloth for other outerwear, such as trousers and jackets.

Dr Russell said: "Wool fibre is so resilient and elastic that it can be bent up to 30,000 times without danger of breaking or damage. It can also transmit moisture vapour but repels liquids, and can regulate heat, which makes the new material ideal for use in sportswear. No synthetic fibre combines all these characteristics."

David Hellens for The Woolmark Company said, "This non-woven fabric is a useful addition to our Sportwool™ range. These revolutionary fabrics are able to create a unique micro-climate around the wearer, keeping them dry and cool when they are hot, and warm when they start to cool down.

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