The long, soft, curly hair, which covers the skin of sheep, and some other ruminating animals. Wool resembles hair in many respects; besides its fineness, which constitutes an obvious difference, there are other particulars which may serve also to distinguish them from one another. Wool, like the hair of horses, cattle, and most other animals, completes its growth in a year, and then falls off as hair does, and is succeeded by a fresh crop. It differs from hair, however, in the uniformity of its growth, and the regularity of its shedding; the whole crop springs up at once, and the whole falls off at once, if not previously shorn, which leaves the animal covered with a short coat of young wool, which in its turn undergoes similar mutations. Berthellot has shown that the caustic alkaline leys dissolve wool entirely, and that the acids precipitate it from this solution. The facts elicited by chemical research explain all the phenomena, and all the properties which wool presents in the frequent and advantageous uses to which it is applied. While the wool remains in the state in which it is shorn from the sheep's back, it is called a fleece.
Each fleece consists of wool of different qualities and degrees of fineness, which the dealers sort and sell in packs at different rates to the wool-comber. The finest wool grows on and about the head of the sheep, and the coarsest about the tail; the longest on the flanks, and the shortest, on the head and some parts of the belly. Wool that is shorn when the sheep is living, is called fleece wool, and that which is pulled off the dead animal is called skin-wool. Wool, in the state in which it is taken from the sheep, is always mixed with a great deal of dirt and foulness of different kinds, and in particular is strongly imbued with a natural strong-smelling grease. These impurities are got rid of by washing, fulling, and combing, by which the wool is rendered remarkably white, soft, clean, light, and springy. When boiled in water for several hours, it is not altered in any sensible degree, nor does the water acquire any impregnation.
The wool intended for the manufacture of stuffs is brought into a state adapted for the making of worsted by the wool-comber; who, having cleared it from all impurities, and well washed it with soap and water, he puts one end of a certain quantity on a fixed hook, and the other on a movable hook, which he turns round with a handle, till all the moisture is forced out. It is then thrown lightly into a basket. The wool is next spread out in layers, and a few drops of oil are scattered on each; which are packed in a bin underneath a bench where the comber sits at work. At the back of the bench is another bin, to contain the noyles, as it is called, which is that part of the wool that is left in the wool after the sliver is drawn out. The comb consists of three rows of highly-tempered and polished steel, fixed in a long handle of wood, and set parallel to one another. Each comber has two combs, which he fills with wool and then works them together, till the wool on each is perfectly fine, and fit to draw out in slivers. The best combs of this kind are said to be manufactured at Halifax, in Yorkshire. In using these combs the workman has a pot made of clay, with holes in its side, in which he heats them to a certain temperature before it can be made readily to pass through the wool.
Each comb-pot is made to hold eight combs, so that four men usually work in one compartment of the shop, round a single pot. When the wool has been sufficiently worked on the combs, the workman places one comb and then the other on a fixed spike, at a proper height for him to draw it out as he stands. The wool thus drawn out is called a sliver, and is from five to six or seven feet in length. Such is the mode of wool-combing by hand, but several patents have been taken out for performing the same operation by machinery; the first of which was introduced by the ingenious Dr. Cartwright, in 1790, and wool-combing by machinery has now almost wholly superseded the work by hand, owing to the economy of labour and material which it effects.
The manufacture of wool is divided into two distinct classes, - long wool, or worsted-spinning, and short wool, or woollen-yarn-spinning. We have already described, under Cotton, the process of spinning that material: it will be readily conceived that the spinning of other fibrous matter does not very essentially differ therefrom, but that it merely requires certain modifications in the apparatus to adapt it to the difference of fibre in the staple commodity. In spinning worsted by hand, the portion of wool plucked from the sliver was placed across the fingers of the left hand, and from the thick part of it the fibres were drawn and twisted as the hand was withdrawn from the end of the spindle, to which it had been previously attached. The revolution of the wheel, effected by the right hand, conveyed by a band to the wheel, or pulley on the spindle, produced the requisite to give firmness to the thread; and by a very gentle motion of the same wheel, the thread being brought nearly perpendicular to the spindle, it was wound upon the spindle to form the cop. From this it was transferred to the reel, and became a hank, of a definite length, but varying in weight with the thickness of the thread.
In this state it was transferred to the manufacturer, to be converted into shalloons, bombazin, or whatever other fabric worsted is applicable to.
"A few years after the introduction of cotton machinery," (says the author of the Operative Mechanic), "an obscure individual of the name of Hargraves, previously unknown as a mechanic, who had long been employed by Messrs. W. Birkbeck and Co. of Settle, in Yorkshire, in the management of a branch of the worsted manufactory, attempted to spin long wool by means of rollers. He constructed working models of the necessary preparing machinery, and of a spinning frame, by the assistance of persons accustomed to the construction of cotton machinery; and succeeded so completely, as soon to induce his employers to build a large mill for its application. By degrees his plans became known to the trade, and many large manufactories have subsequently been erected for this purpose. Contrary to the earlier anticipations on this subject, it has been found that mill-spun yarn answers better for the coarse as well as the finer fabrics, than that produced by the hand, which it has entirely superseded."