Ruth Correll

Correll

The Wilson County Fair is known for highlighting an agricultural commodity each year. This year it will be celebrating the “Year of Wool” by demonstrating how wool gets from “the sheep to the shawl.”

Wilson County had a very large sheep population and sheep/lamb market from the 1930s to the 1950s and sheep and wool were celebrated each year. The first wool blanket was produced at the Lebanon Woolen Mill in 1909. There was a Lamb Festival with a parade and celebration during the heydays of sheep production in Wilson County.

There are plans to reenact this event at this year’s Fair. There will be a fleece show and demonstrations of shearing, cleaning, dyeing and spinning.

Sheep are valued for their meat, wool and milk. Sheep are produced in all 50 states. Texas is ranked No. 1 in the nation and in 2018 had 750,000 head. Tennessee ranked 29th with 46,000 head. The larger sheep ranches are west of the Mississippi River, but the eastern part of the United States has a larger number of smaller, pasture-based farms.

Wool is traditionally harvested during the spring months. The United States produced 24.7 million pounds of wool in 2017. The average weight of a fleece is 7.2 pounds but varies from state to state and animal to animal.

Wool is known for its versatility. In addition to its well-known uses in woven apparel, sweaters, hosiery and upholstery, wool is also used to make insulation, handmade rugs, tennis balls, bedding products and clean-up pads for oil and chemical spills.

Wool is comfortable to wear year-round because it is an absorbent fiber that helps regulate body temperature. When the air is cool and damp, wool absorbs moisture and keeps a layer of dry, insulating air next to the skin. When it is warm, that same absorption capacity takes up perspiration, allowing the body’s natural cooling system to work better.

Fine-wool garments are very comfortable worn next to the skin as is the case for wool T-shirts

Wool is the only fiber that naturally resists flaming. Unlike most artificial fibers, which often melt and stick to the skin when on fire, wool usually only smolders or chars. Wool is a natural, renewable fiber that offers a ‘green’ fabric choice.

Wool is also biodegradable making it an eco-friendly product. Wool fibers resist pulling, snagging and breaking, wool garments typically outlast synthetic sweaters. Wool is color fast resulting in garments that retain their deep, rich color without fading. Furthermore, since wool fibers are naturally elastic, wool garments don’t wrinkle, bag or sag out of shape.

In the past, U.S. textile mills consumed nearly all of the domestic wool production. However, in the last 20 years, many of the mills have either closed or moved their production facilities to other countries. Because of this shift, export markets, along with the U.S. military, have become the primary markets for American produced wool. 

Ruth Correll is a UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County. Contact her at (615) 444-9584 or acorrell@utk.edu.

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