Lightweight and easy care are not qualities usually associated with wool, but innovative fabrics developed at AgResearch in Christchurch are changing this reputation.
Natural Easy Care (NEC) wool fabrics have been developed by Dr Surinder Tandon and his team at AgResearch, for Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. (AWI). These fabrics retain all the beneficial properties of traditional wool fabrics in a lightweight fabric with greater functionality and consumer appeal.
NEC fabrics meet consumer demand
Consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to lightweight, comfortable, easy care fabrics due to advances inmaterials. Traditional wool fabrics have excellent comfort properties but don’t satisfy the demand for lighter, easy care fabrics that meet the lifestyle needs of today’s consumers.
Target markets for NEC fabrics
Researchers first developed NEC fabrics for business shirts and suits. They produced the world’s first 100% wool suit and shirt fabric that’s machine washable and can be tumble dried. However, they soon recognised the fabric’s potential for other markets including high fashion women’s wear and even bed sheets and sleep wear.
Advantages of NEC fabrics
- Lightweight: The new fabric can be worn in hotter climates and in all seasons. This brings opportunities for new products and markets for wool.
- Easy care: You can wash NEC fabrics in a domestic washing machine and tumble dry them with no shrinkage. They also need little ironing.
- Comfortable to wear: Wool’s ability to breathe and absorb moisture makes it comfortable to wear. Also, NEC fabrics have no prickliness, and they have good natural stretch in both directions.
- Aesthetic qualities: The new fabrics are fine and smooth and have very good , opening up new opportunities for women’s wear.
- Environmentally friendly: The fabric is made shrink-resistant without using chemicals and doesn’t need dry cleaning, which also relies on chemicals. Wool is , minimising issues related to end-of-life disposal.
- Sustainable Being a natural fibre, wool is a resource and doesn’t rely on diminishing petroleum products as many synthetic fibres do. NEC fabrics are also cost-effective because there are fewer steps in their processing and they don’t need added chemicals.
NEC fabrics use fine Merino wool
To achieve the qualities of NEC fabrics, you need to use very fine fibres – ranging from 18–21 microns in diameter, depending on the end product. AgResearch usewool because generally all wools below 23 microns are Merino.
Making NEC fabrics
To create NEC fabrics, existing wool processing facilities are used. This makes them economical to produce.
The traditional wool processing operations are modified at 3 stages:
- Creating the yarn: Attaching a special device called Solospun™ to the conventional spinning frame creates a stronger singles yarn. The device changes the twisting process, making the yarn less hairy and more abrasion-resistant for weaving as a single strand.
- Weaving: Having a stronger singles yarn removes the need to twist it with another strand to make it weavable. Weaving with a singles yarn makes a lighter weight fabric. Specifications for the number of yarns per inch in both directions are critical to achieve the easy-care performance properties. These specifications are a trade secret.
- Fabric finishing: More intense temperature and time combinations used in finishing make the fabric very stable, so even after repeated washing, the fabric surface stays flat and smooth.
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