URC

The Practicality of the Wool Fiber for the
Clothing of College Students

Jessica Boyer
The Master’s College


Abstract

Current research and technological advancements in the wool industry have greatly improved the practicality of wool for clothing. The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not students at The Master’s College are aware of the practicality of the wool fiber for use in clothing. Data were collected through a ten-question survey instrument that was distributed to students at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. The survey instrument contained demographic questions in addition to the ten research questions. STATPAK statistical analysis software was utilized to compute the one-dimensional Chi-square statistical test that was used to analyze the data. The Review of the Literature indicated that there are several characteristics of wool that make it very practical for the clothing of college students. The survey conducted by the researcher indicated that the students of The Master’s College are in disagreement regarding the practicality of the wool fiber for clothing. The results of the survey conducted for this study deviate from most other studies conducted. Since eight out of the ten survey questions computed Chi-square values that were less than the tabled Chi-square value at the 0.05 level of significance, neither research question was statistically significant. Therefore, it has been determined that the students at The Master’s College are unaware of the practicality of the wool fiber for clothing.

INTRODUCTION

New advancements in technology makes the wool fiber a much more practical fabric for use in clothing. A recently developed enzyme treatment for wool is one such example: “Not only does it remove the itch factor, it also bleaches the wool to a high level of whiteness and alters the surface of wool fibers to make them shrink-proof.” (Core, 2005, p. 12-13). However, most people are unaware of these advancements and improvements in the wool fiber. Wool is a significant fiber in the clothing industry, and as these improvements in its production increase, it becomes a very practical fiber for use in clothing. Wool also has many natural characteristics that make it a desirable and practical fabric (Hess, 1958).

Historical Overview

Wool is one of the earliest known fibers. The exact date that it began to be used for clothing is unknown as it predates the earliest historical records available today. It is likely that wool was first made into clothing as a part of the pelt or skin of the animal. Although records do not exist to confirm it, wool was most likely first made into fabric by felting rather than by spinning. The oldest surviving remnants of wool fabrics date from 4000 to 3500 BC and were found in Egypt, although there is evidence that wool fabrics were made earlier in Mesopotamia. (Joseph, 1986).

When it was discovered that the fibers could be spun into yarn and then woven into fabric, the foundation of today’s clothing was created. As science and technology progressed, so did the quality and the usability of the product produced. Further technological advancements in the methods of producing wool fibers have greatly refined the wool fabric (Cardamone & Yoa, 2004).

Composition of the Wool Fiber

It is the composition of the wool fiber that gives it the unique characteristics that are ideal for clothing as well as other products. Like all natural fibers, wool is made from protein. Keratin is the protein substance that forms the structure of the wool fiber. Keratin is composed of nineteen different amino acids; the way these amino acids are arranged and joined together determines the characteristics of the wool fiber (Tortora, 1987).

The wool fiber appears to be scalelike in its structure when examined under magnification. The size of the scales is in proportion to the width of the fiber; finer fibers have scales that are much smaller than course fibers (Joseph, 1986). It is these scales that allow the fiber to be made into felt, or felted. A number of factors including heat, moisture, and agitation increase the degree of felting that occurs. Under these conditions, the movement of the fiber causes these scales to join together and cling to each other. This too is what causes wool fabrics to shrink when washed. Since all the scales overlap in one direction, the fibers can only move in one direction. “As fibers are placed close together in a mass of fiber, or in yarns, or in fabrics, they entangle with one another. During washing the cloth is compressed and manipulated and the individual fibers are bent. The fiber, being highly elastic, slides through the entanglement but can move only in one direction. As all the fibers exhibit this unidirectional movement, the fibers are drawn closer together, causing the whole structure to become smaller or shrink” (Tortora, 1987, p. 111).

The length, width, and crimp vary according to the grade of the wool, the animal from which it was obtained, the particular breed of the animal, as well as the quality of care the animal receives. Each of these will affect the final quality of the wool yarn and/or fabric (Wingate & Mohler, 1984). Wool is a staple fiber; it is composed of fairly short lengths of fiber (in comparison to linen, silk or man-made fibers). The actual length of these fibers varies significantly, ranging from one inch to more than fourteen inches; the finer fibers are most often found at the shorter end of this scale while the fibers that are more course tend to be longer (Tortora, 1987). Different combinations of these lengths of fibers can also impact the quality and characteristics of the final product. Woolen fabrics are composed of the shorter fibers, usually less than two inches in length. These fabrics tend to be soft and warm. Worsted fabrics are made of longer fibers that generally range from 2 inches to 8 inches. These fabrics are finer and have a smoother surface than woolen fabrics. They also tend to be stiffer than woolens (Gawne, 1973).

Resiliency and Elasticity

Two of the characteristics that make wool so desirable are its resiliency and its elasticity. The structure of the wool fiber is a helical one resembling a coil or a spiral, much like that of DNA (Tortora, 1987). It is this structure that enables wool to have so much elasticity; it can be stretched up to 50% of its length without reaching the breaking point (Gerstung, 2004). The cross-links in the makeup of the wool fiber are the main cause of the high level of resiliency of the fiber. These provide stability to the fiber allowing it to return to its original position after stretching or otherwise distorting its original shape (Tortora, 1987).

Resiliency and elasticity aid in both the resistance to and the removal of wrinkles from a wool fabric or garment. When a garment has been compacted or stretched in wearing or folding, it simply has to be hung up, and the garment will return to its original shape. Although wool is very resilient to the formation of wrinkles, there are times when it may become wrinkled. These are very easily removed—“just hang the garment near a steamy shower” (Gerstung, 2004, para. 4). The fiber absorbs the water vapor and the wrinkles disappear.

However, because wool also contains hydrogen bonds, extreme care must be taken when handling it wet. Hydrogen bonds are broken when they come in contact with water and are reset as that water evaporates. This makes wool an ideal fabric for the construction of garments; it conforms easily to the design. This can also be a downfall and care must be taken not to stretch or distort its shape when wet, for the shape in which it dries is the shape that it will remain until it is dampened again (Tortora, 1987).

Durability

Wool is also well known for its durability. When wool is properly cared for, it can last a person’s lifetime. The resiliency and elasticity characteristics discussed above are one reason for this; although the garment undergoes much wear and is subjected to various conditions that will stretch and/or wrinkle it, it will consistently return to its original shape and size.

Wool is a very strong fiber; “a single wool fiber can sustain a dead weight of 15-30 grams.” (Wingate & Mohler, 1984, p. 306). This strength of the fiber greatly adds to the longevity of the garment. However, this strength is significantly reduced when the fiber is wet, and so to ensure that little damage befalls the garment it is important for the garment to be carefully handled when wet.

Wool is not negatively affected by diluted acids, but highly concentrated acids will damage the fiber if it is left in it for more that a few minutes or if the acid is allowed to dry in the fabric. However, wool is sensitive to alkalies, but is not damaged by weak alkalies as long as the temperature remains below 68˚F. Bleach should not be used in cleaning wool, for it too will cause negative affects to take place in the composition of the fiber (Wingate & Mohler, 1984).

The unique absorption qualities of the wool fiber aid in the absorption and retention of dye, thus making the color of the wool fabric very stable and long lasting. Therefore, wool is a good choice for fabric that will be subject to conditions in which fading may occur. It will not fade rapidly, but remains stable (Wingate & Mohler, 1984).

One cause of the wear that occurs in many garments is the constant washing that must occur in order to maintain its cleanliness. Wool on the other hand does not need to be cleaned frequently. It does not generate static electricity as do many other fibers and so does not attract dust and dirt. The structure of the fiber prevents the penetration of dirt into the garment. It is often sufficient just to brush the garment with the occasional cleaning (Gerstung, 2004). Although many wool garments do require dry-cleaning, new methods are constantly being developed to lessen the need for this and to increase the washability of wool. It is recommended that wool garments that require dry cleaning only be cleaned twice per season.

Comfort

Many archaic stereotypes linger regarding the comfort of the fabric made from wool. One such stereotype has to do with the feel of the wool fiber; it is often said that wool is uncomfortable to wear because it is prickly or scratchy. Some wool fabrics are indeed prickly, but this is largely due to the quality of the fiber that is used as well as the methods and finishes applied to the fabric during the production process. As technological advancements have occurred in the clothing and textile industry new processes have greatly reduced this “itch factor” (Core, 2005, p. 12). A new method to accomplish this has been recently developed by researchers at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center located in Wyndmoor, PA. This method not only removes the scratchiness of the fiber, but also bleaches it to a much purer color of white, as well as altering the surface of the wool to prevent it from shrinking. To accomplish all of this the outside layer of scale-like lipid structure that composes the outermost layer of the fiber is removed. This having been done, the wool is treated with an enzyme that prevents the scales from locking together; this makes it possible to wash the wool.

Another characteristic of the wool fiber that makes it so comfortable to wear is its unique absorption quality. The wool fiber absorbs water, yet at the same time is water resistant. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling damp (Hess, 1958), but at the same time water will run off the garment without penetrating it unless it is exposed to the moisture for a prolonged length of time (Tortora, 1987). The water from the body that is absorbed into the fabric will be released into the air slowly, thus preventing the body from becoming chilled (Hess, 1958).

Although it is known primarily as a winter fiber, wool creates a fabric that can be worn year-round; it is the fabric that is used to line the garment that causes the wool to seem to be a very warm fiber, suited only for the winter months. The construction of the wool fiber creates insulation properties that allow the body to maintain a consistent temperature no matter what time of year it is. Within the wool fiber a large amount of air is trapped: “about 80 percent of the entire fabric volume is air” (Wingate & Mohler, 1984, p. 307). Its ability to retain moisture also aids in this insulation characteristic; together these characteristics produce a fabric that will keep the body warm in the winter and cool in the summer (Gerstung, 2004).

Practicality of the Wool Fiber

As noted in the preceding research, the wool fiber possesses many characteristics that make it a very practical fiber. It will maintain its shape and thus is a good fiber to use in fabrics that must travel (i.e., be packed in a suitcase) (Tortora, 1987). It is a very durable fiber and with proper care will last for an extended period of time. Its unique qualities that reduce the need for washing are beneficial in that cleaning costs are reduced (Gerstung, 2004). It is comfortable to wear due to its absorption characteristics as well as due to the new technological advances (Core, 2005). Garments made from wool fabrics can be worn comfortably year-round due to the unique insulation and absorption properties of the fiber (Gerstung, 2004).

METHOD

The purpose of this study is to determine whether or not college students are aware of the practicality of the wool fiber for clothing. The following Research Questions were generated:

  1. Is wool a practical fiber for the clothing of college students?
  2. Are college students aware of the practicality of the wool fiber?
Method of Data Collection

The survey instrument used in this study measured college students’ awareness of the practicality of the wool fiber for clothing. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the ten Likert-type survey questions. The survey instrument was distributed to students at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, on April 2, 2006. They were returned via campus mail, e-mail, or to my dormitory room.

Statistical Procedures

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was ordinal. An ordinal scale is defined as “a scale of measurement in which the measurement categories form a rank order along a continuum” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 372). The data were collected by means of a survey instrument that was distributed through campus mail. Fifteen freshmen, 15 sophomores, 15 juniors, and 15 seniors were chosen from a list of students currently attending The Master’s College to complete the survey. The surveys were returned via campus mail; however, due to the limited response to the first distribution, a reminder email was sent April 8, 2006. Two students returned the surveys electronically. Due to a continued lack of response, 15 additional surveys were distributed, this time to the students residing in Sweazy dormitory on the lower east wing. The One-dimensional Chi-Square statistical test was utilized to analyze the results because “these are tests of significance used in determining acceptance (support) or rejection (nonsupport) of a null hypothesis” (Joseph and Joseph, 1986, p 182). A level of significance of .05 was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument were reported in percentages.

Assumptions and Limitations

The following assumptions were recognized for this study:

  1. Meaningful data can be collected by use of a questionnaire.
  2. Subjects possess adequate background to provide the information needed.

The following limitations were recognized for the study:

  1. The research was limited to students at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita CA.
  2. The research was conducted during the spring semester, 2006.
RESULTS

The subjects sampled for this study were students at The Master’s College located in Santa Clarita, CA. Seventy-five copies of the survey instrument were distributed; 35 were returned and 30 were used in this study, due to the time limitations placed on the data collection phase of this study. The study indicated 13.33% were 18 years of age; 26.67% were 19 years of age; 23.33% were 20 years of age; 13.33% were 21; 13.33% were 22; 6.67% were 23; and 3.33% were 24. The sample indicated 20% Bible majors; 10% Business; 6.67% Teacher Education; 6.67% History; 6.67% Home Economics—Family and Consumer Sciences; 10% Music; 6.67% Mathematics; 10% Biology; 10% Communication; 3.3% Physical Education; 6.67% Political Studies; and 3.33% did not adequately respond to this demographics question.

Of the 20% who were Bible majors, 5% specified their emphasis as TESOL, 5% as Christian Education, and 10% as Biblical Counseling. Of the 10% who were Biology majors, 10% specified Nursing. The sample indicated 26.67% freshmen; 20% sophomores; 26.67% juniors; 23.33% seniors; and 3.33% in their fifth year. The sample indicated dormitory housing: 3.33% Dixon; 16.67% Hotchkiss; 3.33% Oak Manor; 6.67% off-campus; 20% Smith; 43.33% Sweazy; and 6.67% Waldock. The sample indicated 20% were male; and 80% were female. The sample indicated 50% were raised in California; 3.33% in Colorado; 6.67% in Idaho; 3.33% in Iowa; 3.33% in Japan; 3.33% in Michigan; in Minnesota, 3.33%; in Nevada, 3.33%; in New York 3.33%; 3.33% in Pennsylvania; 3.33% in Texas; 3.33% in Utah; 3.33% in Vermont; 6.67% in Washington; and 3.33% in Wisconsin. The totals equal more than 100% due to subjects indicating more than one location. The sample indicated 43.33% grew up in a rural area; 50% in a metropolitan area; and 6.67% chose not to answer the question. The findings of the survey questions are summarized in Table 1.

Research Question One

Is wool a practical fiber for the clothing of college students? Questions 1, 4, 5, 7, 8 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this research question.

Since the computed Chi-square value of survey questions 5 and 7 are greater than the tabled Chi-square value it can be concluded that college students are (a) unified in their belief that wool fiber is not the most versatile fiber and (b) are aware that wool does not wrinkle easily.

The finding of survey question 5 aligns with research conducted by Tortora who found that the wool fiber is very elastic and resilient and so is very versatile (1987). The finding from question 7 is verified by the research conducted by Tortora who found that the cross-links in the wool fiber give it stability and a resistance to wrinkles.

Since the computed Chi-square values of survey questions 1, 4, and 8 are less than the tabled Chi-square values it can be concluded that there is not a statistically significant difference between those college students that answered the survey questions with a “1” and those that answered with a “7,” thereby indicating that college students are (a) unaware of the insulation qualities of the wool fiber, (b) unaware of the durability of wool, and (c) unaware of the characteristics of the wool fiber that enable it to be seldom cleaned.

The finding from question 1 deviates from research that indicates that the wool fiber has insulation qualities that causes it to keep the body both warm in the winter and cool in the summer (Gerstung, 2004). The finding from question 4 differs from research conducted by Wingate and Mohler who said “a single wool fiber can sustain a dead weight of 15-30 grams.” (1984). The findings of Gerstung who found that the wool fiber does not need to be often cleaned; wool fabric does not generate static electricity, so it does not attract dust, as well, the composition of the fiber acts to inhibit the penetration of dirt into the garment (2004) is in contrast with the findings obtained from survey question 8.

Research Question 2

Are college students aware of the practicality of the wool fiber? Questions 2, 3, 6, 9, 10 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this research question.

Since the calculated Chi-square value of survey questions 2, 3, 6, 9, and 10 are less than the tabled Chi-square test value it can be concluded that college students are (a) unaware of the comfort of wool clothing, (b) in disagreement over whether wool is a sound investment, (c) unaware that not all wool requires dry-cleaning, (d) unaware of the absorbency properties of wool, and (e) unaware of the water-resistance properties of wool.

The results of survey question 2 deviates from the research conducted by Core who states that technological advancements in the wool production process have to a large degree eliminated the scratchy characteristic of wool (2005). The finding of question 3 deviates from research conducted by Gerstung who found that wool clothing is practical in that garments do not have to be cleaned often due to its unique characteristics, thereby reducing cleaning costs (2004). The finding from question 6 deviates from research conducted by Core who found that a new process utilized in wool production creates a product that is completely washable (2005). The results of survey question 9 differs from research conducted by Hess who found that wool can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in water without feeling wet (1958), and the finding from question 10 is in contrast to the finding of Tortora who wrote that moisture will not penetrate the garment unless it is exposed to that moisture for a prolonged period of time (1987).

Table 1

Summary of Survey Question Results

Survey Question

Scale Number

Total Responses

Computed Chi-Square value

Tabled Chi-square Value

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

No Response

1

2

8

6

4

3

1

6

0

30

8.7333

12.592

2

3

1

3

4

5

6

8

0

30

7.3333

12.592

3

2

3

6

9

6

2

2

0

30

10.6000

12.592

4

0

0

4

3

8

9

6

0

30

4.3333

9.488

5

3

13

4

4

3

0

3

0

30

15.6000

11.070

6

2

9

2

4

2

5

6

0

30

9.667

12.592

7

13

10

3

3

1

0

0

0

30

18.000

9.488

8

7

6

8

6

2

0

1

0

30

11.070

11.070

9

2

3

2

6

6

6

4

1

29

5.0345

12.592

10

4

8

6

2

4

3

2

1

29

6.9655

12.592

Findings

The results of the One-dimensional Chi-square test suggest there is a statistically significant difference between those college students that believe that wool is the most versatile fiber and that the wool fiber wrinkles easily and those that do not. The results of the One-dimensional Chi-square test also suggest that there is not a statistically significant difference between those college students that believe the wool fiber can be worn year round, that clothing made from wool is durable, that wool garments must be cleaned often, that wool garments are scratchy when worn, that wool garments are a sound financial investment, that all wool garments must be dry-cleaned, and those students that do not.

DISCUSSION

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

  1. Wool is a practical fiber for the clothing of college students.
  2. Some college students are aware of this practicality while others are not.

Research shows that the wool fiber is a practical fiber for the clothing of the college student. The characteristics of the wool fiber as well as the many advancements in the technology available for processing the wool fiber make it a wise consumer choice for clothing (Hess, 1958; Core, 2005). However, the survey conducted in this study indicates that many people, such as students at The Master’s College, are unaware of the beneficial characteristics of the wool fiber. Thus it seems appropriate that steps be taken to inform students of the practicality of the wool fiber for use in their clothing so that they may make informed decisions regarding the purchase of clothing.

However, due to the limited scope of this study, there may be aspects of this study that have not been covered or determined. Therefore further research regarding the practicality of the wool fiber for college students is warranted.

Recommendations for Further Study

This study provides some information regarding the practicality of the wool fiber for the clothing of college students. Additional questions pertaining to the practicality of the wool fiber for college students warrant further investigation; thus the following recommendations for further research and study are offered:

  1. This study should be replicated, using a different population to determine the practicality of the wool fiber for use in the clothing of college students.
  2. A study should be conducted to determine the differing characteristics and quality of the wool fiber as it relates to the kind or breed of the animal from which it comes, how that can affect the quality of the garment into which it is made, and how that knowledge affects the consumers’ choice to purchase those garments.
  3. The characteristics of natural fibers versus synthetic fibers should be studied and the correlation between these characteristics and the choices the consumer makes in purchasing garments made from these fibers.
  4. The effect of blending wool with other fibers both synthetic and natural should be studied.
References

Brown, K. W.; Cozby, P. C.; Kee, D. W.; & Worden, P. E. (1999). Research methods in human development. Mountain View: Mayfield.

Cardamone, J. M., & Yoa, J. (2004). DCCA shrinkproofing of wool. Part II: Improving whiteness and surface properties. Textile Research Journal, 74, 7. Retrieved March 27, 2006 from Wilson Web database.

Core, J. (2005). Wool biopolishing process scratches the itch factor. Agricultural Research, 53, 5, 12-13. Retrieved February 18, 2006 from Proquest research database.

Gawne, E. J. (1973). Fabrics for clothing. Peoria, IL: Chas. A Bennett Co., Inc.

Gerstung, R. A. (2004, Nov.). A fabric for all seasons. Real Simple, 5(9), 109. Accessed February 13, 2006 from ProQuest Database.

Hess, K. P. (1958). Textile fibers and their use. (6th ed.). Chicago: J. B. Lippincott Company.

Joseph, M. L. (1986). Introductory textile science. (5th ed.). New York: CBS College Publishing.

Joseph, M. L.; & Joseph, W. D. (1986). Research fundamentals in Home Economics. Redondo Beach: Plycon.

Tortora, P. G. (1987). Understanding Textiles. (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Wingate, I. B., & Mohler, J. F. (1984). Textile fabrics and their selection. (8th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.


APPENDIX A
*WOOL FIBER INVENTORY*

I am conducting a survey to ascertain the awareness of college students of the practicality of the wool fiber for a Research Fundamentals class at The Master’s College. Please take a moment to fill out this survey and return it to Jessica Boyer, box #1104 or Sweazy #105 by April 5, 2006. Thank you for taking time to fill out this survey!

Age_______ Major___________ Year in school______ Dorm_____ M or F (circle one)

Location where grew up __________ # of years_____ Rural or metropolitan (circle one)

Please respond to each of the following statements by circling the number that best describes your level of agreement/disagreement with 1 being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree.

1. The wool fiber can be worn year round
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

2. Wool clothing is scratchy
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

3. Wool clothing is a sound financial investment for college students.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

4. Clothing made from wool is durable.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

5. Wool is the most versatile fiber.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

6. All wool clothing must be dry-cleaned.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

7. Wool fabric wrinkles easily.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

8. Wool must be cleaned often.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

9. Wool absorbs moisture well.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

10. Wool is water resistant.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Strongly Agree

 


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