Germanicos Bespoke Tailors specialist fabric technician and buyer explains that the best tailored suits are made from a wide range of natural fibres. Wool fibres usually those of the Merino sheep, are the most common. These animals are known for their perfect fleece in terms of its whiteness and softness. The length and even structure of the fibre, its constant diameter and crimp (the number of bends per unit of length) results in the most luxurious and consistent cloth. Most Merino Sheep are bred in Australia and New Zealand. However, Argentina, South Africa and China are also major wool producers.
Wool has qualities that make it the perfect partner for tailoring suits. Wool insulates against both the heat and the cold. It has a good elastic recover, making it very resilient and giving it a springiness that makes suits wrinkle resistant. Wool tends to repel liquids but is also the most hydrophilic of all natural fibres, absorbing as much as 30% of its weight without feeling wet to the touch. Cotton, by contrast, only absorbs 8%. Wool is naturally flame-resistant, requiring a higher temperature to ignite than many fibres. Thousands of years of expertise has rendered the relatively complex process of turning a fleece on the back of an animal thousands of kilometres away, via sheering, spinning and weaving into a cost effective, luxurious and sophisticated cloth, perfectly matched to the requirements of 21st century tailoring.
Sheep are shorn using electric clipping machines once or twice a year. Great care is taken to ensure that the animal is not injured during the process and that the fleece falls off in one piece. Shearing is a time-consuming and therefore relatively expensive part of wool production. An unwashed fleece weighs between 1 and 4.5 kilograms on average. After washing and cleaning only 50% of the original weight can be used and sold at auctions. On average two suits can be made out of one fleece.
Apart from the age of the sheep and the number of times they are sheared the length and fineness of the fibres are the parameters for grading. The sorter fibres are used for woollen spinning and the longer fibres for worsted wool. Most suits are made of worsted fibres. The essential feature of a worsted yarn is straightness of fibre, in that the fibres lie parallel to each other. This result in a degree of strength / durability and crease resistance.
In addition to the wool from sheep, fibres of alpaca, angora, rabbit, yak, camel, muskox, goat (cashmere from Inner Mongolia and China) and lama (from the Andes) are also used for suits, jackets and overcoats. These rarer animals have different layers of wool to protect them from the cold and extreme weather conditions. In general, it can be said that that the tougher the living conditions are for the animals, the finer the wool fibres become. Because these animals are so rare and live in such remote locations, it becomes difficult to harvest the wool, especially when these animals do not live in big herds. That is one of the reasons these fibres (and the clothes they are tailored into) are so expensive. Needless to say suits can also be made from cotton, linen, silk and many other fabrics.