- Apr 10, 2011
- Reaction score
This is all well and good, but I'm not sure how this information is relevant for the consumer. As Despos noted, it's difficult, if not impossible, for people on this end of the trade to get that information. The best they can do is rely on direct experience and the maker's name/reputation. For people who don't even know how to tailor (us and other customers), I'm not sure we're in a better position.Objective measurement of fleeces on-farm and at the auction house has been developing rapidly over the past 3 decades, supplementing the skills of the woolclasser who works in the shearing shed. In addition to measuring staple length and average fibre diameter, it can very cheaply identify tender fleeces (those susceptible to a break in the fibre due to nutritional setback), standard deviation of fibre diameter within the sample (uniformity, in other words), and tensile strength. All this is information available to the topmaker at the combing mill when their agent buys the fleece, and they are correlated with how the spun fibre, and to an extent the derived cloth, performs. They are not a perfect substitute for objective durability tests like the Martindale test (resistance to rubbing) on finished fabric but they are correlated. Topmaker, spinner and weaver/finisher have very detailed objective information on the fibres they are working with, but merchants may choose not to communicate that to tailors or garment factory operators, which I think is a pity.
With superfine and ultrafine fleeces, some growers will break a skirted fleece into further pieces to produce two lots with smaller variation of fibre diameter than if submitted as an unbroken skirted fleece, which increases the overall sales price of the fleece.
The tendency over the past three decades has been for reduced variation within wool bales, which makes the topmaker's blending decisions much easier and helps him/her produce top to a tighter spec at a lower cost. Some people bemoan that greater uniformity in a top destined for fine worsteds reduced crease resistance and durability in the fabric (the rationale for the old Smiths Whole Fleece line, which had a higher variability in fibre diameter within each thread than most, and hence more strong, stiff fibres that resist breaking or creasing) but it is not the only factor at play.
For those interested in the interface between woolgrower and the textile supply chain, the attached article is interesting reading. An extract;
" It is also important to define the term topmaker. It is often loosely applied to a company or mill that converts raw wool into top. That is in fact a “comber”. A topmaker is the person that undertakes the blend engineering. Most exporters carry out the topmaking function and all combing mills will have a topmaker on their staff. The topmaker can in fact be regarded as the “cook” in the wool combing industry. He takes different farm lots and blends them together to meet the specifications and price restraints placed on him by the combing mill, much the same way as a cook takes flour, butter, sugar, eggs etc. to bake a cake. If the chef wants a chocolate cake he must add chocolate in the same way as the topmaker can and probably will add pieces or skirtings to a blend if the end product is to be used for dark suiting fabric. In another example, the topmaker will only use low diameter fleece wool if the top is to be used in pastel shade ladies next-to-skin knitwear. The analogy between cook and topmaker is a very apt one."
If you have experience with two cloths, say an Engish worsted and an Italian worsted, it's not enough to say that the English worsted lasted longer because it was heavier. That's because the two fabrics differ in many more dimensions than just weight -- it could be any number of factors. It may be that you didn't have a good experience with that specific Italian worsted and thus don't recommend that book, but it doesn't makes sense to me to generalize this into "heavier fabrics are better."
The Brooks executive I interviewed said that he saw fabrics get worse over time even when accounting for all the same specs -- same weave, same mill, same finishing, same machines, etc. He attributed it to declining wool quality. According to him, they couldn't achieve that old quality anymore even when they tried, but the program ended up being cut off in the mid-aughts, so this was a brief ten year program.