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News

Future sheep may be haute couture

CSIRO : 05 October, 2006  (Technical Article)
The world
Scientists at CSIRO Livestock Industries and the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, have been working on ways to increase the ‘drape’ of wool in a bid to develop a premium-quality garment fibre for the world’s top fashion houses.

Senior CLI research scientist, Dr Tony Schlink, said the research had identified ways to test the rigidity of wool fibres as an indicator trait for the drape of a finished wool garment.

“The next step will be to determine whether the trait can be inherited thereby opening the possibility for the development of a flock of ‘haute couture sheep’,” Dr Schlink said.

“So far the development of premium-quality wool has focused on fibre diameter. This study goes beyond that and is looking at the structure and development of the fibres in terms of their rigidity. We have already established that fibre stiffness varies between individual animals.”

He said that although wool was traditionally sold on the basis of its dimensional characteristics, the project was considering the merits of raw wool in terms of consumer demand for a number of characteristics including: the finished garment’s ability to absorb a wide range of dyes, its softness, washability and how it hangs when worn.

“The aim is to develop a product that can compete with other novel animal-based fabrics like cashmere or fine silk at the premium end of the market,” Dr Schlink said.

Whereas wool quality had improved dramatically since John MacArthur’s initial success in the 1790s in selectively breeding merino’s to produce high-grade Australian wool, further improvements were required to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of today’s niche textile markets.

“Currently, Australia’s ability to meet that kind of demand is being compromised even before a farmer’s clip reaches the farm gate, simply because some of their best wool is packaged in bales together with ordinary fleeces,” Dr Schlink said.

“One of the major aims of this research is, therefore, to enable wool producers to establish standalone flocks of merinos capable of producing high-quality, high-value wool clips for specific markets.”
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