Wool is a natural fibre consisting of a protein substance, keratin, which is obtained from the fleece of sheep, rams and other animals. The wool is collected by the technique of shearing: it is taken from the live animal, cutting with extreme skill; shearing usually takes place in the spring, though sometimes in the autumn, too (double shearing). The yield depends on the breed of the animal, its age and the year. Wool is notably hard-wearing; it wrinkles easily but just as easily returns to shape; it is warm to the touch and thermally insulating due to its capacity of trapping a larger quantity of air than other textile fibres; it is perfect for protection from both the heat and the cold. Wool absorbs water, dries quickly and can be easily dyed, it is not usually attacked by mould or bacteria, but it is subject to harm from clothes moths.
On average, a sheep produces from 2 to 30 kg of wool a year, depending on the breed, the genetic make-up, the type of feed and the time between each shearing. In the South of Australia, a five-year-old merinos sheep that had never been sheared before had the incredible quantity of 40kg of wool of on its back!
On average, from a single shearing of a sheep in Tasmania (Australia), 7.7 jumpers or 61 pairs of socks can be obtained. However, there is one particular sheep, Shaun, whose wool could theoretically produce as many as 35 jumpers or 280 pairs of socks.