An evergreen and circular practice that gives new life to old garments and scraps
Wool is an extremely durable fibre and garments made with it usually have a long life, but that’s not all. Wool is also easily recyclable and the resulting ‘new’ fiber can be re-used to create luxurious fabrics, thus extending the lifetime of garments, avoiding the use of virgin materials and helping the environment. One well-known hub for wool recycling is Prato, Italy, where the biggest textile district of Europe has mastered this circular economy practice, which is also chemicals-free and dyes-free. Such recycling has been performed on an industrial scale since the 19th century. The wool recycling process is labor intensive and requires specialized knowledge. What’s behind a recycled wool fabric?
Recycled wool fabrics start from pre- and post-consumer wool garments and production scraps, which – before starting their journey to become ‘new’ fibers – must undergo the sorting process. In this phase, the garments are cleaned from non-recyclable materials, such as zips, buttons, elastics, liners, linings, brand labels, care labels, embroideries and prints. Once these elements are cut out, the garments are masterfully divided by color and composition. This phase is done by the cienciaiolis, high-skilled artisans who are able to recognize fabrics (and their composition) just by touching them. Once old garments are sorted, they are sent to the next phase.
In this phase, the garments and scraps , which were carefully cleaned and divided by color and composition, are processed with a mechanical shredding machine. Old garments are carried on a conveyor belt, first through a series of blades, or guillotines, then through two cylinders—one grabs, another one pulls—to chop the fabrics even finer, all of this without using chemicals, but just with a little water. The result is a ‘new’ recycled wool fiber.
This phase, called blending, gives life to the recycled wool fabric’s final color. When it comes to creating colors in wool recycling, no additional dye is needed, since the ‘new’ fibers obtained through the shredding process come from garments and scraps that were dyed in their former life. Imagine a painter with its color board, mixing different shades to create a specific color – it’s exactly the same with recycled wool colors. Raw material artisans, also called Feltrinisti, manage to devise new wool colors just by mixing different fibers and shades of colors, in specific percentages, developing actual ‘recipes’ that are archived and reproduced over time (see Recype). This color creation technique is circular, chemicals-free, dyes-free and gives life to unique colors, that cannot be obtained in other ways. Once the right color recipe has been made, it is multiplied by the kg of yarns that are going to be produced and sent to the spinning mill.
Once the right color recipe has been achieved and multiplied by the kgs of yarns to be produced, big bales of recycled wool fibers are sent to the spinning mill. Here, the raw material is processed in a big carding machine, which is composed of two large cylinders (drum and comb) equipped with metal teeth. This machine mechanically disentangles, cleans, intermixes and parallelize fibres to produce a continuous and homogeneous web, which is then separated into long rovings and spinned. The yarn is formed by a number of intermittent actions, the rovings are drawn out by means of a moveable carriage, and then twisted to increase their strength. The resulting yarns are tested and – if they meet all quality standards – are sent to the weaving mill.
This is the crucial phase before creating the actual recycled wool fabric. A woven fabric is made of two main sets: warp and weft. Warp yarns run with along the length of fabric and weft yarns go across the width of the fabric. The warping phase is the preparation of yarns to weave fabric. It is the transfer of many yarns from the creel of single packages to a beam. The yarns will form a parallel sheet of yarn wound onto the beam. The basic objective of warping is to built a package where yarn ends remain in uniformly set parallel and continuous form, in order for it to be easily put on a loom and be woven.
The big beams of yarns obtained through the warping phase are sent to the weaving mill, the place where the actual recycled wool fabric comes to life. Weaving is the process through which a fabric is made by interlacing warp and weft threads thanks to a loom. The beam with warp yarns is set on the loom, the weft yarns passes across the loom in a shuttle, which carries the yarns on a pirn.
The three primary movements of a loom are shedding, picking, and beating-up.
Shedding: The warp is divided into two lines, so that the shuttle can pass between these lines.
Picking: The operation of projecting the shuttle from side to side of the loom through the division in the warp threads. This is done by the overpick or underpick motions.
Beating-up: The third primary movement of the loom when making cloth, and is the action of the reed as it drives each pick of weft to the fell of the cloth.
The result of the weaving phase is the greige fabric, which is tested and then sent to the finishing mill.
The finishing mill is the place that literally ennobles and enhances the look, performance and handfeel of greige fabrics, which usually are never readily usable. The newly born recycled wool fabric undergoes a series of wet, physical processes and treatments: such as fulling, tumbler washing, KD, raising, brushing, you name it, depending on the final look that is requested by brands or chosen by the textile mill.
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