Wool has stood in for even more precious fabrics: In 18th-century Norway, when the king forbade the wearing of silk by commoners, farmers opted for imported worsted wool fabric, which had a similar sheen.
11. Besides clothing, wool has quite a few industrial uses, from piano dampers to absorbent pads for those baaaaad oil spills.
12. Out on some Montana roadsides, woolen silt fences and erosion-control blankets are cropping up, according to Rob Ament of the Western Transportation Institute, which adapted the practice from New Zealand colleagues.
13. Wool has the right properties for the job because it’s a lightweight ground covering that allows seedlings to grow right through it.
14. Wool is also biodegradable. It breaks down slowly, fertilizing the plants with a generous nitrogen content of a whopping 17 percent compared with the 6 percent nitrogen in commercial turf products. And it is water-retentive.
15. In a seeming paradox, wool can absorb and repel water simultaneously.
16. The outer surface of wool fiber is made up of fatty acid proteins and does not absorb liquid. However, structural features in the fiber’s interior, called salt linkages, can sop up copious amounts of moisture in vapor form.
17. In short, wool hates liquid but loves vapor.
18. But wait, there’s more: With a high natural ignition point of about 1,382 degrees Fahrenheit, wool is fire-resistant. And unlike nylon and polyester, wool does not drip or melt when it does catch fire.
19. These qualities recently attracted the interest of the U.S. Army, which is researching wool’s potential in clothing designed to protect combat troops from explosive blasts.
20. We can thank wool for a different kind of explosion — one we actually want. Inside most baseballs, including those used in Major League Baseball, you’ll find layers of tightly wound wool yarn: Each ball contains about 370 yards of the wool windings, which provide resilience to withstand the crushing impact of a batter’s hit off high-velocity pitches.
(Additional reporting by Gemma Tarlach)