An introduction to wool wraps

** This post refers only to Firespiral wraps; wool comes in many forms and we cannot speak for wool wraps made other companies. Follow individual manufacturer guidelines when caring for your wraps**

Wool has some wonderful natural qualities that lend themselves to wrapping. The right wool can offer enough support to make a toddler feel weightless, but with a cushioning and bounce that is unparalleled. Wool wraps can be incredibly soft and cuddly with a natural tendency to mould snugly as you wrap, wool is naturally antibacterial and regulates temperature well (so it doesn’t need to be relegated to just the cold days).

Given how lovely wool wraps are to use, you would think that their popularity would be guaranteed, but many people are put off by the perceived difficulty in washing and caring for wool. There are some issues that you certainly have to be aware of when it comes to wool and I’ll address those here, but caring for a Firespiral wool wrap is not half as difficult as you may think…

Wool earned its ‘high maintenance’ label because incorrect washing can cause it to felt and become permanently unsafe to use. That sound pretty dramatic doesn’t it! But wool wraps aren’t some kind of felting timebomb, and if you understand what causes it and how to correctly care for your wrap then it isn’t going to happen to you. There is an assumption that wool must be laboriously handwashed, but in reality, it only needs to be washed correctly in accordance with the care instructions. We try to choose wools that are easily machine washable for simplicity of care, and so, for the most part, our care instructions are for you to machine wash your wrap. The only examples that we have seen of our wool wraps felting have been in instances where the wraps have been incorrectly washed. A couple of those have been due to users being so anxious and mistrustful of our washing instructions that they have made adaptations to the process in an attempt to make it feel ‘safer’, but those extra steps have actually done more harm than good.

Incorrect handwashing can felt a wrap just like incorrect machine washing would. There is a helpful picture that gets circulated in response to washing queries, showing how to handwash using a no-rinse wool wash (not every wool wash will fit this bill), but our recommended instructions are to wash in a washing machine rather than to handwash.

If you enjoy handwashing and can do it correctly, then it is perfectly fine to do so, and obviously, if you know that your washing machine has some fatal flaw that procludes its use then you will need to handwash. Your machine needs to have a wool wash setting (which pretty much every machine has nowadays). If your machine is 25 years old and held together by sticky tape and rusty nails, or the motor is so shot that the spin screeches and falters ungainly and the temperature controls are temperamental then obviously use your judgement, but other than that, washing machines are actually incredibly reliable and capable of washing even the most delicate of items.

When possible we use wool yarns that have been blended with another fibre to stabilise them and help prevent felting.

What is felting?

Felting doesn’t happen randomly, it is caused by a particular set of circumstances and when you understand what those are then avoiding it becomes much simpler. Moisture, agitation and quick changes in temperature/high temperature open up the structure of the fibres and encourages them to bind together. Felting is more likely to occur when several of these conditions are met. So washing at high temperatures or a quick change of water temperature will encourage felting. The friction of the wrap rubbing against something will be more likely to encourage felting if the wrap is wet. There is evidence to suggest that spinning at high speeds doesn’t cause felting in itself because at high speed the cloth is pinned to the sides of the drum and not being rubbed against itself.The damage is likely to be due to the agitation created during the process of building up speed when the cloth is moving considerably.

A wool cycle on your washing machine will be designed to minimise agitation (by controlling movement water levels) and have gentle changes in temperature

Felted wraps become dense and solid, losing definition so that it is hard to distinguish one wool thread from another. They shrink up, losing width sometimes unevenly to create puckered, wobbly looking rails. The cloth loses its ability to stretch, creaking slightly as you apply tension. There are degrees of felting, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether or not felting has occurred. The key point to consider is whether you feel that your wrap still functions safely, effectively and comfortably. Our wraps have a combed cotton warp, and this provides the strength throughout the cloth. Those warp threads will not felt, retaining their integrity, but the wool weft will felt around them. It is perfectly normal for wool to become softly fluffy and appear more ‘woolly’ after washing. This is not to be confused with felting.

In the picture below you can see how the felted wrap (on top) is now much narrower than the washed, unfelted wrap underneath it

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The wrap below is not felted. Whilst the red wool threads are much thicker and fluffier than the blue cotton, they are still individually discernable and move independently from each other when the cloth is wiggled.

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The image below shows a felted wrap, where the red wool threads have fused together.

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A direct comparison between felted & non felted cloth. Felting can occur in uneven patches, with some areas more obviously affected than others

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Felted threads.

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The unfelted wrap below demonstrates the fluffy texture that is normal for wool yarns to develop but shows that despite the ‘wooliness’, the individual threads are still distinct and not matted together.

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These pictures show fluffy yet completely unfelted wraps

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How to avoid felting

  • Use a delicate, wool specific liquid detergent. These are widely available in shops
  • Do not use fabric softener
  • Wash on a wool cycle at the lowest temperature, and with the lowest spin available. We recommend 600rpm or below
  • Do not be tempted to add non-wool items to the drum (pillowcases, towels etc). The wool cycle isn’t designed to deal with these items.
  • Air dry flat, do not hang on a radiator or other heat source. Wraps with a low wool content can be pegged on a washing line, using plenty of pegs to avoid misshaping.
  • Wool wraps can be ironed on a gentle/cool setting.
  • Do not braid or ‘supercoil’ your wool wraps- the best method for breaking them in is to wear them.
  • Don’t add extra non-wool items to a wool wash cycle (towels etc) as this can cause unnecessary problems. Similarly trying to protect the wrap by placing it in a pillowcase during a wash can negatively impact on the cloth, trapping loose fibres that should have washed away and allowing them to embed in the cloth.

Isn’t wool itchy?

We use wools that become incredibly soft and fluffy without any itch, however, most wool is treated with natural oils to allow it to be spun and woven. These need to be washed out in order for your wrap to develop the soft handle that they are capable of. They may take 2 machine washes (or more handwashes) before the wool is no longer ‘loom stat