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Beyond the Bale : Jun - July 08
By Melissa Marino T he propensity for wool to yellow in sunlight and its low bleaching efficiency have long been an industry headache, and added to the challenge of competing with synthetics and cotton. Even when bleached, wool retains a slight cream colour when viewed side-by-side with bleached cotton, for example. Lately the problem has become more pronounced as wool manufacturing, driven by fashion trends, eyes the new, rapidly growing markets for sportswear and casual clothes in bright white and pastel shades. Fortunately the research into understanding why wool yellows and finding ways to prevent it has a long history, and a vast body of data has been accumulated on the subject. However, without any ‘step-change’ developments in all this time (some 50 years) a comprehensive review of research was undertaken by CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology senior principal research scientist Dr Keith Millington. The review became a 24,000-word, two-part paper, which recently earned Dr Millington the Centenary Medal for the best review paper for the year at this year’s Society of Dyers and Colourists awards in Britain. Critiquing all past research on the photo-yellowing of wool, including his own, Dr Millington’s review, published in the society’s journal Coloration Technology, identifies gaps in the knowledge and makes future research directions much clearer. The award caps a decade of Dr Millington’s own research, largely funded by AWI, on the chemistry and mechanism of wool yellowing; work that, in 2003, earned him London’s Worshipful Company of Dyers’ Gold Research Medal with Professor Louis Kirschenbaum of the University of Rhode Island. The two were recognised for their work on free radical oxidation in wool – a process whereby highly reactive free radicals, which form in fibres on exposure to light, can attack materials leading to yellowing. It is work that was integral to understanding the process of wool yellowing and has synergies with research into the human ageing process, such as the degenerative effects of free radicals on skin and other tissues. Dr Millington explains that certain components of wool become excited when they are exposed to light, and when they are in that excited state they can react rapidly with oxygen by free radical reactions. They then form oxidation products, which are the yellow materials that we can see in the fibres after exposure to light. “That’s why the chemistry involved in wool yellowing is very similar to what happens in ageing processes for living things,” he says. “As you get older, oxidation becomes more extensive in your skin and other organs, including the brain. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are oxidation related, and it’s all to do with ageing via free radical processes.” But, Dr Millington says, because wool does not have a natural antioxidant defence system like living things do to reduce the rate of yellowing or ageing, scientists need to develop a way to prevent the free radical oxidation from Medal for off-colour scientist Dr Keith Millington has been recognised for his review of research into photo-yellowing of wool, which has helped clarify future research needs 22 textiles Beyond the Bale occurring in wool in the first place. “This is quite challenging,” Dr Millington says. “One of the ways would be to keep oxygen away from wool, but obviously people want to go outside and wear it. An oxygen- impermeable coating on the fibre is conceivable, but would probably affect the way wool feels. The challenge is to find something that doesn’t interfere too much with other properties in wool that people like.” Dr Millington’s review helped crystallise the issues for research and industry and helped identify where his own work is headed as part of his role in the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Sheep Industry Innovation, where he is leader of the wool colour program. His current research focus is two-pronged: investigating better wool-bleaching techniques and understanding the genetics of wool colour. “We’re still bleaching wool using technology developed during the industrial revolution, so to improve bleaching we need to properly identify what the yellow materials are, to target bleaching to attack them specifically,” he says. “If we can figure out what the yellow materials are in the fibre and link them to specific genes, perhaps we can breed whiter sheep and avoid the need to bleach altogether.” Dr Millington says if the research is successful, wool will be able to compete equally with cotton and synthetics, which has long been a major aim of the industry. ú More information: www.csiro.au/org/tFt.html; www.sdc.org.uk; www.sheepcrc.org.au/index.php?id=1246 Knowledge treats the pill AWi is working with the fashion industry to ensure the world is rid of jumpers that pill. As part of a program to educate the fashion industry about woollen sweater production, AWi recently organised a seminar, ‘Pilling … causes and remedies’, which was attended by more than 300 industry professionals in Hong Kong. Participants included representatives of 20 Woolmark licensees and 40 trading firms and buying offices of retailers such as Polo Ralph lauren, Abercrombie and Fitch, Ann taylor, Aquascutum, Fila sport, Gap, Cortefiel, esprit, li & Fung, Marubeni, Calvin Klein, VF, Mexx and J. Crew. AWi’s business development manager for Greater China Alex lai says the idea behind the seminar was to educate the Hong Kong buying offices about the characteristics of Merino wool and its processing. Mr lai, who is based in Hong Kong, says it also provides a platform for the Woolmark licensees and buying offices to meet and discuss their business. He says the number of attendees indicates AWi is taking the right direction in solving the problem. Feedback from questionnaires indicated that participants found the seminar interesting and relevant. “the technical level of the seminar was just right and the content was useful for attendees. the questionnaires also provided us with topics that attendees are interested in, which is important for preparing future seminars.” More information: www.merinoinnovation.com.au PH o to: Be R n AD ette li Pson AWi’s Alex lai (right) explains the processing of Australian Merino wool to some of the more than 300 attendees at AWi’s seminar on the causes of pilling recently held in Hong Kong. “if we can figure out what the yellow materials are in the fibre and link them to specific genes, perhaps we can breed whiter sheep and avoid the need to bleach altogether.” – dr Keith Millington
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
Aug - Sep 08