Merino wool is arguably one of the most recognized breeds of sheep today. “Made with Merino” labels are used on products to add instant value. Merino wool has become synonymous with soft, against the skin comfort. But there is so much more to know about this illustrious breed.
The early history of the merino sheep has many conflicting opinions prior to the 13th century. The general consensus is that the breed was developed in Spain by the Royalty and the Clergy from breeding Spain’s sheep with North Africa’s sheep. This would become the foundation stock for the many other fine wools and merino types today. The Royal families controlled the valuable sheep industry and it was strictly prohibited to export merino. Eventually, Spanish monarchs started to gift merino sheep to their royal relatives in Europe and therefore, spread the merino breed across the world. As these sheep were established in new regions, they were bred to maintain their fine fleece and adapt to their new environment. Today the majority of the merino wool commercial produced is produced in the Southern Hemisphere. At Ashland Bay our merino wool is sourced from both South America and South Africa, depending on seasonal availability.
Merino wool is known for its tight crimp structure in the fiber. This is the frequency of the waves in the staple that occurs during the natural growth of the wool. The measurement is referred to as crimps per inch. Merino has the highest number of crimps per inch in its wool. The crimp measurement has historically been a vital part of the selection of Merino sheep for breeding and crimp frequency was the most common means of estimating fiber diameter. It is still used in grading fleeces, although now there is a more accurate micron measurement with a micrometer.
What does crimp mean to the spinner?
1) Enhances the elasticity of the yarn
2) Creates air pockets in the spun yarn. These air pockets contribute to the exceptional thermal properties of wool.
3) The tighter the crimp the finer the yarn can be spun.
Merino have very greasy, dense fleeces. The grease protects the wool,
keeping it clean because dirt will stick to the greasy tips. However the
high grease content in the fleece also contributes to a higher weight
loss after cleaning (lower yield)
Merino’s micron count is between 11.5-25, the average 20-22. This produces exceptionally soft wool with against the skin comfort.
With their beginnings steeped in Royalty and their wool prized for comfort, you can easily see why the merinos are known as the king of the sheep breeds. Ashland Bay’s 19.5 micron Merino will be on sale from July 8 – July 22nd. The Merino wool card is available here.