It’s hard to get excited (sorry) about Merino wool. It’s thick, you can’t see through it, and we associate it with stuffy jumpers and low to medium heat settings for the washing machine. But where does Merino wool come from? I dug deeper and found some fascinating facts about this remarkable material.
Merino wool comes from New Zealand and Australia, where the sheep that produce it were first domesticated. Merino wool is thinner, softer and better than regular wool, and it can withstand temperatures ranging from -20°C in winter to 35°C in summer.
Merino wool is soft and versatile, which explains why it is so expensive. Sweaters made from Merino wool are renowned for their natural wicking capacity and ability to keep wearers warm in cold weather and cool when temperatures rise.
In fact, Merino wool has a natural capacity for odor control that synthetic fibers can’t match.
What Animal Makes Merino Wool?
Merino sheep, who naturally wick away moisture and possess insulators that adapt to various weather conditions, provide us with the world’s softest and finest wool.
Australia is home to many Merino wool growers producing scales of Merino wool using sustainable practices. The process of turning sheep hair into clothing is all-natural since sheep are natural creatures that produce natural fibers.
Since Merino wool is derived from animals, there’s less water, pesticides, or herbicides required for its production, as opposed to cotton.
Merino wool is elastic because it has many crimps (up to 100 crimps per inch). A crimp refers to the waviness of a textile fiber. The more crimps the wool has, the better it can be spun into yarn and the greater the insulation it provides.
Merino sheep are better than other sheep at growing wool, and the stuff they grow is much better than regular wool. Merino wool is lovely to wear because it wicks moisture away from your body and doesn’t stink after you’ve been wearing it for a while. It’s also naturally flame-retardant and hypoallergenic, so when you burn down your house by trying to launder your Merino wool sweater, your insurance company will forgive you.
Not only do Merino sheep provide warm, comfy clothing, but their wool is also far superior to synthetic fibers and provides immense benefits to outdoor enthusiasts. These benefits include warmth and comfort for mountaineers and protection from the elements for marathon runners. Not bad for a species of sheep that were almost extinct not long ago!
While Merino wool is more expensive than synthetic materials, it is worth the cost because it provides natural benefits—and no synthetic material can compare.
Between you and me, here are links to some sites that offer great Merino wool clothes: some pure and natural, others with a dash of cashmere. I can’t claim any one is better than the others. They’re all fantastic.
- Icebreaker (They carry a wide variety of casual and sports clothes made with Merino wool. Check out their selection here.)
- Unbound (You can get some good stuff here, like socks, underwear, shirts, t-shirts, button-down shirts, and sweaters.)
- SmartWool (Treat yourself to the finest socks and apparel money can buy here.)
- RidgeMerino (They’re on a mission to provide high-quality, high-value Merino wool apparel for men, women and kids. Click here to see their selection.)
- DarnTough (They have a fantastic selection of socks in different colors, lengths, and thicknesses. Check out what they offer here.)
How Is Merino Wool Made?
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep. But before you put on your sweater, know that it takes more than just one sheep to make that hoodie. The wool must be grown, sheared, carded, spun, woven, knitted, and finished.
All these are various stages of production through which Merino wool must pass before reaching the consumer, who then wears it proudly. Here’s how the magic happens:
Step 1. Merino Sheep Growing
In order to raise Merino sheep, you must provide them with adequate amounts of water, grassy fields or fenced pastures, and appropriate flock management techniques. Merinos can be tricky to rear, but you can coax a good amount of wool out of them if cared for correctly.
If you want merino sheep to thrive, you must provide them with a steady supply of clean water. They need to drink about 2 gallons of water a day and may need more if it’s hot out. Give them water that has no algae in it, or better yet, make sure that they have free access to a hygienic water source.
To keep Merino sheep in their designated pasture, owners should ensure that the fencing is secure. You’d be surprised to know that Merinos are quite nimble; they will squeeze through holes or jump over short fences. In some cases, sheep have been known to climb walls to break free from confinement.
Flock management is also essential to keep your sheep from wandering off. Sheep are flock animals and tend to keep to one another, so it’s important to manage them as a group. And since they’re prone to jumping fences, you have to make sure they’re not getting over their boundaries.
Step. 2 Wool Shearing
When a sheep’s wool has reached an optimum length for shearing, shearers can start their work. The sheared wool is then sorted according to its fineness and softness. Some coats could be coarse and rough if exposed to constant abrasions, while others may be soft if exposed less.
The sheared Merino wool is cleaned by scouring it with soap, soda ash, and alkalis to remove dirt, sand, and grease. But the exact cleaning procedure varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Step 3. Carding
At this stage, the fleece will be tangled and has to undergo carding. This process involves passing the fibers through metal teeth to separate and straighten them. The fibers are then blended into slivers and wound into a wool top.
Step 4. Spinning
Spinning is the fiber’s last stop before hitting the looms. First, the fibers are combed and then spun by drawing out, twisting, and bending them to increase their strength and length. There are two methods of spinning: woolen spinning and worsted spinning.
Step 5. Weaving or Knitting Process
Weaving and knitting are two vastly different ways of creating fabric. Weaving utilizes mechanical looms to create a smooth, consistent product. Knitting, on the other hand, involves the creation of fabric by interlocking loops.
Step 6. Finishing Stages
The final stages of wool production include dying the wool, filling it with water, and immersing the fabric in a crabbing process. This makes the fibers interlock, protecting against shrinking. After these steps, the material is ready to be turned into sweaters, socks, and other clothing items.
Final Thoughts: where does merino wool come from?
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep. And Merino sheep are unique because they provide natural benefits that synthetic fabrics cannot. For instance, their wool is breathable, odor-resistant, and temperature-regulating. They’re also raised humanely—on small farms in Australia and New Zealand—to ensure they’re healthy enough to produce high-quality wool. But it’s not just about ethics: Merino wool is soft and strong, which makes it ideal for base layers and winter accessories like hats and scarves.
When you’re planning an extreme adventure, don’t forget to pack some Merino wool. Sure, synthetic fabrics promise to do the same job—but only natural fibers like wool can offer your body the kind of support it needs in extreme weather conditions.