You’ve probably seen and heard this buzzy phrase over and over—Merino wool. Whether it’s advertised by active wear brands or highlighted on yarn labels, sometimes it feels like Merino wool is everywhere. We all know that wool is that delightfully warm and regrettably itchy stuff that comes from sheep. What’s the fuss with “Merino?” Let’s find out.
WHAT IS MERINO WOOL?
Merino wool isn’t just any wool. It comes from a particular breed of sheep, known (obviously) as the Merino sheep. This particular breed originated in 12th century Spain, where they were prized for their high-quality wool. These sheep were so loved, in fact, that Spain barred exports of Merino sheep for over 400 years! During this time period, herds were maintained by church leaders and nobles. Spaniards had access to this premium textile, while residents of other countries dealt with the itchy-scratchy wool derived from other breeds.
Flash-forward to the Napoleonic Wars that occurred between 1793 – 1813. The fighting all but destroyed the Merino industry in Spain, causing the country to loosen their tight grip on the sheep that they had held for centuries. Little by little, other countries gained herds of Merinos. Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the United States all saw growth in their Merino populations. Selective breeding, especially in Australia and New Zealand, allowed the wool to improve in texture, softness, and a host of other characteristics, sending consumers in search of this luxury wool. Besides the high-quality wool, farmers were also attracted to the hardiness and ease of herding that came with Merino sheep. The breed features a cleft lip, making it easy for sheep to nibble on land that isn’t normally popular for grazing, such as poor or rocky soil. Because of this, Merino sheep quickly became a popular choice for farmers across the globe. Today, it remains a highly regarded and popular breed, especially due to its wool, which has continued to grow in popularity, from the 12th century all the way to the 21st.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MERINO WOOL?
There’s a reason why it seems like you’re seeing Merino wool everywhere. It truly is everywhere, from baby clothes and active wear to blankets and pullovers, Merino is a soft and strong choice for knitwear and other projects. These are just a few of its amazing benefits:
- Warmth. Merino wool contains crimps. When woven into a sweater, these crimps hit each other as you move, creating air-trapping pockets. Air that cannot circulate retains heat that is naturally produced from the body. Result? You are toasty warm!
- Lightweight. You might think of most garments made from sheep’s wool as bulky, big, and unsuitable for packing or traveling. Not so with Merino wool. Finer than most sheep’s wool, this is a lightweight choice that can even be used for base layers and summer-weight sweaters.
- Softness. The knee-jerk reaction to wool can be a reminder of all things itchy, scratchy, uncomfortable, and too warm. Merino wool, on the other hand, is ultra-fine, giving it a soft quality. This is why you often see Merino wool used in infant and baby clothing. An itchy toddler is no fun for anyone, but with Merino wool, little ones stay both warm and comfy.
- Breathability. Traditional wool can feel too hot. Merino wool works actively to wick moisture away from your body, dispersing it into the air. This keeps the body feeling dry all-day long. Merino wool is also naturally efficient at releasing body heat when you are too hot, which helps regulate your body temperature.
- Antibacterial and Water-Repellent. That’s right, in addition to keeping you comfortable, soft, and warm, Merino wool continues to be the superhero of wool with its antibacterial and water-repelling properties. This fiber can hold water without getting damp, it is naturally fire resistant, and it is a safe choice for germ laden environments. The cherry on top? It is naturally allergy-free, saving you any worries about getting the sneezes while wearing this wool.
- Easy to Maintain. Though Merino wool is a natural and renewable choice, it is also surprisingly simple to maintain. Most Merino wool garments and yarns are machine washable and can be tumble dried. Of course, you should remember to always check the label for care instructions! Ultra-fine Merino wool can be blended with cashmere, silk, and polyester. Be sure to check items like knitwear, socks, and base layers. These are often made from Merino blends and demand special care.