Merino wool has been steadily gaining a reputation as one of the most versatile natural fibres available. Most commonly found in Australia and New Zealand, Merino sheep produce some of the softest wool in the world, and this wool also contains a remarkable number of natural benefits.
The finer and longer a wool fibre is, the softer it is, and Merino fibres have both these properties in abundance, making it one of the softest wools available. Most sheep produce a rough overcoat and a softer undercoat, but the Merino sheep produces only a softer fleece, with the thickest fibre being 24 microns thick (roughly less than half the diameter of a human hair). The finest Merino fibres are only 12 microns thick, which is an astounding 1/100th of a millimetre in diameter. Merino is also usually spun into quite a dense yarn, which prevents uneven pilling.
The deep and soft fleece of a Merino sheep (Image source: Wilderness Mastery)
Most people know that wool is an ideal material for keeping you warm due to its insulating properties. However, what is less-commonly known is wool’s ability to also cool you down in warmer temperatures. The natural wicking properties of Merino draw sweat away from your skin when you perspire, helping to keep your body at a comfortable temperature.
Synthetic materials lack the ability to absorb moisture, which is why we sweat more when we wear them. Merino naturally absorbs up to 30% of its own weight in moisture from its surrounding environment so that it can then evaporate away. This makes Merino a highly breathable and comfortable natural wool material.
The breathable yet warm qualities of Merino make it perfect for clothing and blankets (Image source: Marcus Nyberg)
Because Merino has natural moisture-absorbing qualities, it is also able to absorb the odours that occur in your sweat. These odours don’t evaporate into the surrounding air, but the Merino locks them up and traps them until they can be dissolved when washed.
People often worry that caring for wool materials is fussy and complicated, but Merino is incredibly simple to care for. The wool fibres are strong enough to be machine washed on a wool setting with a standard wool detergent, eliminating the need for dry cleaning and specialist care chemicals. Because Merino has natural anti-wrinkle properties, a simple steam iron is all that’s needed to give a smooth and soft finish to your washed and dried wool fabric.
Raw Merino fleece at the beginning of the spinning process (Image source: Hello Evra)
Merino is an entirely natural, biodegradable and renewable material. In order for sheep to produce a high-quality wool fleece, they need to be living in a clean and healthy environment, with access to broad open spaces, fresh air, sunshine and grass. These positive surroundings shine through in the beautifully-spun wool yarn, whose natural qualities can also be absorbed back into the earth, helping to nurture the soil and produce fresh grass for grazing.
A final positive quality of Merino is its natural fire resistance. It contains keratin, a protein that protects the wool from damage and stress. When the keratin is combined with the high level of moisture that the wool can contain, the ignition temperature for Merino is considerably higher than other materials. Once ignited, Merino also burns very slowly and at a low temperature, further reducing risk.