Look, if you live in Australia or New Zealand, chances are you’ve seen merino wool being sold before - but have you ever stopped to think what is merino wool - or better yet, delved a little deeper to explore how and what it does?
You may have seen claims that it can self-regulate temperature during summer, that it’s the finest wool on the market, or that it was once so prized; anyone caught exporting it from its country of origin was put to death.
And you may have thought, “okaaaaay sure”, and moved on without too much fact-checking.
Well, that’s where we come in.
This blog post will get to the truth behind this wondrous fibre, and explain why it’s the perfect choice for small, growing bodies.
But first, let’s address where does merino wool come from because that is a fascinating tale in itself.
The Origins of Merino Wool
So you’d be absolutely right in thinking Australia is one of the top producers of merino wool.
In fact, our country is the biggest global exporter of wool generally, accounting for about 25 percent of the world’s wool supply. Further to that, 80 percent of the cheap on our soil are Merino sheep.
BUT that is now, we need to talk about then.
Merino sheep actually originate from Spain. These fine-wool bearing sheep were first bred around the Middle Ages. They were deemed so precious no one was allowed to export the animals for their own gain. Should anyone be caught breaking this rule, they would be put to death.
And so, for centuries, the Spanish kept a firm monopoly on the fine wool market until roughly the 18th Century, when Merinos were graciously gifted to the courts of several European nations.
From there, the species spread until finally they reached Australia.
Fun fact; the first of these prized sheep were believed to arrive here in 1797.
Since then, Australian farmers have refined the wool further through selective-breeding, which is why today we are considered an integral player in the fine wool market.
And that brings us to the first benefit of merino wool; it’s origins, when compared to other textiles, are nowhere near as exciting or as steeped in history.,
Let’s take a look at some more than, shall we?
One of the Finest Wools on the Market
For those wondering, “is merino wool itchy” we’re happy to report the answer is a big ripe no.
Merino wool is actually one of the finest and softest wools on the market, up there with cashmere and lambswool.
Fun fact number two, lambswool is the name given to any wool that comes from a lamb’s first shearing - no matter what the species is - so merino can be lambswool if it comes from those first spring babies.
The point is, those haunted by the memory of scratchy bulky homemade jumpers found in vintage shops or grandma’s cupboard can rest easy.
Let’s go deeper here, and explore the difference between merino wool or cashmere, because some incorrectly assume cashmere is the finest option on the market…probably based on its exorbitant price - let’s be honest.
This is just not true, especially for Australians and New Zealanders and those looking to buy gifts for little ones.
Merino is a studier wool when compared with cashmere. In simple terms, it can hold its shape, meaning it won’t pull, go saggy or form those horrid little balls you often see on woollen garments - that’s called pilling for reference.
Now let’s talk about the heat thing.
Wondering, is cashmere or merino wool warmer?
The former is actually a lot warmer than merino, BUT this is a huge draw-back in Australia’s variable climate.
Cashmere fibres are so effective at insulating overheating is a common problem; while soft and fine, it just doesn’t temperature-regulate.
Merino fibres, on the other hand, are able to regulate temperature through a magical process called “heat of absorption”.
If you’ve long-wondered what is special about merino wool, this is one of the big upsides.
From Summer to Winter: the Magic of Merino
Merino wool’s temperature regulation properties mean you can wear merino wool in summer as well as in the chilly winter months.
Let us explain how this process - heat of absorption - works.
Merino fibres absorb moisture. In summer, this has a cooling effect because the fine, soft fibres will draw moisture from your skin, rather than the dry air. From there, it evaporates, keeping you cool - and, more importantly, feeling fresh.
In winter, this heat of absorption process works a little bit differently. The wool will absorb moisture from the air, and through a scientific process a bit too involved to explain here, this is transformed into heat. The merino fibres have a loft-like structure that “traps” the heat generated, keeping bodies toasty and warm.
It’s through this process that Merino sheep can live comfortably in temperatures ranging from -10C to 35C.