Know Your Fiber: Merino Wool

Posted on May 03 2017

Know Your Fiber:  Merino Wool

  

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Spanish began importing rams from the Beni-Merines tribe in Morocco to breed with Spanish sheep, resulting in the Merino (which, as you may have guessed, took their name from that tribe).  The results were beyond what even the Spanish hoped for - a fine-wool, very productive sheep that allowed Spain to corner the fine-wool market until the 16th century. These sheep were so valuable, that Spain prohibited export of Merino sheep, on pain of death, until the 1700s.

Then, in 1735, the Spanish monarchy allowed the first Merino breeding stock to leave Spain for Germany, which was followed over the next century by gifts of breeding stock to other European courts. These amazing and in-demand sheep were suddenly out of the bag!  

By the late 1800s, the first Merino sheep had arrived in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. These sheep provided the foundation of the Merino sheep that are still popular to this day.  There are a number of different Merino breeds today, thanks to enterprising sheep breeders that continue to breed for softness and productiveness.

Merino sheep and their wool remain popular. Much of the world's Merino wool comes from Australia and New Zealand. The sheep produce a very dense wool; compared to some wool sheep they have more than twice the number of wool follicles per square millimeter. This productivity makes them a very popular sheep among wool farmers. Among crafters and designers, the Merino wool is popular for its softness, elasticity, and ability to comfortably be worn against the skin.

As one of the top most popular wools, Merino is available as fiber and yarn from a wide variety of producers in a veritable rainbow of colors. Here at Northwest Yarns, we offer several types Merino fiber and yarns in our online store, and even more at our brick-and-mortar shop! Stop on by on-site or online and check out the Merino wool that's right for your project!

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