I always start out my research of a sheep or fiber animal breed in my Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, in the index. I like to see what all information will be available about the breed, and how spread out in the book the information will be. I was bracing myself for a flood of information for this weeks breed, as it is one of the most popular wools in the commercial wool clothing sphere. The wool of the week sheep breed this week is Merino.
In the index, I was surprised to see that merino is related to Rambouillet wool (from a flock of Spanish merino sheep that Louis XVI brought to his French estate, Rambouillet.) I have spun this breed before! Well, I have also spun a lot of merino before, but something about it seems less special to me, probably in my thinking that it’s just the most popular. A less popular wool would be more special to me. The Rambouillet I spun was, while being an irresistible color gradient, unsatisfactorily neppy. Neppes are little balls of short fiber that don’t turn into yarn, but stick to the finished yarn—which can be a design choice. It just won’t be a smooth yarn… which was what I had been hoping for. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook notes that this can happen with larger tine or larger tooth carding (Robson and Ekarius, 148-149).
But back to the Merino index
The merino breed came in the 1100’s and 1200’s from crosses of the best Royal Spanish sheep and these rams from the African Beni-Merines Berber tribe (Robson and Ekarius, 135).
Merino is known for being one of the finer wools of the world in the overall fiber thickness and micron count. The lower the micron count, the smaller and fiber the individual fibers. This matters to the everyday consumer based on what they like texture-wise against their skin. Merino has a lot of times, the phrase “next-to-skin softness” associated with it. Popular brands like Wool & use this for everyday wear; a lot of companies use it for underwear and under layers. Outdoors outfitters use it for base layers, socks, as well as thick outerwear. This sentence is for the person who knows nothing about wool (about all wools): wool is a natural fiber that wicks sweat, insulates, protects from small water droplets as an outer layer, and is warm when wet: choose to wear wool. Merino is the most popular commercially available wool, so I feel like this is an appropriate time to announce that. And not only those great qualities, but wool lasts, and when it, maybe in a generation wears out, it can be composted a lot of the time.
Jumping to My Experience Processing Merino:
I started out my process after inspection of the wool by setting it in a less hot wash, in hopes to not felt. Mistakes were made! The fleece and fiber sourcebook says that you should actually wash this wool in very hot water, not let it cool (and to avoid felting by not agitating the wool any.) Knowing this helps me understand possibly more of what went wrong with this practical breed study. Sadly, by using less hot water to wash my wool, I did not dissolve or melt as much of the lanolin that I could have, and the grease remained in the wool, along with it, making the crushed Vegetable Material (VM) stick to the wool when spinning. Sadness was had. Not like tragic sadness, but just a lost opportunity. My wool didnt comb well, didn’t diz well, didn’t spin as well even though I thought it was beautiful, and I thought my end product looked visibly dirty. I think my spinning is getting better so I’m just going to hold onto that knowledge for future washes.
I dyed it in a purple dye-bath with some Targhee fiber and yarn, as well as a mini skein of a single ply of the merino. It didn’t take up the dye very well but I’m not sure why, the Targhee didn’t either (I’m thinking it wasn’t enough dye powder) and they ended up different tones. The Merino was lighter. If you are a fiber artist, and know what happened here, please explain in the comments. Much appreciated.
I hope you enjoyed my Merino breed study in this edition of Wool of the Week. Please explore my other blogs in the series and on other topics related to homesteading and fiber arts.
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A sustainability major at U of L, beginning farmer, crafter, and writer.