Merino wool yarn is among the softest wools you can work with - and the yarns pictured below are some of the most beautiful (and affordable!) we've seen...lovingly crafted from the best fiber you can find. Wonderful and sophisticated Artyarns handpainted Supermerino wool yarn, Malabrigo Rasta Bulky Yarn, Gruesa Bulky Thick and Thin and Blue Sky Alpacas Bulky Alpaca Wool yarn- all variations on the same thing - bulky wool yarn.
What is a merino sheep and what is Merino Wool and Where does it come from?
The merino is the most numerous breed of sheep in the world. It is a breed prized for its wool, although more recently the low price of wool has led to more of an emphasis on carcass (meat) characteristics. Super fine merinos are regarded as having the finest and softest wool of any sheep. There are two basic strains of Merino: poll animals have no horns (or very small stubs), and horned merinos have long, spiral horns which grow close to the head.
Although the merino is an excellent grazer and very adaptable, it is bred chiefly for its wool, because it matures slowly and its mutton is generally of poor quality, excepting the related South African Mutton Merino and Merinofleischschaf derivative breeds. The wool is tightly crimped and springy. Staples are commonly 2.5–4 inches (65–100 mm). A merino produces 7–13 lb (4.5–6 kg) of unwashed wool in one year. Merino wool is generally less than 24.5 micrometres (microns) in diameter. Fine merino wool is less than 21.5 µm and extra-fine merino is under 19.5 µm.
The term "merino" is widely employed in the textile industries with very varied meanings. Originally it was restricted to denote the wool of the merino sheep reared in Spain, but owing to the superiority of Australian and New Zealand wools the term now has broader use. In the dress-goods and knitting trades the term "merino" still implies an article made from the very best soft wool. "Merino" is sometimes employed to mean knitwear produced with a special worsted yarn made of 100% wool.
The beauty of the fiber itself is evident in intense, cold-weather or high-performance applications, where merino distinguishes itself from cotton and polyester fabrics by offering superior breathability, temperature regulation, moisture control, and inherent anti-microbial properties. Unlike "traditional" wool, merino is much finer, softer, and, best of all, itch-free for all but those with severe sensitivities or lanolin allergies.
Regions of merino husbandry
The rearing of merinos predominates in many regions where sheep are bred for their wool rather than their mutton, as in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and the western United States. In Australasia, especially in New Zealand, the merino has been crossed with Lincolns, Leicesters, Shropshires, Suffolks and other breeds to improve mutton quality. The merino is not commonly bred in the United Kingdom, as the humidity engenders wool rot and cotting (matting which is caused by movement of the fleece relative to the sheep).
The Merino Wool Sheep in History
The merino appears to have originated from the crossing of Spanish with Berber sheep breeds in the 14th and 15th centuries. Merino breeders were associated in the Mesta and maintained a monopoly on the race. Sheep exportation was forbidden, and wool commerce through the ports of the Hermandad de la Marina de Castilla (the local shipping authority at the time) to Flanders and England was a source of income for Castile in the Late Middle Ages.
However, merinos spread over Europe, especially to Austria-Hungary, Germany and France. The best-known derivative breeds are the Rambouillet, a large merino named after the village near Paris, to which it was exported towards the end of the 18th century, and the Negretti, which stands in closer relationship to the old Spanish stock and has shorter wool but a more wrinkled fleece. The so-called "American merino", the Delaine, the Vermont and the Rambouillet, are well-known derivative breeds in the United States. They were first brought over to Maine from Portugal in 1810 illegaly by Capt. Ephraim Sturdivant.
Etymology of the word MERINO
There are two proposed origins for the Spanish word:
Merino may be an adaptation to the sheep of the name of a Castilian official inspector (merino), who may have also inspected sheep pastures. This word is from the medieval Latin majorinus, a steward or head official of a village, from major, meaning great.
Merino may from the name of a Berber tribe, the Marini (or in Castilian, Benimerines), which intervened in the Iberian peninsula during the 12th and 13th centuries.