Merino Wool Yarn is yarn made from the fleece of the merino wool sheep. Merino are prized for their incredibly soft coats, and in turn, produce the most amazing of fleeces, and even more amazing yarns for knitting. There are all kinds of merinos - the most famous and well-known are australian merinos. Australian merinos have been a staple of the yarn industry since the 1800 - Australia, over the prior 100 years, had one in the wool wars with Germany, and Australian Merinos because the standard against which all merino was weighed against.

There are quite a few types of merino breeds - the Ramoubouillet and the Peppin were the two main breeds that really developed the merino line in australia. Merino is so soft because of it's low count - 21. 24 (the higher the micron count, the rougher the fiber). 24 and below are the softest, and these are what the merino sheep produces.

The merino sheep

The merino is one of the most populous breed of sheep in the world. Prized for its wool, it is also becoming a food source. 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 meat (mutton) has generally of poor quality, excepting the related South African Mutton Merino and Merinofleischschaf derivative breeds. As noted above, this is changing. 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

INCREDIBLE MERINO WOOL YARN, I'd recommend checking out our madelinetosh line of yarn, or artyarns or malabrigo yarn, all of which produce high quality merino yarns for knitting.

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.

To get some idea of the volume of wool that a merino sheep can produce, check out this before...
Arles Merino Wool Sheep before shearing
Arles Merino Wool Sheep after shearing
...and after picture!

Where in the world are the most merino sheep raised and bred?

Merino are the top breed in 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. There are different 'blends' of merinos, as well - for instance, 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.

Eventually, because of the popularity and lucrative commerce stemming form the raising of these beautiful sheep, and the success in breeding and cultivating softer and softer variations of the wool from them, Merinos spread across 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 illegally by Capt. Ephraim Sturdivant.

Where did they get the name MERINO?

There are two proposed origins for the Word - one is Spanish, and the other may be even older, or derived from Latin: 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 also have been derived 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.