WHAT IS MERINO WOOL?
The Merino is a breed of sheep prized for its fine, soft wool. The breed is originally from Turkey and central Spain (Castille), and its wool was highly valued already in the Middle Ages. Merino wool is finely crimped and soft.
Merino has all the benefits of traditional wool and the benefits that synthetics have. It’s soft and comfy; it does not itch at all unlike the wool we usually think of when people talk about wool, it breathes instead of just wicking like synthetics, and it can go multiple wears without odor. Best of all it keeps you warm in the cold weather and cool in the hot weather; just like nature intended.
WHY WEAR MERINO WOOL?
- You love the planet. Merino wool is an excellent temperature moderator, retains very little odor, looks great and is soft as a baby’s cheek. Wool is a sustainable, natural and 100% biodegradable and compostable fiber. Wool will far outlast most synthetic fibers due to its unique “crimped” structure. But even when it comes time to say “goodbye” to your well-loved woolies, you can rest assured it’s only natural fiber going back to the natural world.
- Lanolin. Perhaps you’ve heard that wool has antibacterial qualities, meaning that it manages odor far better than synthetics and other natural fibers? It’s all because of lanolin. Lanolin is a natural, oily wax emitted by sheep’s skin. On the sheep it serves as their personal DWR (durable water repellent) and helps to prevent skin infection. Most of the lanolin is washed from the wool during processing. However, just enough remains to prevent mildew and bacteria from building up in your clothes. You in wool = you, less stinky.
- Wool looks damn good! Okay, this may be a touch subjective, but a wool weave adds that certain “je ne sais quoi” to the sophistication of a silhouette. Men know this from selecting a high quality suit. Women know this from formal clothes to T-shirts. The drape of wool takes an ordinary staple item and makes it extraordinary.
- An 18.5-micron Merino is just as soft as your favorite well-worn, cotton T-shirt. In the textile world, we call the “feel” of the fabric, the “hand.” Check out: WN BaseOne tees (men’s and women’s). Good to note that WN makes Merino tops in the staggeringly low 17.3-micron range.
- The Bedouins of the Middle Eastern deserts and the Tuaregs of the great North African deserts. For hundreds of years, these nomadic people have chosen wool for their treks across some of the hottest lands on Earth. Wool is well-known for its superior insulation, but few people realize it works both ways. Perfect for Summer!
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAMBSWOOL AND MERINO WOOL?
Lambswool is what it sounds like – the wool from an adorable, unsuspecting baby lamb. Specifically, lambswool is wool taken from the first shearing of the animal, usually around seven months (after its first coat has come in). It’s fine and soft, and requires minimal processing.
Lambswool can come from any species of sheep, but merino wool is only the wool that comes from a merino sheep. Not all merino is created equal, however. If football is a game of inches, merino is a game of microns, specifically the diameter of the follicle (they have microscopes). The smaller the number, the softer and more expensive the wool. Most common merino wool clocks in around 23 microns (human hair is around 40 microns in diameter); fine merino around 18 microns; superfine is 16; and the king of kings, ultrafine, is anything less than 15.5 microns. The uninitiated will tell you that cashmere is the finest textile on the planet. Those who know, know that ultrafine merino is without substitute or equal.
Know this: Wool is a general term describing the spun fibers from the hair of any number of mammals. Wool typically means wool from sheep, but we’re not restricting ourselves to things that baa. Mohair, cashmere, and angora are all technically types of wool. Alpacas, goats, sheep, llamas, rabbits, are all sheared to produce the fabric.
HOW DO I WASH MY MERINO WOOL GARMENTS?
Wool is a marvel of nature. If cared for in the right way, your wool garment can last a lifetime.
For proper care, don’t wash your wool garment too often. Let it air out after each use and it will feel fresh for the next wear.
When your garment does need a wash, use the wool setting on your washing maschine with temperature set to 30 degrees celcius, gentle action.
Use detergent especially for wool.
If your washing machine does not have a wool cycle, use the cold water wash or wash cycle for delicates. It is recommended that Merino wool sweaters carrying the machine washable label are flat dried after washing.
MULESING AND ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY
Most of the merino wool in today’s market comes from Australia and New Zealand. The climates in these countries are perfect for the merino sheep. The merino sheep has a lot of excess skin, which gives the sheep lots of wrinkles. The excess skin gives more wool but it can also cause difficulties concerning hygiene. The wool around the buttocks can retain feces and urine, and can therefore be dangerous if the animal gets infested with maggots (flystrike).
Flystrike is a major problem for sheep in the Australian wool industry. When a strike occurs, blowfly eggs laid on the skin of the sheep hatch into larvae, which feed on the sheep’s tissue. Flystrike can produce inflammation, general systemic toxemia, and even death.
Very careful husbandry can protect sheep from flystrike without surgery (i.e. regular surveillance, crutching, insecticides etc). Unfortunately, given the large numbers run over extensive areas in Australia, and with very low labor levels, sheep do not receive this sort of care and attention.
The fly causing these problems is called Lucilia cuprina; commonly known as the Australian sheep blowfly. Although it is known by this name, it exists in other parts of the world, including Africa and North America.
In an attempt to reduce the incidence of flystrike in Australia, the ‘Mules’ operation was introduced in the 1930s. Skin is sliced from the buttocks of lambs without anesthetic to produce a scar free of wool, feces/urine stains, and skin wrinkles.
In 2004 the Australian wool industry, concerned by the threat to their international wool markets due to revelations about the prevalence of this mutilation to lambs, and newly challenged by international animal rights group PETA, set itself a deadline of 2010 to phase out the practice.
In the interim (until 2010) a new ‘appendix’ to the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – the Sheep, was introduced in 2006. It provides further guidance on the best mulesing method, but is a voluntary code. Because mulesing is described in this code and is thus considered an “acceptable husbandry” practice, it is therefore exempt from the cruelty provisions of animal welfare laws.
Mulesing contractors – who go onto farms to mules (tail dock and castrate) lambs – are now required to be “accredited” and new training courses have been introduced. In 2009, farmers who mules their own lambs must be trained and accredited.
The sad fact today, is that mulesing is still a common practice in the Australian wool industry.