We have been discussing merino wool and how to determine the quality of different wool. There are basically two factors, raw materials and manufacturing. I intended to talk about manufacturing today, but there is actually more to say about the wool before it becomes yarn. So, we’ll take our time. Isn’t that the best part of traveling?
The thickness of the wool fiber indicates it’s softness and it’s quality. Merino is naturally thin and soft, so is it possible to make it finer? You know the answer to that!
Genetics, breeders (that’s essentially what the word means) mate different animals (or flowers or plants) to naturally obtain what they are looking for. In the case of Merino, the finest fibers possible with the most fleece per animal.
Breeders can also control the sheep’s environment. Remember the old phrase, « You are what you eat. » This is true for us and it is true for animals. The farmers in Australia give their sheep the best food, feeding them small quantities several times a day to help them produce the best fleece.
The breeders of the most expensive fibers also control where the sheep are. Sheep that roam free will have all sorts of things in their fleece, straw, grass, insects, fecal matter. You get the idea. If you have a dog with a long coat you know about this. These debris not only have to be combed out of the fleece, but they also can affect the color and the texture of the fiber.
Finally, there is age. You made have heard or read on clothing labels, “lamb’s wool”. I never gave it much thought. I just thought if meant sheep’s wool. Not too bright sometimes! Lamb’s wool is made from the first fiber taken from the young sheep – the lamb! No matter which animal we talk about, the finest fibers will always be produced in the first 3 to 4 years of their lives. Did you keep hair from your baby's first haircut? Or maybe you have your own. Dig it out of the baby book and feel it. You'll see what I mean!
I think this gives us a pretty good picture of why super fine Merino from Australia is the most expensive Merino.
Advanced genetic techniques for breeding = expensive
Finest food and nutrients given regularly = expensive
Controlled septic environment = expensive
Retiring animals after 4 years = expensive
Fortunately, we have other choices. We’ll look at those next time.
I do like to mention a book once a week. Today’s is my current reference for Merino
Luxury Knitting by Linda Morse, Sixth & Spring Books, 2005.
It has beautiful photographs and simple but fascinating explanations of the origins of Merino, cashmere and silk. An added bonus for the knitter is lovely patterns to use for these yarns.