Merino wool is a very fine wool fiber obtained from the fleece of Merino sheep, mainly found in Australia, Newzealand, and South Africa. The wool fibers make one of the best wool fabrics for all applications – the merino wool fabric.
Wool fibers are already known for their warmth, strength, durability, and other qualities like water repellence, odor resistance, and elasticity. In addition to these, the high-quality merino wool is primarily known for its drape, comfort in wearing, and excellent felting properties. Merino wool makes the best grades of fulled fabrics.
Merino wool is used to create many performance fabrics for outdoor activities. It is also used to make the most expensive high-quality suiting material and knitwear. It is the most preferred wool for creating warm, soft and comfortable skin-touching wool garments like underwear, socks, and sweaters. Some would even consider Merino wool fabric as the best wool fabric ever because of some unique characteristics.
In this article I will cover:
- The unique features and advantages of Merino wool fabric
- It is lightweight and super soft
- It is breathable, absorbent & insulating
- It is antibacterial, odour resistant and stain resistant
- It is Wrinkle-Resistant
- It provides Sun Protection
- Where does Merino wool come from?
- Merino wool – Quality
- Why is Merino Wool so expensive?
- How to care for your Merino fabric?
The unique features and advantages of Merino wool fabric
It is lightweight and super soft
Each Merino fiber is super fine. You can see this if you look at each of the fibers – the thinner it is, the finer the fabric made with it will be. This fine structure makes it softer than any other wool.
Wool is usually associated with itchiness and coarseness. But Merino wool is super fine, softer, and does not itch; it is naturally hypoallergenic.
It is breathable, absorbent & insulating
Throughout the day, our body produces heat and vapor. But have you considered what happens when that heat and vapor can’t escape? Well, it condenses, and you wind up with sweaty clothes. Unlike garments made from blends and synthetics, Merino absorbs up to a third of its weight in moisture while still feeling comfortable and dry to the touch.
The fabric has tiny air spaces in its structure that trap air to keep the wearer warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. This is true of all wool fabrics but more for merino wool. So the fabric regulates your body temperature and keeps you dry.
It is antibacterial, odour resistant and stain resistant
Every fiber of Merino has an oily, waxy coating called Lanolin which helps repel water during monsoon and guards against mildew, mold, and odor-causing bacteria.
It is Wrinkle-Resistant
Merino wool is elastic and wrinkle-resistant to a degree.
It provides Sun Protection
Merino wool clothing is considered to be the ultimate in sun protection. Sun protection of Merino is higher than cotton and most synthetics. Clothing manufacturers – especially those who produce garments for various sports are well aware of the protective strength of Merino wool and make good use of it in their designs.
Where does Merino wool come from?
Merino wool is obtained from the fleece of the domesticated merino sheep bred mainly in Australia. Merino sheep produces a lot more fleece than any other breed of sheep. Merino sheep is also domesticated in other parts of the world like Newzealand, South Africa, Spain and Italy. But Australian woolgrowers provide for 81% of the world’s superfine wool.
Merino wool is used on its own or blended with fine fibers like silk or Tencel to make beautifully fine and drapey dressmaking fabrics.
Merino wool – Quality
There are many grades of Merino wool. Depending on the quality of the fabric, the price also varies.
Merino wool fabric made from the Australian Saxon Merino sheep fleece is called Superfine wool. Wool fibers taken from the leg area is lower in grade than those taken from other parts. The leg area fibers will be coarser and shorter and the resultant fabric will be of same quality.
Blood Grade refers to the fineness of wool and considers the amount of Merino blood in a breed. It is measured as 1/4, 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 blood.
Sometimes you may get blended fabric which is labeled as merino wool. Merino wool is blended with other fibers like silk tencel and even acrylic for extra features. Usually this leads to a softer fabric, depending on the blended fibers and percentage.
Crossbred merino wool is obtained from sheep born by crossing Merino sheep with English longwool breeds. But this does not necessarily mean that the wool is bad – it may still have a nice luster and softness.
The fineness of Merino fiber can be gauged by the diameter of the individual fiber. A wool fiber can be upto 38 microns in diameter, but with Merino wool, you can even get a diameter of 14 microns, making it ultrafine. This is preferred for next to skin wear. Diameter around 18 is also considered fine enough for super fine clothes.
Why is Merino Wool so expensive?
Merino wool is a natural fiber extracted from sheep and takes some time to grow. Plus, this wool grows thicker in winter and thinner in summer, meaning you only get six months to harvest a winter fleece and six months for a summer fleece. The flock sizes of merino sheep have to be larger to service the demand. We all know that this translates to more care, more feed, and ultimately, more money.
How to care for your Merino fabric?
Contrary to popular belief, merino wool is easy to care for. The waxy lanolins present in these fibers will resist stains. Some simple care steps will keep your Merino fabrics looking and feeling great.
Though merino wool can be machine washed or dry cleaned, it is best to handwash it as dry-cleaning solvents, and enzyme-containing detergents will degrade the yarns.
However, if you prefer to machine wash, turn your fabrics inside out prior to the process.
Make sure to avoid hot water as heat can shrink wool. And adjust your machine setting to ‘Delicate.’
Always use mild soap. Steer clear of bleach (destroys the wool fibers) or fabric softeners (tend to coat the fibers) as they would minimize the fabric’s ability to manage moisture and regulate body temperature.
To further extend the life of the fabric, it is best to air dry your Merino garment by laying them flat. Never hang the wet wool as that will lead to distortion of the shape of the garment/fabric. However, if you want to tumble-dry, put your dryer on its lowest setting. Find more tips on wool fabric care here.
Further reading resource : You can read more on merino wool here.