Ancient yet cutting-edge - The comeback of wool?

The Comeback of Wool?

While so-called functional clothing made of synthetic materials has been the hot item in recent years, people seem to be turning more and more to the advantages of natural materials and tried-and-tested techniques.

Wool socks with rolled soles prevent blisters, and foot odor, long ski underwear made of angora wool gets the perfect temperature balance right and feels pleasant on the skin.

Natural materials from ecological production have impressive advantages in wearing comfort and sustainability, which is why they are once again increasingly being recommended by enthusiastic vendors.

A natural fiber for heroes

Wool has protected mountaineers and polar explorers for decades. It is worn by sailors as well as by men drilling for oil in Alaska.

Even astronauts choose the ancient textile fiber for space flights because it is exceptionally warm and comfortable to wear.

Wool is made for heroes – and of course, that means women, too.

Yet the fiber is as old as the hills on which sheep graze! At the same time, it is as modern and high-tech as the flight to the moon.


Fine Wool Fiber
European Mouflon
European Mouflon

Ancestor of the modern sheep

Today’s domestic sheep are descended from the Mufflon and were first domesticated around 10,000 B.C. in what is now eastern Turkey and Iran.

While it was initially interesting only for its meat, people soon discovered that the coat, in particular, had exceptional qualities.

The versatile nature of the hair provided protection from heat, cold, wind and rain.

It must be emphasized that the wool fleece of our sheep today is the result of centuries of breeding and has little to do with that of the early animals.

Especially the animal breeding efforts from the 18th to the 20th century have greatly improved the quality of new wool.1

Icebreaker - Merino Wool Shirt

Icebreaker - Merino Wool Shirt

Shop the Best Merino Outdoor Apparel

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The spinning wheel - a Chinese invention?

Wool had already become the dominant textile fiber around 2,000 BC and had displaced linen from this position.

While wool was initially plucked from the fur with bronze combs, the first shearing is documented around the year 800 before our time. Threads were drawn from the sheared wool by hand and processed into a thick and uneven yarn by rolling it between the fingers.

It is believed that the spinning wheel was invented in China around the year 1,000. Prior to that, for over 5,000 years, people used hand spindles to pull the threads from the wool fleece and wind them onto a stick fitted with a clay ring.

Even today, in various remote parts of the world, there are people who use this simple process to make their woolen threads.

Read more about the History of Wool!

Historic Hand Spindle
Historic Hand Spindle
History of the Spinning Wheel
Old Woman spinning Yarn on historical Spinning Wheel

Merino Wool

Merino wool

Political Power and Wealth - Built on Wool

Britain became the first superpower of wool from about the year 100 AD. The Roman invasion in 55 brought the first sheep to the island, and British wool quickly became exceptionally popular with the wealthy patricians of Rome.

In the following centuries, it was Castile and England that became the largest exporters of raw wool. The trade was so important to the English that there were always special tax laws for the wool trade, and the Speaker in the House of Lords still sits on a sofa stuffed with wool, the so-called “Woolsack.”

This strange ritual was intended above all to demonstrate how dominant the British were in the wool trade.

And while the English competed even with the silk merchants with their fine wool, and religious refugees from Flanders brought further innovations to the island with new processing techniques, other rulers also built their power on the wool trade.

The Medici family, for example, built their wealth on wool, developed a modern banking system with profits, and ruled the powerful city-state of Florence for over three centuries.

The Moors brought the Merino sheep to Spain

Flock of Merino Sheep
Flock of Merino Sheep

Next to England, Spain was for many centuries the only area from which fine wool was exported on a large scale. Especially the exceptionally soft and fine wool of the Merino sheep was in demand.

Moors had brought the Merino Sheep breed from Morocco in the 8th century and named it after one of their Berber tribes, the Beri-Merines.

Profits from Merino wool were so lavish that the king and an association of noble herd owners – the Mesta – banned the export of breeding animals under threat of death.

It was not until the 18th century that the noble Mesta were dis-empowered. The Merino sheep spread throughout Europe and made Merino wool the dominant wool type.

Merino Wool

LANPULIX - Merino Wool

The Australian Wool Exchange - the largest market in the world

Wool was not even mass-produced until the 19th century but rather reserved for the wealthy. Only the mass import from New Zealand and Australia ensured a sufficient amount of wool for everyone and let the prices fall to an affordable level.

Australia replaced Germany as the leading wool nation around 1850. To this day, the Australian Wool Exchange is the world’s largest market, and with about 160 million sheep, about 16 percent of the world’s sheep population lives Down Under.

Merino Sheep - New Zealand
Merino Sheep - New Zealand

Wool gets competition for the first time

At the beginning of the 20th century, wool got real competition for the first time after centuries of dominance. Synthetic fibers are more resistant – they do not scratch and can also be washed without shrinking.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that a specially treated wool was developed that could now be machine washed and dried.

The Flower Power movement, with its “back to nature” attitude, brought about a renaissance in wool clothing around the same time.

Since then, wool sweaters, dresses and pants, as well as cardigans, hats, shawls and gloves made of wool, have not gone out of fashion and found their followers in every generation.

Exclusive Wool Sweaters

Wool is a renewable resource and has been used for thousands of years because no other fiber has so many positive properties as wool.

It is breathable, moisture-regulating, fire retardant, hypoallergenic, biodegradable, sustainable, and it also secures the livelihood of farmers. After all, it hardly gets any better than that!

The Comeback of Wool

Especially in outdoor clothing, merino wool is making a real comeback. Functional underwear made of merino wool is so perfect for longer trekking tours and hikes. Wool is perfect when winter for skiing or for activities where you are outdoors for a long time and also take a break sometimes.

It perfectly transports sweat away from the skin, you do not cool down so quickly, and wool warms even when damp. Wool is a true “miracle fiber” and makes merino underwear something special.

Merino wool is now used by many manufacturers. One of the most famous manufacturers is certainly the company Icebreaker from New Zealand, which has significantly initiated the boom of merino wool with its chic underwear and still spearheads it.

But also very traditional manufacturers such as Smartwool have been relying for decades on merino clothing.

Under the label Swisswool, the German brand Ortovox began using wool from Swiss mountain sheep in lightweight insulating jackets a few years ago, triggering a real wool boom.

For more than 160 years, the Norwegian Manufacturer Devold develops wool products that offer unbeatable comfort, quality and protection. Devold is the international pioneer in the development of innovative Merino wool clothing for outdoor enthusiasts.

A proportion of synthetic fibers and the special circular knitting technique make modern wool outdoor clothing in terms of durability and ease of care so quickly nothing ahead.

Devold Kvitegga Woman Hoodie

Devold Hiking Woman Shirt

Devold Tuvegga Sport

If wool had been invented yesterday, everyone would be gushing with enthusiasm. Its properties are so extraordinary that no artificial fiber can match it.

Nature has had a very long time to develop these fibers. Man has been processing them into clothing for hardly less time.

Wool is a renewable resource and has been used for thousands of years because no other fiber has so many positive properties as wool.

It is breathable, moisture-regulating, fire retardant, hypoallergenic, biodegradable, sustainable, and it also secures the livelihood of farmers. After all, it hardly gets any better than that!


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seventeen + eleven =

  1. Ryder, M. L. (1964). The History of Sheep Breeds in Britain. The Agricultural History Review12(1), 1–12.

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