Discover the World’s Finest Wool – Origin and History of Merino

Merino Wool - designed by nature - to feel warm and comfortable in all weather conditions

People have used wool for ages. There is evidence wool was used when primitive human beings clothed themselves. The first proof of true weaving occurs circa 7000 B.C.

Civilizations of Babylonia and the Romans used this material to keep warm. The thing is merino wool is not the same kind of wool that can be obtained from wild sheep. This is an exclusive fabric that could not be found easily, and it took some time to produce.

A Historical Wooly Trip

The reason people have merino now dates back to the Roman civilization when people became a little more thoughtful about breeding sheep. It was at this time when people began to be a little selective about which creature to breed to ensure superior quality wool.

The merino sheep allowed humans to produce a very exclusive yarn that is very insulating and feels super soft on the skin. Granted, humans who could enjoy premium quality wool were able to breed sheep correctly.

It took some time before more people were able to enjoy the fruits of selective breeding. Production of this type of wool on a grand scale did not see the light of day until the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the textile industry.1

Close Up of a Merino Sheep

The first Merino sheep was brought to Australia in 1797. From a particular flock of special sheep that was referred to as the Royal Merino Flocks of Spain.

It did not take long for people to find ways to refine this kind of wool. For example, Australian farmers found a way to refine the breeding process to form what is known as Australian merino.

There have been two major fashion movements in history linked to this type of wool.

The first was brought on by Coco Chanel, who loved natural fibers and showed that love by producing a dress made from fine wool.

The second big fashion moment happened after the Second World War; a fashion period sometimes referred to as ‘The New Look.’

The movement was founded by Christian Dior as a revolt against rations introduced by several countries as a result of the war.

Many designers have used this exclusive fabric, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Fendi, and Giorgio Armani, to name a few.

"Merino wool is fine and soft. Staples are commonly 65–100 mm long. A Saxon Merino produces 6.6–13.2 lb of greasy wool a year - while a good quality Peppin Merino ram produces up to 40 lb. Merino wool is generally less than 24 micron in diameter." 4

Deeper Understanding of Wool Production

Wool production is pretty popular nowadays, but it has been like that for a long time. As the wool industry grew, so did the pressure to keep control of production. This pressure became so intense that countries began to take advantage of the industry.

Like Britain, who enacted laws and embargoes to make sure in-country wool production was favored. The British made laws to ensure that their judges, professors, and students only wore robes made from English wool.

When the United States was just a colony, the British passed laws to ensure that their wool was protected. There was a law in place that said the hand of any colonists who tried to select breeding within this region would be amputated. Things are no longer as brutal, but it is easy to see how incredibly important this industry has become.

At the moment, wool is a global industry, and many countries participate in it, such as Australia, Argentina, the United States, and New Zealand.

The leading producer is still Australia. Most experts in fabric say the world produces about 5.5 billion pounds of wool every single year, making it the most prominent animal-sourced fiber.2

Wool production in Australia

Part of what makes Australia such a strong wool producer is that most of the farms are family-owned, so there is a certain level of dedication that cannot be compared to large corporations.

More than 60,000 Australian farmers have dedicated their lives to wool and have done so for generations. There is an entire eco-system in Australia that depends on these farmers, which is another reason many citizens of this country support their farmers by providing land, support, and labor.

The whole country has set an entire quality system to ensure that exported wool meets certain standards.

The country developed an entire education sector to ensure that enough people are trained to be wool-classers. There are more than 20,000 of these individuals who are there to clean the wool and process it before it is sent out of the country.

Wool-classers are trained to run several laboratory tests to ensure each bale of wool is exactly the exclusive fabric that the world expects from Australia.

A Home Grown Australian Wool Story by: birdsnest

The structure of an exclusive yarn

When it comes to wool, there are three parts to remember: the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla. The cuticle is the layer on the outside, and the layer meant to protect the rest.

Upon inspection, the cuticle layer looks a little like scales, which is why when two rub together, they hook on. This characteristic makes wool pretty easy to spin.

The cortex is the first inner layer, and it is made up of thousands of small tubes. The natural shape of these tubes makes wool naturally crimp. The medulla looks a little like tiny honeycombs, which creates a void where the air comes in and out.

This is the key characteristic of wool that makes it as warm as it is since it helps reduce heat transfer, which is why people fall in love with this fiber during the winters when they try merino clothes.

Wool seen by Microscope
Wool seen by microscope

Mulesing

Wool production is time-consuming, and it has a few hurdles to pass, such as mulesing.

Wool is quite valuable; sometimes the sheep are infected with a parasite that ruins the sheep’s wool. The malady is sometimes called flystrike and the chances of this issue developing is highest around the buttocks where the wool retains feces and urine.

Many farmers use mulesing, which is a surgical procedure that removes strips of wool-bearing skin from that area to prevent flystrike since wool will no longer grow there.

Clearly, this is a procedure that many people feel uneasy about, but it is something many farmers are now addressing.3

merino sheep examination

Australia

Mulesing in Australia is performed by people with special training, usually a professional mulesing entrepreneur. It is usually done after weaning up to the age of one year.

While the sheep is fixed, the anus-tail fold is tightened by removing a v-shaped piece of skin in the proximal third of the tail and the tail is cropped from the third vertebra. No painkillers were administered either during or after the procedure.

“The Legislative Council of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, has reaffirmed its ambition to introduce a bill. By this law it will become a requirement for all sheep subjected to mulesing be administered adequate pain relief in advance” 

New Zealand

New Zealand’s Merino industry imposed a voluntary ban from the end of 2010, but not all farmers adhere to it.

Besides, the New Zealand Merino Company has introduced a voluntary quality label called Zque, which identifies wool from sheep that have not undergone mulesing, among other things.

Therefore it is very important to research before buying wool products. Trustworthy brands, for example, are Woolpower and Icebreaker. They clearly oppose mulesing and only use wool from farms where the animals are not tortured.

At Icebreaker, you can also enter the BAACODE to trace from which farm the wool comes from. So you benefit from great clothing and make an important contribution to animal welfare.

Since animal welfare is also a top priority at “Worlds Finest Wool.” We boycott all breeders, suppliers, and shops that do not put a stop to mulesing. This is the only way to enjoy this exclusive fabric on the skin.

New Zealand Merino and Mussel farming industry in the Marlborough
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  1. Merino, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Merino&oldid=967263414 (last visited July 14, 2020)
  2. www.woolmark.com/about-wool/wool-fibre/the-history-of-merino-wool/
  3. Mulesing, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mulesing&oldid=950022444 (last visited July 3, 2020).
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Merino," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Merino&oldid=960609865 (accessed July 3, 2020).