Merino Wool Jersey, Why is it Great?
Mentioning the word wool and most people will cringe, start scratching and itching as the wool is visualised against their skin. Then I hear, oh it needs to be dry-cleaned with a look of dismay. Well, I am here to dismiss that notion and dispel the myth associated with wool.
Not all wools are equal. Today’s Merino is not your traditional wool.
Having a passion for all things Merino, my wardrobe exudes Merino wool apparel from my undergarments to my workout gear. Living in southern China and travelling throughout south-east Asia the climate is hot and humid. I don’t know about you, but I sweat in this weather, wool makes sweating almost pleasurable as it draws in and releases moisture to keep you cool and warm, and it doesn’t smell. Best of all due to top dying it doesn’t lose colour and stands up better than cotton in hotel laundries.
While Merino products do cost more, they last longer, as mentioned Merino has excellent colour fastness properties, they won’t smell after continual wear due to its natural antimicrobial properties such as polyester which has a chemical antimicrobial coating which erodes after washing. Merino not only has natural anti-bacterial properties, but it also has impressive moisture wick ability, and you can wear it year round by layering up and down which reduces luggage when travelling. No synthetic fibre offers the advantages of Merino.
Merino is Spanish and translates as Masculine in English…do we need a Merina Sheep translating to Feminine in English?
Keep it simple, Keep it natural wear Merino wool!
HISTORY, THE RISE TO FASHION
Domestication of wild sheep happened around 7000 BC in Central Asia, possibly earlier.
By the mid-fifteenth century, Merino wool had started to improve in quality and to compete with mid-range English wools which were considered the best throughout Europe. Extended periods of wars, the English wool taxation system affected wool supply from England, influencing European textile manufacturers to switch to Spanish Merino wool.
Two centuries later, Merino sheep developed in Spain were highly prized for their fine wool. In 1797 the first Merino sheep, derived from the famed Royal Merino Flocks of Spain, were introduced into Australia. Although these sheep had already evolved a fine fibre, further selective breeding by Australian farmers produced the authentic Australian Merino with an even finer wool.
Additional reading: The MacArthur’s and the Merino sheep
Australian Merino sheep have played and continue to play, a significant role in international fashion. Wool being remarkably resilient were predominantly used in utilitarian garments, particularly military uniforms and workwear. Wool’s fashion break came in the 1920s following the First World War when Coco Chanel reinvented the fashion rules and produced a dress from fine wool jersey. Since Coco Chanel introduction, wool has always been used in fashion.
The end of the Second World War heralded another fashion revolution called ‘The New Look’. Launched by the House of Christian Dior, the style used excessive amounts of wool fabric in designs as a backlash against the rations and shortages of the war years.
In 1954, young designer Yves Saint Laurent won first and third prizes in the dress category of the International Wool Secretariat competition in Paris while a young Karl Lagerfeld won first prize in the coat category. Accepting their respective fashion design prizes, from a judging panel which included Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain, fashion history was made.
Over the years, classic and much-loved looks have benefitted from Merino wool’s qualities. From the little black dress to the V-neck jumper, to finely tailored suits, Merino wool has timeless appeal. Today, fashion designers and woolgrowers across the world continue to work alongside the best textile manufacturers to produce quality Merino wool apparel and connect consumers with its natural benefits.
Wool blended with polyester or nylon creates a more durable longer wear product with high pilling resistance and tenacity making it a perfect combination for uniforms and lite compression sportswear.
MERINO WOOL FARMING
Australian farmers have made significant advancements in Merino wool production over the past two hundred years, and today they are justifiably proud of their tradition of excellence.
Many rural and regional communities continue to be supported by this most Australian of industries with over 50,000 Australian farmers and many tens of thousands more working in the industry. Most farms continue to be family owned and operated, with unique skills and a great sense of pride passing from generation to generation.
Australia has the world’s most advanced wool industry. No other country has such an efficient, transparent and highly developed wool marketing system; a trained and registered workforce of over 20,000 wool-classers who prepare clean white Merino wool for the world’s processors; and objective laboratory test results attached to almost every bale of Merino wool exported.
Australia’s advanced systems can also trace wool right back to the land where it was produced, providing consumers with confidence in the origin and quality of the Merino wool used in the clothes they buy.
The Australian Merino is not a single homogenous breed but many ‘strains’ of sheep all of which, regardless of their origins, are uniquely Australian. The primary factor determining the Merino’s development has been the requirement for environmental suitability. Very few, if any, domestic animals in this or any other country have shown such resilience or responded with such versatility and success to Australia’s enormous variations in climatic conditions, management and husbandry techniques. Through skilful breeding and selection, the pioneer breeders set down the foundation of the Australian Merino.
Today, modern technology plays an integral role in future decision-making. Objective measurements are being provided by stud breeders which, when combined with a subjective appraisal, help identify an animal’s genetic traits. Reliable DNA tests are fast becoming a reality, and with semen insemination and embryo transfer now a routine procedure, future extensions of these techniques include sexed semen and production of in-vitro fertilised embryos developed from eggs taken from young lambs.
Fact: April 2016 Australia has 72 million Sheep, that’s more sheep than mobile phone subscribers in Australia. Approx. 50% are Merino sheep producing 225 million kg clean wool production.
Four Different Merino Strains
- Peppin Merino
- South Australian Merino
- Saxon Merino
- Spanish Merino
Disturbingly Australian Merino supply is declining, down 6.7% from last year (year to year, May 2016). 25 years ago Merino supply was over 1000 million kg; production has decreased 77.5% which is incredible.
Support Merino, buy an Australian Merino product today and enjoy the benefits from an environmentally friendly product that is fully traceable and sustainable (providing you purchase and create the demand, else soon it may be an extinct industry)
Merino wool is dense, soft handling and finely crimped. The wool is usually bright white in colour. The wool grows in small bundles or staples. Wool staples are commonly 65 – 100mm (2.5 – 4inches) long. Merino wool generally has a fibre diameter of fewer than 24 microns(μm). Note in any fibre, the longer the stable, the better the hand feel and drape-ability of the fabric.
The main Merino fibre types include:
- strong Merino (broad) wool 23 – 24.5μm
- medium Merino wool 19.6 – 22.9μm
- fine Merino 18.6 – 19.5μm
- superfine Merino 15 – 18.5μm
- ultrafine Merino 11.5 – 15μm
The majority of Merino lifestyle product you will see today is 17.5 μm, the diameter and the length of the staple plays a huge part of why Merino you find in today’s lifestyle product feels like something you have never experienced before, so soft and comfortable you don’t want to take it off.
The finer the hair the finer the scale, the scale is what makes the surface of the hair scratchy; traditional knitted sweaters will use wool with a thickness greater than 25 μm.
77% of all Merino finer than 24 μm comes from Australia
88% of all Merino finer than 20 μm comes from Australia
80% of all Merino production goes into Apparel
18% of all Merino is 17 to 18 μm suitable for lifestyle apparel appropriate for the for-mentioned lifestyle brands making the fabric used very selective.
Listed below in Table 1 is a comparison of sheep breeds for your reference, the only sheep breed that is comparable in fleece fineness is the Rambouillet, which is a Merino strain started in France 300 years ago and was a major contributor to the development of the Emperor and Peppin Merino strain in Australia.
Furthermore, Table 2 lists non-sheep breeds where hair fineness is comparable to Merino or finer. Non-Merino breeds are sometimes blended to Merino to make something even more exceptional.
Sheep breeds are grouped under the following headings:
- British Long Wool Breeds
- British Short Wool Breeds
- Australasian breeds
- Recently introduced wool breeds.
Table 1 Fiber Size for Common Breeds of Sheep sorted by Fiber Size
|Black Welsh Mountain||28-35|
** Note Micron is metric thickness of the wool fiber
Table 2 Fiber Size for Common Breeds of Non Sheep
|Yak down fiber||15-35|
WHAT MAKES MERINO GREAT
Merino is nature’s best. It is a wonder fiber that has created a perfect environment for your comfort.
The main benefit of Merino is its superior ability to maintain a comfortable micro-climate between body and garment. Unlike synthetics, Merino breathes and controls moisture meaning that it has the natural ability to respond to changes in temperature. This unique garment property helps keep you cool when it is hot and warm when it is cold.
Merino has numerous natural attributes that make it one of the most comfortable fabrics to wear
Absorbency creates comfort; a unique feature of Merino is that it absorbs perspiration from the skin and releases it into the air. Meaning, you will never feel clammy since humidity between skin and garment is reduced.
When wool absorbs moisture, it produces heat, so if you go from a warm room into a cold, damp night wearing a wool jersey, the wool picks up water vapour from the air, keeping you warm. The reverse occurs when you go back into the warm room – the moisture in your jersey passes into the atmosphere, cooling you down. Tiny pores in the cuticle cells allow water vapour to pass through the wool fibre. This makes wool comfortable to wear in both warm and cold conditions.
The cortical cells also have a complex interior structure. The smallest component within these cells is a spring-like structure, which gives wool its flexibility, elasticity, resilience and wrinkle recovery properties.
This spring-like structure is surrounded by a matrix, which contains high sulphur proteins that readily attract and absorb water molecules. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet. It also absorbs and retains dyestuffs very well, helps remove sweat and absorbs odours.
It controls temperature; the crimp in wool fibres makes it soft and springy to touch. It also adds bulk and traps a large volume of air between the fibres, giving it excellent insulation properties. Finer fibres with more crimp such as Merino create fabrics that drape better than coarser fibres.
It reduces skin allergies; Merino is unlike traditional wool in that each fibre has a silky outer layer, creating an incredibly soft, subtle texture. Superfine Merino fabric is comfortable to wear without itch and safe to use for people with dermatitis, allergies and sensitive skin. It forms a natural micro-climate around your body, keeping it at an ideal temperature in all climates and conditions and keeping your skin dry and less prone to dermatitis. It is lightweight and odour resistant.
It improves sleep; medical studies have proven that Merino improves the sleep patterns of babies and infants. At the Cambridge Maternity Hospital in 1979, Scott and Richards revealed that babies sleeping on Merino settled more quickly, cried less, fed better and gained weight faster.
The Sleeping Comfort Study – conducted by The Woolmark Company and the University of Sydney, funded by Australian Wool Innovation – has shown that through the development of a Thermal Comfort Rating System, wool is the natural choice for bedding products. Combining human and laboratory trials, the study examined more than 30 wool and non-wool ‘over’ and ‘under’ body bedding products by testing them in a range of temperature and relative humidity environments to establish a rating of sleeper comfort. Wool was the undisputed winner with a clear demonstration that wool bedding products:
- Breathe more naturally than synthetic products.
- Increase the duration of the most beneficial phase of sleep known as REM, or Rapid Eye Movement.
- Regulate body temperature by ensuring the body gets to a comfortable sleeping temperature more quickly – and stays there for longer.
It’s comfortable and easy to care for; Merino is a fine-spun fabric, making it soft and comfortable to wear. It has a natural elastic property, meaning our garments fit snugly every time.
The cuticle cells provide a robust exterior, protecting the fibre from damage. The cells have a waxy coating, making wool water repellent, but still allowing absorption of water vapour. The water-repellent surface makes wool garments naturally shower-proof and also reduces staining because spills don’t soak in quickly.
Fire resistant; all fabrics will burn, but some are more combustible than others. Untreated natural fibres such as cotton, linen and silk have a very high burning rate. Synthetics tend to be slow to ignite, but once ignited, severe melting and dripping can occur. Merino wool contains natural fire retardants. It is comparatively flame-retardant, but if ignited, it usually has a low burning rate and may self-extinguish.
The cortical cells matrix creates the wool’s fire-resistant and antistatic properties.
100% natural, Merino is 100% natural; renewable and biodegradable. Merino minimises the impact on the environment, is sustainable and traceable making it bio-sustainable fabric.
Reference and additional reading
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