What Is Merino Wool?

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Merino wool, named for the sheep from which it is sheared, offers superior benefits to those who wear it, reports the Sierra Trading Post's "Wool Guide." Knitters, weavers and other fiber artists probably already know that merino wool produces exceptionally soft, lightweight and cozy sweaters, scarves, undergarments, hats and socks.

Wool, in general, has many desirable functions, and merino wool is better than any other sheep's wool in wool's many good characteristics:

  • Insulates
    well 
  • Wicks
    moisture
  • Resists
    fire
  • Dries
    quickly 
  • Manages odors

    Like any wool, merino wool is not completely fireproof, but it is naturally fire-resistant, which means it resists fire better than many other materials.

The wool from merinos that are bred for their fleece, not for meat, is so soft that it can be comfortably worn directly against the skin, even if you normally experience itching or a rash from close contact with wool.This means it's a good choice for sweaters and socks. The only sheep's wool that surpasses merino in softness, although it may also come from a merino sheep, is lambswool. And because merino wool is almost a pure white, it it easy to dye.

These qualities, along with merino wool's durable and lustrous quality, appeal to knitters and crocheters, as well as manufacturers of athletic wear, outdoor wear, luxurious suits and comfy undergarments.

The finer the wool's fibers, the softer and better insulation it makes, with the ultra-fine merino measuring a mere 17.5 microns per fiber, approximately the same as cashmere. As soft as merino is, caring for merino wool is as simple as caring for other wools.

Merino's highly insulative qualities derive from the merino sheep's natural mountain habitat. Depending on where it comes from, merino wool may also be extremely lightweight and breathable. The wool regulates body temperature, keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter, just as it does in the merino sheep of New Zealand's Southern Alps, where temperatures range from 4 below 0 in the winter up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.

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