ArmaTech 102: An Introduction to Merino Wool
We make our next-to-skin clothing out of Merino wool from New Zealand, and are regularly asked why Merino and what is Merino. Hopefully we can answer your questions here.
What is Merino and where does it come from?
Armadillo Merino® comes from the Merino sheep. It is a natural fibre. There are over 200 breeds of sheep, and the Merino is famed for their fine, soft wool and their ability to thrive in extreme climates. They are recognised by their wrinkly skins and fleeces, and rams with large curly horns. Merino sheep were originally from Spain and can now be found in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and South Africa.
Once a year, the sheep gets a haircut, shown. Here the wool is cut, in the same way we have a haircut, and collected. During the shearing, the sheep is relaxed and does not resist been shown.
Why do you use Merino and not other types of wool?
There are over 200 breeds of sheep, but the Merino has some unique properties that make it ideal for our next-to-skin clothing:
- It is fine: The Merino sheep grow wool that is super soft and fine making it comfortable next to your skin. If the wool was not soft, you would feel the wool itching you and it would not be very comfortable.
- Fibre length. Merino wool is naturally long and makes for a stronger fibre. This is important, as a garment that is made up of too many short fibres is prone hole easily.
- Natural crimp. Merino wool has a natural crimp to it. This increases the resilience of the yarn and fabric, meaning that it stretches easily. It also increases the loft, which makes the garment warmer.
When did people start using Merino?
In the 12th century merino sheep arrived in Spain where they thrived. They created a prized royal flock whose wool was widely used in soldiers' uniforms and as a mark of wealth and privilege in luxury clothing. In 1765, King Carlos III of Spain presented a select flock of his rare sheep to the German Elector of Saxony, starting the spread of merino throughout the world.
“Before the 18th century, the export of Merinos from Spain was a crime punishable by death”
The other early users of Merino were the Bedouins of the Sinai deserts and the Tuaregs of the great North African deserts. These tribes used merino wool garments for hundreds of years in the extreme heat of the world’s greatest deserts. Extremely hot and dry during the day, cold at night, what wool is perfect for.
A brief history of Merino around the world
In 1802, the Merino was introduced to Vermont State in the USA with 21 ewes and 70 rams. The British embargo on wool and wool clothing exports to the U.S. before the British/U.S. war led to a "Merino Craze" in 1835 by which time there were over 1,000,000 sheep in the state. This then led to a subsequent but in 1840. Now days there are very few Merino in Vermont, and sheep farming in the US is concentrated in the Western states.
The first Merino sheep were imported into Australia around 1800, and by 1830 there were over 2,000,000 sheep. These numbers continued to increase and there were 72 million by 1901. Now there are about 125 million sheep in Australia.
The Merino was the first sheep breed brought to New Zealand in large numbers. The In the 1840s to early 1860s thousands were imported from Australia. They were not always high quality, so New Zealand breeders imported small numbers from Germany, France, Britain and the US to improve the stock. By the early 1880s the New Zealand Merino had become a distinct type and continues to this day. Today there are 35 million sheep in New Zealand, 3 million are Merino.
What are the natural properties of Armadillo Merino®?
- Does not smell when worn for many days in a row
- Will not melt or drip when it burns
- Natural fire resistance (FR). If you take the energy source away (i.e. cigarette lighter), it will stop burning
- Keeps you warm when it is cold outside as well as when it gets wet
- Helps to keep you cool when it is hot
- Moves moisture away from the skin better than a synthetic
- Natural UV of SPF40+
Why doesn’t it itch?
As explained above, we only use Merino Wool and it must be fine. Wool is measured in microns and is available from 12 microns to 35 microns. For no-itch next-to-skin, the merino wool needs to be below 20 micron, and 23 micron for socks. If you were to make a next-to-skin out of 21 micron wool, the fibres will cause the wearer to feel itchy, as they do not bend when they hit the skin. This is your itchy next-to-skin.
Here at Armadillo Merino® for our next-to-skin we use 17.5 micron and 18.5 micron merino. Not all merino is created equal, so make sure you are looking for 18.5 micron or below for next-to-skin.
How is wool fabric measured? What does gsm mean?
Wool fabric is measured by weight in grams per square metre (gsm) of the fabric. The larger the gsm, the heavier and the warmer the garment.
- Very light weight: less than 150gsm
- Light weight: 160-190gsm
- Mid weight: 195gsm – 250gsm
- Heavy: Greater than 250gsm
We make garments that are 140gsm, 170gsm, 190gsm and 195gsm.
How do I look after my Armadillo Merino®?
Your Armadillo resists the buildup of odour so can be worn for longer without getting smelly (days, or even weeks, if you have to). And when you do finally have to wash it, nothing could be simpler.
- Machine Washable - Simply wash it at up to 40°C with all your other clothes using your usual detergent. Merino is self-cleaning in water and naturally releases dirt and odour even in a cool wash.
- Quick Drying - Your lightweight Armadillo will line dry quickly. Or just leave it on a hanger overnight. If pushed for time, you can tumble dry on a low heat, but do so sparingly and you will prolong your garments life.
To read more:
ARMATECH 105 - Why does Armadillo Merino® keep you warm?
ARMATECH 202 - Armadillo Merino® Protection, Performance and Comfort