Faces of Wool: Merino Sheep
Welcome to Faces of Wool, a new recurring feature here on the Interweave blog! In these posts we’ll explore different breeds of sheep: their names, breed information and facts, and the characteristics of their wool. Let’s dive into the learning!
The Popularity of Merino Sheep
It’s most likely the first breed you think of when you think of sheep, and it’s probably the only breed non-crafters could name. Merino is also the most popular type of wool for knitters, crocheters, spinners, and crafty types of all stripes. So what makes these sheep so special? We’ll start with the basics this week and dive into more details in subsequent posts.
The Merino sheep as we know it was developed in the 13th century by Spanish royals who imported rams from Berber tribes in Morocco and cross-bred them with their own ewes. The royal family fiercely guarded their claim to the awesome Merino for centuries; before the 18th century, it was a crime to export Merinos from Spain, and those caught doing so could be sentenced to death (1)! Eventually, though, the royal family started gifting their precious sheep to royals in other countries.
Merino sheep are now raised all over the world. Here in the United States? Check. Europe? Of course! Australia? Yep. (Ever read The Thornbirds? I’ll bet the Cleary family was raising Merinos.) In fact, Australia currently produces over 50 percent of the world’s merino wool.
In the next post, we’ll explore the characteristics of merino wool and learn why it’s so prized by crafters and textile manufacturers alike. In the meantime: do you love merino wool? What’s the first merino yarn you bought, and what did you make with it?
Let me know in the comments!
Here’s to winter wool,
1. “Merino,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merino#History
2. “Wool Profile,” Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/livestock/lamb/wool-profile/
Check Out the Yarn in the Interweave Store – Merino Blends Included!