Merino - a spinner's notes

lock of merino fleece

"The wool of these sheep is so much finer than ordinary wool as to bear no comparison with it" - 17th century Spanish livestock expert.

New Zealand Merino is different from that of other countries. It has superior fibre length and strength, an intense purity of colour, low levels of vegetable matter and hence reduced fibre waste.
Merinos make up only 7% of the national flock, but are the dominant breed in the South Island high country.

  • Fibre diameter: 14 - 25 microns. The average Merino is about 20 microns, fine is 18 - 19 microns and anything less than 18 is superfine and sheer luxury.
  • Staple length: 65 - 100 mm.
  • Fleece weight: 3.0 - 5.0 kg.
  • Uses: Fine worsteds, fine woollens, knitwear, dress fabric.

The great range in fibre diameter exhibited by Merino fleeces enables us to choose just the right fibre for our specific need, be it the "average" 20 micron fleece for a light sweater or the rare, superfine 16 or 17 micron for an heirloom baby shawl. Merino is NOT difficult to spin. The secret lies in careful preparation. The average fleece has a grease and wax content of 25-40 % and this must be totally removed by scouring (washing) to allow ease of spinning.

Once the wool is dry, comb it well or cut the tips off and use woolcombs or double carders. Be very thorough. Remember a little goes a very long way so enjoy the luxury of the fibre. You don't need to hurry! Now adjust your wheel by putting your drive band round the smallest whorl you have available, release almost all of the tension and begin spinning. Try spinning as fine as you possibly can, right down to just a few fibres. This will involve very fast treadling and slow careful hand movements. You need a high twist per inch (or centimetre) to produce a good stable yarn that reflects the fine staple crimp of the fleece. I think of "spinning in miniature" when I spin fine. Small hand movements, a smaller bunch of wool in my hands, extra care and concentration!

It swiftly becomes easy to spin fine and super-fine with Merino. It's not so easy to spin a thicker yarn though, so I prefer to spin three ply for a standard knitting yarn. This produces an even, round yarn which knits up beautifully and wears well. Prepared combed sliver is also an option, but be aware that this will rarely be finer than 20 microns.

© Pat Old 2002

coloured flock against a mountain backdrop Spring time twin lambs fleeces displayed at the 2004 World Congress
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