Of all sheep breeds, Merino produces the finest fleece. Actually today, Merino is a group of closely related breeds, but we will speak of them as a unified group.
There are lots of ways to prepare merino to spin it. Let’s start with a basic lock of washed merino.
One of my favorites is simply washing and flicking the locks open. The tips on this particular merino fleece were rather weak.
This takes time, a lot of time. Margaret Stove’s book on Merino concentrates on spinning superfine yarns from prepared locks. Her book is out of print in the US, but still available through her website.
Not quite as time consuming is combing. Here is some top I prepared using my Louet mini combs.
In some ways, this produces a better product, removing shorter fibers and leaving uniform length fibers behind.
Carding produces a different product. The shorter fibers are all blended together, so if the tips break off you end up with neps. It doesn’t matter if you are handcarding or drumcarding. Take a look at the close up and you should see the neps.
But for the time constrained, the lure of buying commercial prepared rovings is seemingly a bargain. And in a lot of ways it truly is.
Merino top is readily available, click on pretty much any supplier and they should not only have merino top in stock, but in several bright colors and maybe even some handpaints to choose from.
If I told you where I got this I would have to kill you. Just kidding, this is roving from Thomson Merino in Wisconsin.
And this is hand painted merino roving from Franquemont Fiber.
Superwash merino is merino fiber that has been treated in some way to prevent it from felting. So don’t make a bag from this stuff and expect it to full nicely in your washer, it won’t. But in my experience, superwash will still felt, but nothing like untreated merino. It also takes dye slightly differently than its untreated brethren. Visually, it is hard if not impossible to tell the difference between superwash and non-superwash merino.
Then in the strictly decadent section is hyperfine merino. 15 micron that there is no doubt that you can knit yourself a bikini from and have nary an itch. (Not that I would ever consider wearing a bikini, never the less a handknitted bikini.) Save this for fine lace, baby wear and at over $6 an ounce a little goes a long long way. Okay, so your friends may call your yarn froghair, but there are many worse things they could say.
There are a few small mills that offer great service and do a good job with merino. Morro Fleece Works, Stonehedge Fiber Mill, and Zeilinger Wool Company are just three that come to mind.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the many other fibers merino is blended with such as silk.
This roving is from Chasing Rainbows. (Hint, hint, Nancy you need a website!)
And this 50% Merino 50% Silk batt is from Franquemont Fibers.
Oh and how about cashmere.
Yes Merino/Cashmere from Chasing Rainbows.
This is just a taste of what is out there. Don’t fear Merino, embrace it. Once you have a feel for the wheel or spindle try it and don’t be afraid to fall in love with it.