Merino wool is the finest sheep wool, with exceptional thermo-insulating properties. It feels soft and luxuriously gentle next to your skin.
Staples are commonly 65–100mm long. A Saxon Merino produces 3-6kg of greasy wool a year, while a good quality Peppin Merino ram produces up to 18kg. Merino wool is generally less than 24 micron (µm) in diameter. Basic Merino types include: strong (broad) wool (23-24.5µm), medium wool (19.6-22.9µm), fine (18.6-19.5µm), superfine (15-18.5µm) and ultra fine (11.5-15µm).
The merino sheep originated from Spain. It was known as early as the 12th century and may have been a Moorish importation. Before the 18th century, the export of Merinos from Spain was a crime punishable by death.
In the 18th century, small exportation of Merinos from Spain and local sheep were used as the foundation of Merino flocks in other countries. In 1723, some were exported to Sweden, but the first major consignment of Escurials was sent by Charles III of Spain to his cousin, Prince Xavier the Elector of Saxony, in 1765. Further exportation of Escurials to Saxony occurred in 1774, to Hungary in 1775 and to Prussia in 1786. Later in 1786, Louis XVI of France received 366 sheep. These founded the stud at the Royal Farm at Rambouillet. The Rambouillet stud enjoyed some undisclosed genetic development with some English long-wool genes contributing to the size and wool-type of the French sheep. Through one ram in particular named Emperor – imported to Australia in 1860 by the Peppin brothers – the Rambouillet stud had an enormous influence on the development of the Australian Merino.
From 1765, the Germans in Saxony crossed the Spanish Merino with the Saxon sheep to develop a dense, fine type of Merino adapted to its new environment. From 1778, the Saxon breeding center was operated to developed scientific crossing methods to further improve the Saxon Merino. By 1802, the region had four million Saxon Merino sheep, and was becoming the centre for stud Merino breeding, and German wool was considered to be the finest in the world.
The Napoleonic wars (1793–1813) almost destroyed the Spanish Merino industry. From 1810 onwards, the Merino scene shifted to Germany, United States and Australia. Saxony lifted the export ban on living Merinos.
There were nearly 2 million sheep in Australia by 1830, and by 1836, Australia had won the wool trade war with Germany, mainly because of Germany’s preoccupation with fineness. German manufacturers commenced importing Australian wool in 1845.
In Australia today, a few Saxon and other fine-wool, German bloodline, Merino studs exist in the high rainfall areas. In the pastoral and agriculture country, Peppins and Collinsville (21 to 24 micron) are popular. In the drier areas, one finds the Collinsville (21 to 24 micron) strains.
Alpaca fiber is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Good quality alpaca fiber is approximately 18 to 21 microns in diameter. Alpacas come in 22 natural colors, with more than 300 shades from a true-blue black through browns-black, browns, fawns, white, silver-greys, and rose-greys.
Alpacas have been bred in South America for thousands of years. Vicuñas were first domesticated and bred into alpacas by the ancient tribes of the Andean highlands of Peru, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
There are two types of alpaca: Huacaya (which produce a dense, soft, crimpy sheep-like fiber), and the Suri (with silky fibers without crimps). Suris, prized for their longer and silkier fibers, are estimated to make up 19–20% of the North American alpaca population.
Since its import into the United States, South Africa and Europe, the number of Suri alpacas has grown substantially and become more color diverse. The Suri is thought to be rarer, most likely because the breed was reserved for royalty during Incan times. Suris are often said to be less cold hardy than Huacaya, but both breeds are successfully raised in more extreme climates.
Camel hair is very soft, fine and warm with a natural lustre. The natural colors of the camel hair give the fabric it’s characteristic colors, which ranges from white to dark brown. The white is coming only from the baby camel.
Camel hair is obtained from the two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) that originated from the steppes of Central and Eastern Asia, adapting to survival in the extremely cold to extremely hot climates of the Gobi Desert.
Such camels have protective outer coats of coarse fiber that may grow as long as 40 cm. The fine, shorter fiber of the insulating undercoat, 4–13 cm long, is the product generally called camel hair, or camel hair wool.
The hair is not usually gathered by shearing or plucking; it is most often collected as the animal sheds its coat. Both the outer coat and the undercoat are shed at the same time, and combing, frequently by machine, separates the desirable down from the coarse outer hairs. The resultant fine fiber has a tiny diameter of 5–22 microns. Camel-hair fiber has greater sensitivity to chemicals than does wool fiber. Its strength is similar to that of wool having a similar diameter but is less than that of mohair. Fabric made of camel hair has excellent insulating properties and is warm and comfortable.
Yak wool is obtained from the coat hair of Yaks (Bos grunniens), a long-haired bovine mainly found in the Himalayan region, Tibetan plateau, and some areas of Mongolia and Central Asia.
Yak fiber wool has been used by nomads in the Tran-Himalayan region for over a thousand years to make clothing, tents, ropes and blankets. More recently the fiber has started to be used in the garment industry to produce premium-priced clothing and accessories.
The coat hair of the yak is composed of three different types of fiber that vary greatly in appearance and characteristics. The quantity of fiber produced by one yak is dependent on factors such as sex, age and breed of the yak, and the proportions of the different layers vary throughout the different seasons.
The coarse: Mostly used by nomads in tent making, this fiber has a size range of 79-90 microns forming the outer coat of long hair that characterizes the appearance of the yak.
The mid-type: With a diameter size between 20-50 microns, this fiber is naturally strong but not stronger than the outer layers to make ropes and tents and not as fine as the down fiber for the textile industry.
The down fiber: This is the finest fiber (16-20 microns) and is generally shed by the animal during late spring/early summer period. Therefore, this fine layer needs to be harvested before it is shed in the summer season. Down fiber, and fewer sweat glands, are two examples of how yaks have adapted to survive extreme cold temperatures (sometimes as low as -50°C) and altitudes well above 3000m.
Cashmere has been manufactured in Mongolia, Nepal and Kashmir for thousands of years. The fiber is also known as pashm (Persian for wool) or pashmina (Persian/Urdu word derived from Pashm) for its use in the handmade shawls of Kashmir.
Cashmere is obtained from the cashmere goat (Capra hircus laniger). Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat or underdown of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called guard hair. Cashmere is collected during the spring moulting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat. For the fine underdown to be sold and processed further, it must be de-haired. De-hairing is a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair.
China has become the largest producer of raw cashmere and their clip is estimated at 10,000 metric tons per year (in hair). Mongolia follows with 7,400 tons (in hair) as of 2014, while Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian republics produce lesser amounts. The annual world clip is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 tons (in hair). “Pure cashmere”, resulting from removing animal grease, dirt and coarse hairs from the fleece, is estimated at about 6,500 tons. Ultra-fine Cashmere is still produced by communities in Indian Kashmir but its rarity and high price, along with political instability in the region, make it very hard to source and to regulate quality. It is estimated that on average yearly production per goat is 150 grams.
Cashmere is finer, stronger, lighter, softer, and approximately three times more insulating than sheep wool. The fibers have diameters finer than those of the best wools. The Kashmir goats of China and Mongolia yield fiber with diameters ranging from 12 to 15 microns; that of Iranian goats is 15 to 19 microns. The color, usually gray or tan, varies from white to black.
Chiffon (from the French word for a cloth or rag) is a lightweight, balanced plain-woven sheer fabric woven of alternate S- and Z-twist crepe (high-twist) yarns. The twist in the crepe yarns puckers the fabric slightly in both directions after weaving, giving it some stretch and a slightly rough feel.
Under a magnifying glass chiffon resembles a fine net or mesh which gives it some transparency.
Chiffon is smoother and more lustrous than the similar fabric georgette.
Chiffon combines well with the wool, adds depth and enriches and complements the color of the wool with its semi-transparency.
Pongee silk is a soft, thin, plain-weave fabric of light to medium weight with both crossribbing and small slubs.
It is more difficult to combine it with the wool than chiffon, but it gives a wrinkled effect similar to a wood bark. Its reflection is higher than that of chiffon.