Introducing American Delaine Merino

Posted on November 09 2019

Introducing American Delaine Merino
What is Merino Wool?
When you hear the word “merino,” is your first thought “soft?” We’ll wager it is. Without doubt, merino wool deserves its reputation as king among soft wools. Merino yarn combines the warm, insulating qualities that all wools possess with a hand so gentle and wispy you can wear it against your skin. What could be a more inviting combination? 

When we say merino, we’re referring at once to an animal and a fiber. And, like all sheep breeds, merino has a backstory.

Merino History

Once upon a time in Spain, merino sheep were the source of wool for the rich. 

The herds were under royal protection and closely monitored. They moved seasonally to the best grazing areas. When they were coming through town, they had right of way. Anyone in the street was obliged to move out of the way as these precious animals bleated their way down the main street. Merino were precious. It was illegal to take the sheep out of the country; they commanded a good price on the global market and the higher ups wanted to keep a monopoly on the breed.  Merino were the intellectual property of early Spain.

But it’s hard to keep a fortress around grazing animals and, in time, a sheep here and there found its way to another country, some to France where they, over time, turned into Rambouillet. And in the early 1800’s, the first Spanish merino arrived on the eastern seaboard of the New World. Over the years, they found their way to different parts of the US, from Pennsylvania to Texas. Merino were desirable not only for their fine fleece, but for their hardy physique as well. They adapted easily to the heat of Texas and to the long winters in northern states. 
Delaine Merino are called Type C merino, a wrinkle-free sheep. Early on, American breeders set to work to improve a good thing. They bred merino that had deep wrinkles over their hides, the better to expand the surface area covering the sheep. More hide, more fleece. But it turned out the fleece inside the folds was inferior. Delaine Merino remain smaller and smooth, their fleece is consistently fine.
In western South Dakota, a herd as large as 3000 animals was settled in Belle Fourche, an area now famous for the quality of its fine-wool sheep, the area from which comes the fiber we’ve used in our new Delaine Merino yarn. 

Stone Wool Delaine Merino Yarn
Delaine Merino wool is lively and crimpy fiber, with great bounce as well as fine-micron softness. It does well spun on a worsted system, which carefully combs the fibers to align them in the same direction, and then spins the resulting roving in a way that keeps the alignment intact. The classic merino yarns from Italy are spun in a cable structure—many fine, thread-like plies twisted together to make an ultra smooth, round yarn, with little halo. We opted to do something different. We made our yarn a two-ply to better show off the wooliness of the fiber. We twisted each ply just enough to hold the fibers in place—important for durability—but not so much as to lose the fiber’s inherent softness. Worsted spinning makes for a caressing, pliable yarn, perfect for anything you’d want right up next to you—a hat, scarf, a favorite wear-every day sweater. Maybe even a pretty camisole for the perfect modern base layer. 
Finally, because Delaine Merino’s long silky staple takes dye exceptionally well, we’ve started with 17 rich prairie colors, gently muted to work well alone or knitted up together. 

For more information on Delaine Merino and other specific sheep breeds, see Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius’s The Field Guide to Fleece: 110 Sheep Breeds and How to Use their Fibers. She has been a tremendous resource for us.

View the Lookbook. Shop the yarn.


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