Today I want to spend a few minutes discussing the history of the wool industry. As a quick caveat, I am not a historian, nor is this an attempt for a full and accurate history of wool. I just wanted to share some interesting information regarding the fabric that I love so much. In my opinion, anything you feel strongly for you need to have a good understanding of its origins, and unlike synthetic materials, there is a very long history. If you are interested in more detailed history of wool and the merino breed there are a number of great resources, but with most things these days Wikipedia is a great place to start.
Although the wool fiber has been in use since the domestication of sheep, some of the oldest known wool textiles date back to 1500BCE. The term merino is widely used in the textile industries with varied meanings. Originally it denoted the wool of Merino sheep reared in Spain, but due to the equivalent quality of Australian and New Zealand wools, the term now has broader use. In the dress-goods and knitting trades, the term “Merino” means an article containing Merino wool. Today, Australia and New Zealand are two of the largest producers of wool in general and more importantly, our favorite, merino wool.
Another important event in the industry was the introduction of Superwash wool. Washable wool technology first appeared in the early 1970s to produce wool that has been specially treated so that it is machine washable and may be tumble-dried. This wool is produced using an acid bath that removes the “scales” from the fiber, or by coating the fiber with a polymer that prevents the scales from attaching to each other and causing shrinkage. This process results in a fiber that holds longevity and durability over synthetic materials, while retaining its shape.