Spinning with Merino Combed Top Roving
Even if you aren't a fiber fanatic you have probably heard of Merino wool. You probably don't know why it is so sought after but the name resonates much like cashmere or angora. Marketing over the years has lauded merino's softness and quality and I can't really say they are wrong.
Merino sheep came about way back in the Middle Ages when Spanish royalty bred their ewes with rams from the Beni-Merines (a Berber tribe from Morocco) and named the resulting animals Merinos. For centuries it was illegal to export the sheep from Spain so that they could keep a monopoly and rule the wool trade. Luckily for the rest of us, those rules loosened and merino sheep started to trickle out of Spain starting in the 1700's.
Now, because merino sheep have been around so long there is a wide variety in micron length and therefore softness. The Merino roving I purchased was 21 microns which, I'm sure, has some technical meaning but for laypeople, like me, just know that the smaller the micron number the finer and softer the fiber will be. I think 18 microns is suppose to be the super fine and soft Merino. Just keep in mind that the lower the micron count and the softer the wool then the more expensive it will be.
Here is a photo of what the white combed top Merino roving looks like before being spun. Very soft and luxurious.
Below is a photo of what the single ply looked like. As I mentioned before, I am still getting my spinning fingers so my yarn is not so perfect but warm and cozy isn't alway pretty.
As for how it was to spin with the merino wool- it was great. The combed top was soft on my fingers and drafted easily. Because it could be peeled like string cheese I was able to make rather thin strips and didn't really have to draft too much. However, this approach did make for many more connections between sections which, for me, created slightly thicker areas. If you just draft directly from the main body you don't have to make many, if any, connections but you do have to draft significantly more.
Through trial and error I found that my spindles could only hold about two ounces of fiber when the yarn was plyed. Any more than that and the yarn was too bulky and it interfered with spinning. Of course spinning thinner, tighter yarn would allow for more ounces to be used but let's not get into nit picking my spinning technique.
Spinning the Merino was very pleasant. Even though I didn't really have much to compare it to I could tell that this fiber was well prepared and easy to spin. The wool was soft and made a luxurious yarn to knit with.
If you are planning to make a garment with your yarn which will be worn next to your skin (or making something for someone who complains about the itchiness of wool) then Merino is the ideal option. On the other hand, if you are making a sweater to be worn over another garment then you might look at some wools with slightly higher micron counts that might be more budget friendly.
Above are the first two skeins I made. As you might be able to read from my tags one yielded 41.5 yards while the other yielded 56.5 yards. The discrepancy could have something to do with my math skills or it could go back to my inconsistency in thickness. On the left you might notice more areas with thick sections whereas the right skein is more uniform. Having a consistently thinner yarn really does yield quite a few more yards.
Up close you really can see the thick and thin areas as well as some spots that are over twisted. Since the design of the vest I am making is a little funky anyway I don't mind the yarn being a bit funky either.
Here is the finished merino wool knitted to create the top of my wool sampler vest that I blogged about last week. Because this yarn was thicker it knit up quickly and is very warm and cozy.
Up close you can really see the variety of thickness but I promise this is much more consistent than my first couple skeins.
Overall Merino is a top of the line fiber that makes beautiful yarn that is pleasant for knitting. It isn't the cheapest but is worth the cost if you are using for next-to-skin wear. I give it an A+ for ease of spinning. If you would like to get your hands on some of the beautiful American grown Merino wool for spinning then you can get it from Beeysbee on Etsy.
Have you spun with Merino wool? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!