"The obvious choice of wool for affordable, high quality knitwear in today's active, modern life is 100% merino."
People are often misled by the fabric content labels in clothing, and the difference between cashmere, lambswool and merino. A garment manufactured in the UK which is labelled simply "cashmere" or "lambswool" or "merino" can have as little as 25% of its content in the stated wool, the rest can be other fibres although they should be listed. So a garment that is labelled "cashmere" is probably not pure or 100% cashmere from cashmere goats. Similarly, "merino wool" cannot be assumed to be 100% merino wool from a Merino sheep which is bred specifically for its wool. And "lambswool" is not the same as "pure (or 100%) lambswool".
Wool is measured in microns. It is the diameter of the follicle (through a microscope) which is measured. In general, the smaller the micron count, the softer and more expensive the wool. To give you a point for comparison, human hair varies from 40-90 microns.
Crimp is also important. It is the natural waviness of the fibre, the elasticity. The crimp in wool makes it soft and springy to touch. It also adds bulk and traps a large volume of air between the fibres, giving it good insulation properties. In general, the more crimp there is, the smaller is the diameter of the fibre, ie the lower the micron count. Finer wool with more crimp such as merino create fabrics that drape better than coarser wool with little crimp. Merino has up to 100 crimps per inch, more than either cashmere or lambswool.
Lanolin is a wax or grease, present in all sheep's wool, but not in goat's wool. It has important natural antibacterial properties, useful for preventing body odours.
Cashmere - goat
Cashmere is produced from cashmere goats. Native to Kashmir province in India, they are raised today all over Central Asia (Turkestan, Iran, Iraq, Mongolia), China, Australia, and New Zealand.
Pashmina goat in Kashmir [image source: Wikipedia]
Fine cashmere is made from the soft under hair close to the skin. Only wool from the neck region is used for fine knitwear. It is gathered by combing rather than clipping as with a sheep, and the output per goat is very small, around 120g. This wool is called cashmere at 19 microns or less.
Cashmere wool provides excellent insulation and can be 7-8 times warmer than merino wool, but this can lead to problems of over-heating, awkward without the presence of lanolin and its antibacterial properties!
Cashmere is expensive relative to other wools because the annual supply is so small.
Lambswool and merino wool - sheep
Lambswool is wool taken from the first shearing of the sheep, usually around seven months after its first coat has come in. It has to be no longer than 50mm. It is fine and soft, and requires minimal processing. However, because lambswool can come from any breed of sheep, the micron count can vary considerably and is not usually stated. Lambswool, like all sheep's wool, contains lanolin. It is popularly used for good quality knitwear.
Merino wool comes solely from a strain of Merino sheep bred for its wool. Average merino wool is about 21.5 microns, fine merino is 18.6-19.5 microns, superfine is 15-18.5 microns, and ultrafine anything less than 15 microns.
Full wool Merino sheep [image source: Wikipedia]
One of the most important properties of merino wool is its strength or durability. Because of its high crimp count, it is also excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. Moisture is wicked away from the body; the wearer is warm without being too hot. Merino wool has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. Additionally, merino contains lanolin with its useful antibacterial properties. For all these reasons, merino wool is often used for top quality outdoor clothing. Merino is cheaper than cashmere.
The obvious choice of wool for affordable, high quality knitwear in today's active, modern life is 100% merino.
BAKKA uses "cashwool", a 100% superfine merino produced by world renowned Italian firm Zegna Baruffa Lane Borgesesia SpA. You can get an idea of the quality of this wool from the photos in our shop. Cashwool is a registered trade name, it is recognised to be the first and unmatched superfine merino, and has been used by top knitwear producers around the world for over 30 years.
This reputation is well-deserved. Cashwool is synonymous with quality and innovation. Each year the purchasing office at Zegna purchases the best merino possible from the top producers. Quality tests are done on the fibre to make sure that its quality meets the high standards required by Zegna. Then the fibre is sent to the factory in Italy to be turned into yarn. Zegna is the only Italian company which undertakes the whole process from raw fibre to finished yarn in Italy. The teasing, carding and spinning processes use innovative, exclusive, patented technology developed by expert engineers. It is this combination of the very best raw material and the specialist know-how in the preparation and treatment processes which ensures that the resulting 100% superfine merino wool is an unmatched market leader.
The factory process from raw fibre to finished yarn is as sustainable as possible; more information will be available about this after July 2018.
We only use five colours of cashwool, two of which have been specially dyed for us by Zegna to match the natural colours so familiar in Shetland's textile heritage.