Wool is a natural material that humans have used for thousands of years to survive harsh, cold winters all over the world. It comes in many forms, since it is a material that is produced by a few different animals, including sheep, alpacas, and goats. In general, wool is warm and insulating, and many types have water- and bacteria-repellant qualities. It is also moisture-wicking, making it useful for clothing intended for a range of activities and uses.
Two of the most popular types of wool on the market are Cashmere and Merino, though they are two very different types of wool fibers with different uses and advantages. So, which one should you choose? That will depend on what you are looking for. Read on to find out how each one is produced, and which option is warmer, more durable, more luxurious, or lower maintenance.
Merino wool comes from a breed of sheep called Merinos, which are farmed in abundance in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Every year, the sheep must be shorn in the Spring, in order to survive the hotter summer months. A single sheep can produce around 35 ounces of wool each year, which can be used to make up to 5 sweaters or other items of clothing.
Merino wool is softer than the wool of other sheep breeds and wool animals, as Merinos have been bred for their finer fibers. However, it will still feel scratchier than the ultra-fine fibers of Cashmere. Merino wool is moisture-wicking, breathable, and lightweight, making it the perfect material for clothing. Anything from luxury to activewear can be made from it, and it is useful in a variety of climates – even warm weather if the right garments are worn.
It should be noted that, like all types of sheep wool, Merino wool contains lanolin. This is a waterproof and bacteria-resistant substance that keeps the sheep warm and dry in wet weather and is what makes the wool so useful for clothing, but it may cause a reaction in some people with sensitive skin or allergies.
Cashmere is also considered a type of wool, though it has very little in common with sheep wool. It comes from the fine undercoats that Kashmir goats grow to survive each winter, and is shed naturally, rather than being shaved off. This breed of goat was first found in the Kashmir Valley near the Himalayan Mountains and now exists mostly in the Gobi Desert.
Each year, in Spring, the goats shed their warm undercoats to prepare for the hot summer, and the fine fibers must be collected by hand from the ground where they fall, or from the branches of scrub brush where the goats scratch them off. Many Kashmir breeders will hand comb the fibers from the goats’ bellies to speed up the process and ensure none of the valuable fibers are lost.
Unlike the sheep, a single Kashmir goat produces only around 3.5 ounces of fibers each year (one tenth of what a sheep produces), making it a much rarer and more expensive material. Where the wool from a single sheep can be used to make multiple garments, it takes the yarn of about 2 Kashmir goats to make a single Cashmere sweater.
This is an excellent indicator of just how warm the material is – the Kashmir goats have the same overcoat all year, and the only difference between their winter and summer coats is this bit of warm fuzz underneath. In winter, the goats often contend with temperatures as low as -22°F. So, if you’re looking for warmth, Cashmere can’t be overvalued.
To choose between these two excellent materials, you will need to be sure of what you are looking for and what you need. Each has its own advantages over the other, and their uses are quite different in many cases.
Merino wool is the more durable of the two, with strong, elastic fibers, and as a result, it requires less care and maintenance. It can be machine washed gently, and should be dried flat, but otherwise is straightforward to care for. It is highly resistant to pilling, thanks to the shape of the fibers, and due to the high quantity that is produced, it is more affordable than Cashmere (though not as cheap as regular sheep wool).
Regular sheep wool is heavy and scratchy in comparison, and Merino, though not nearly as fine and smooth as Cashmere, is the softest of the sheep wools. Due to the lanolin, Merino wool may cause allergies in some people, but it also makes it bacteria-resistant and moisture-repellant, which means it is an excellent choice for activewear, especially in cold climates.
Cashmere, being rarer, is more expensive than Merino wool, but it has some advantages that make it worth the price. Cashmere is by far the warmest of these two materials, and is more insulating than Merino wool, meaning that it will not only keep you warm in winter but also cool in summer. It is also softer than sheep wool, and gentler on the skin.
Being lanolin-free, Cashmere is hypoallergenic, meaning that it is safe for almost all skin types, but the lack of lanolin contributes to the less durable nature of the yarn, along with the much finer fibers that can break more easily and are more prone to pilling. Cashmere must be treated with care and can only be hand- or professionally washed, or you risk damaging your expensive garment.
Although Cashmere can be used to make garments of all types, it is best used for casual or luxury wear, as being active in your Cashmere items will likely destroy them fairly quickly. The rarity of the material means that it is far more expensive than Merino wool, also making it better for luxury items that people will care for well. In addition, Cashmere has a silky feeling and drapes beautifully over the human frame, further indicating its luxury status.
If you are looking for a few high-quality and expensive luxury items that will only be worn in certain circumstances, Cashmere is your best choice, especially if you have allergies or sensitive skin. Its insulating nature makes it useful for all temperatures, but it is not water-repellant and should not be allowed to get soaked through while being worn.
If you’re looking for something hardier and more affordable, you should choose Merino, which is durable, pilling-resistant, and moisture-wicking. It has more uses than Cashmere, being an excellent material for activewear, yet it is perfectly usable for anything from casual to luxury clothing items.