Bluefaced Leicester vs Merino Wool: Key Differences

For knitters and fiber artists, choosing the right wool can make all the difference in a project. Two of the most popular breeds of sheep for high quality wool are the Bluefaced Leicester and the Merino. Though both produce exceptionally soft and versatile wool, they have some notable differences that are important to understand when selecting yarn.

The main difference between Bluefaced Leicester and Merino wool is fineness and softness. Merino wool fiber diameter ranges from 11.5-24.5 microns, while Bluefaced Leicester is 24-28 microns. Merino is softer, more elastic, and more expensive than Bluefaced Leicester. However, Bluefaced Leicester is more lustrous, durable, and budget-friendly. Both natural wools have excellent insulation and comfort properties and can be blended with other fibers. The choice depends on intended use, feel preference and budget.


Properties
Bluefaced Leicester WoolMerino Wool
Fiber Diameter24 – 28 microns11.5 – 24.5 microns
SoftnessLess softSofter
ElasticityLess elasticMore elastic
LusterMore lustrousLess lustrous
CrimpsMore crimpsLess crimps
DurabilityMore durableLess durable
PriceBudget-friendlyMore expensive
OriginBluefaced Leicester sheep, originated in England/ScotlandMerino sheep, originated in Spain
Key BenefitsSmooth, fine, lustrous, durable, affordableFinest wool, softest, breathable, moisture-wicking, odor-resistant

Overview Of Bluefaced Leicester Wool

First up, the Bluefaced Leicester breed originated in the early 1800s in the UK. They get their name from their distinctive blue-grey faces and legs. These medium-sized sheep boast heavy, broad bodies and long curly locks that cascade down their sides. Their wool is prized for its length, luster, softness and amazing crimp pattern.

The wool of the Bluefaced Leicester sheep is one of the finest and softest of the UK clip. It has a creamy white color and a semi-lustrous appearance. The wool is fine and smooth, making it suitable for next-to-the-skin projects. The wool is also hard-wearing and holds its shape well, making it ideal for both durable items and lace garments.

Some of the notable features and qualities of Bluefaced Leicester wool are:

1. Softness and texture

Bluefaced Leicester wool is very soft and comfortable to wear against the skin. It has a silky feel and a gentle drape. The wool is also breathable and regulates temperature well, keeping the wearer warm in winter and cool in summer.

2. Staple length and crimp

Bluefaced Leicester wool has a long staple length, ranging from 8 to 15 cm (3 to 6 inches). The wool has a fine crimp, which means it has small waves along the fiber. The crimp gives the wool elasticity and loft, making it springy and fluffy.

3. Strength and durability

Bluefaced Leicester wool is strong and durable, as it has a high tensile strength and resistance to abrasion. The wool can withstand repeated washing and wearing without losing its quality or shape. The wool also has a natural resistance to felting, which means it does not shrink or mat together easily.

Applications and Uses of Bluefaced Leicester wool in various products

Bluefaced Leicester wool is versatile and can be used for various products, such as:

  • Knitting and crochet: Bluefaced Leicester wool is a popular choice for knitters and crocheters, as it produces beautiful stitches and patterns. The wool can be used for sweaters, cardigans, scarves, hats, gloves, socks, shawls, blankets, and more.
  • Spinning: Bluefaced Leicester wool is easy to spin, as it has a long staple length and a fine crimp. The wool can be spun into different types of yarns, such as worsted, semi-worsted, or woollen. The worsted spinning method produces a smooth and shiny yarn, while the woollen spinning method produces a fuzzy and airy yarn.
  • Weaving: Bluefaced Leicester wool can be woven into fabrics that are soft, smooth, and lustrous. The fabrics can be used for clothing, upholstery, curtains, rugs, and more.
  • Dyeing: Bluefaced Leicester wool can be dyed with natural or synthetic dyes, as it absorbs colors well. The semi-lustrous quality of the wool reflects light softly, creating bright and saturated shades.

Some interesting facts about Bluefaced Leicester wool are:

  • Bluefaced Leicester wool is sometimes blended with other fibers, such as silk, alpaca, mohair, or cashmere, to create unique yarns with different textures and properties.
  • Bluefaced Leicester sheep are also crossed with other breeds of sheep to produce mules, which are hybrid sheep that combine the prolificacy of the Bluefaced Leicester with the hardiness and mothering ability of the hill sheep. Mules are the most numerous sheep in the UK.
  • Bluefaced Leicester wool is considered a rare breed wool by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), which is an organization that works to conserve and protect the UK’s native livestock breeds.

Overview Of Merino Wool

Merino wool is one of the finest and most versatile types of wool in the world. It comes from Merino sheep, a breed that originated in Spain and was later spread to other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.

Merino wool has many remarkable characteristics that make it suitable for a wide range of products, from luxury fashion to high-performance sportswear.

Description of the Merino Sheep Breed and Its Wool

Merino sheep are known for their ability to produce large amounts of wool with very fine fibers. The diameter of Merino wool fibers ranges from 11.5 to 24 microns, depending on the type and quality of the wool.

For comparison, human hair has an average diameter of about 75 microns. The finer the wool, the softer and smoother it feels on the skin.

Merino sheep can grow up to four to five pounds of wool per year, which is renewable and biodegradable. They consume a simple diet of natural ingredients such as grass, water, sunshine and fresh air.

Merino wool is composed of a natural protein called keratin, which is also found in human hair and skin. Keratin gives wool its strength, elasticity and resilience.

Merino wool is also unique in its structure and composition. Each fiber has a scaly surface that helps to repel dirt and water, as well as a hollow core that traps air and provides insulation.

Moreover, Merino wool contains lanolin, a natural wax that protects the sheep’s skin from infection and moisture loss. Lanolin also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that benefit human skin.

Some of the notable features of Merino wool are:

  • Softness and fineness: Merino wool is exceptionally soft and fine, which makes it comfortable to wear next to the skin. It does not itch or irritate the skin like coarser wool or synthetic fibers. It also drapes well and has a natural luster and shine.
  • Staple length and elasticity: Merino wool has a long staple length of around 80 to 120mm (3 to 5 inches), which means that each fiber is longer than average. This allows for more spinning and weaving possibilities, as well as better durability and quality. Merino wool is also highly elastic, which means that it can stretch up to 30% of its original length and return to its shape without losing its form or integrity.
  • Moisture-wicking properties: Merino wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture without feeling wet or clammy. It also transfers moisture away from the skin to the outer layer of the fabric, where it can evaporate quickly. This helps to regulate body temperature and keep the wearer dry and comfortable in various weather conditions. Merino wool also dries faster than other types of wool or synthetic fibers, which reduces the risk of odor-causing bacteria growth.
  • UV protection: Merino wool offers a sun protection factor of up to 50+, providing excellent protection against harmful UV rays. It’s even been shown to be more effective than some synthetic fabrics at blocking UV. This is because Merino wool fibers have a high level of melanin, a natural pigment that absorbs UV radiation and prevents it from reaching the skin.

Application and Uses of Merino Wool

Now that we’ve covered the qualities that make Merino wool so remarkable, let’s look at some of the products and applications that benefit:

  • Base layers: Merino wool is the ultimate performance base layer for outdoor activities thanks to its soft comfort, moisture wicking, and temperature regulation. Brands like SmartWool and Icebreaker make excellent Merino base layers.
  • Underwear and loungewear: For the same reasons it shines as a base layer, Merino also excels in underwear and loungewear. It’s antimicrobial and helps maintain freshness.
  • Hiking and trekking socks: Merino wool socks are the top choice among hikers and backpackers. The wool cushions your feet while wicking moisture to prevent blisters on long treks. Darn Tough is a popular Merino sock brand.
  • Cold weather outerwear: Thanks to good insulating properties, Merino wool coats, jackets, and sweaters maintain warmth in frigid winter weather. It’s no wonder Arctic explorers relied on Merino.
  • Suiting and dress clothes: Merino wool fabrics make exceptional yet comfortable suits, blazers, dresses and more. The natural stretch maintains the garment’s shape but allows ease of movement.
  • Home goods: From upholstery to blankets and pillows, Merino wool brings comfort, breathability, and fire safety to home textiles. It also resists dust mites.

Some Interesting Facts About Merino Wool

  • The world record for the finest Merino wool was set in 2018 by an Australian farmer who produced a fleece with an average fiber diameter of 9.8 microns. This is finer than cashmere or silk.
  • The world record for the heaviest fleece was set in 2015 by a wild Merino sheep named Chris who was found in Australia with a fleece weighing 41 kilograms (90 pounds). The fleece was sheared off by a professional shearer who took 45 minutes to complete the task. The fleece was donated to the National Museum of Australia.
  • Merino wool has natural lanolin oils that allow it to shed water and dirt particles so it stays cleaner in wear.

Bluefaced Leicester vs Merino Wool Fineness and Softness

The fineness and softness of wool are determined by the micron count of each fiber. The lower the micron count, the finer and softer the wool. Generally speaking, Merino wool is finer and softer than BFL wool, as it has a lower micron range.

The average micron count of BFL wool is 24-28 microns, while the average micron count of Merino wool is 18-24 microns. However, there are some variations within each breed, depending on the genetics, environment and nutrition of the sheep.

For example, some ultra-fine Merino wools can be as low as 11.5 microns, while some broad Merino wools can be as high as 24.5 microns. 

Similarly, some fine BFL wools can be as low as 22 microns, while some broad BFL wools can be as high as 29 microns.

Merino wool is super fine and crimpy with a very soft hand, though not very strong. It has a shorter-than-average staple length, giving it a fluffy and warm feel.

In contrast, Bluefaced Leicester wool is quite fine with more curl than crimp. It is very soft yet stronger than Merino. The long staple length creates a lustrous, drapey yarn.

Bluefaced Leicester vs Merino Wool Luster and Sheen

While both Bluefaced Leicester and Merino wool share exceptional softness, they differ in their sheen and luster due to differences in fiber length and crimp pattern.

BFL gives an intense, lustrous sheen from its long, wavy locks. The long fibers also enhance the drape in knits and woven fabrics.  BFL wool has a natural drape and reflects light softly, creating a bright saturated shade.

Merino lacks the sparkling luster of BFL but offers unbeatable softness and breathability next to skin. It makes versatile, refined yarns suited for fine-gauge knits as well as wovens and blends.

Merino wool has a lower luster and sheen than Bluefaced Leicester wool because of its semi-lustrous surface and irregular cross-section that scatter more light.

 Depending on the desired effect and use of the fabric:

  • If you want a fabric that has a bright, glossy, and shiny appearance, you might prefer Bluefaced Leicester wool over Merino wool.
  • If you want a fabric that has a soft, silky, and subtle appearance, you might prefer Merino wool over Bluefaced Leicester wool.
  • If you want a fabric that has more drape and fluidity, you might prefer Bluefaced Leicester wool over Merino wool.
  • If you want a fabric that has more warmth and insulation, you might prefer Merino wool over Bluefaced Leicester wool.

Bluefaced Leicester vs Merino Wool Insulation and Breathability

When it comes to insulation, both Bluefaced Leicester and Merino wool offer excellent performance.

However, Merino wool has a slight edge due to its finer fibers and higher warmth-to-weight ratio.

The finer fibers of Merino wool provide more surface area for trapping air. So, Merino wool can keep you just as warm but with thinner, lighter-weight garments.

This also contributes to its natural breathability, wicking moisture away from the skin. For these reasons, ultra-fine Merino wool is popular for performance athletic wear as well as lightweight base layers and underwear.

While both types of wool are breathable, Merino wool has superior moisture-wicking properties. Its fine fibers can absorb moisture from the skin and release it into the air, ensuring optimal comfort even during intense physical activities.

Bluefaced Leicester wool also offers good breathability but may not be as effective in moisture management as Merino wool.

Bluefaced Leicester vs Merino Wool Durability and Elasticity

Bluefaced Leicester wool is renowned for its exceptional durability. The fibers of Bluefaced Leicester wool are long and strong, making them resistant to wear and tear.

Bluefaced Leicester wool has a high tensile strength, which means it can resist breaking under tension. It also has a low crimp frequency, which means it has fewer bends or waves in the fibers.

These characteristics make Bluefaced Leicester wool durable and resistant to abrasion and pilling. However, it also makes it less elastic and more prone to stretching out of shape.

On the other hand, Merino wool has a lower tensile strength than Bluefaced Leicester wool, which means it can break more easily under tension.

Merino wool also has a high crimp frequency, which means it has more bends or waves in the fibers. These characteristics make Merino wool less durable and more susceptible to abrasion and pilling. However, it also makes it more elastic and better at retaining its shape.

Now, talking about elasticity, Bluefaced Leicester wool has a low elasticity due to its long and strong fibers and low crimp frequency.

BFL wool can stretch up to 25% of its original length before breaking, but it does not recover well from stretching. This means that Bluefaced Leicester wool products can lose their shape over time and become baggy or saggy.

In contrast, Merino wool has a high elasticity due to its short and fine fibers and high crimp frequency.

Merino wool can stretch up to 35% of its original length before breaking, and it recovers well from stretching. This means that Merino wool products can maintain their shape over time and conform to body contours.

Bluefaced Leicester vs Merino Wool Care and Maintenance

Wool fibres have scales on their surface that can interlock when exposed to heat, moisture, and agitation. This causes the fabric to shrink and felt, which can ruin the shape and texture of the garment.

Merino wool has more scales than Bluefaced Leicester wool, which makes it more prone to shrinkage and felting. Therefore, Merino wool garments should be washed by hand in cold water with gentle detergent and laid flat to dry. 

Bluefaced Leicester wool garments can be machine washed on a gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent, but should also be laid flat to dry.

Pilling is the formation of small balls of fibre on the surface of the fabric due to friction and wear. Pilling can affect the appearance and feel of the garment, making it look old and worn out.

Merino wool has finer fibres than Bluefaced Leicester wool, which makes it more susceptible to pilling. Therefore, Merino wool garments should be washed inside out and avoid rubbing against rough surfaces or other fabrics that can cause abrasion.

Bluefaced Leicester wool garments are more resistant to pilling due to their longer and stronger fibres, but they can still benefit from being washed inside out and avoiding excessive friction.

Quick Summary: Merino Wool vs Bluefaced Leicester Wool

Here’s a quick rundown of the key differences between Merino wool and Bluefaced Leicester wool:

  • Fiber diameter: Merino is finer (16-24 microns) while Bluefaced Leicester is thicker (28-32 microns).
  • Insulation: The fineness of Merino means it traps more air and insulates well at lighter weights. Bluefaced Leicester provides slightly less lightweight warmth but has more loft and fullness.
  • Breathability: Both have crimp and texture to allow ventilation and wick moisture. Merino may have a slight edge due to the fineness.
  • Softness: Merino is coveted for its fine, supple hand whereas Bluefaced Leicester has more robust fibers.
  • Drape: Bluefaced Leicester has a full drape under gravity while Merino conforms more closely to the body.
  • Durability: Bluefaced Leicester is harder wearing and resilient while Merino’s fine fibers may show wear sooner.
  • Luster: Bluefaced Leicester has a luminous, lustrous quality compared to Merino’s matte appearance.

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