OF SHEEP AND MEN
Merino Sheep, like all domesticated breeds are descendants of the Mouflon sheep. They found their roots in Northern Africa and were imported to Spain by the Moors. This breed which distinguished itself by its fine wool was named “Merina” and caused great envy.
In France, Louis XIV decided to summon from Spain a flock of this breed and then bought the Rambouillet domaine to farm them. From these sheep, the four main French breeds were developed : Rambouillet Merino, Arles Merino, “Early” Merino and East Merino. This political desire to improve the French wool breed continued after the king’s death and carried on through the nineteenth century by the creation of royal, then imperial and eventually national sheepfolds.
During the same century, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America decided to import these European Merinos and create new breeds.
Today, more than half the sheep world population comes from Merino or Merino interbreeding.
MEAT SHEEP, WOOL SHEEP
The selection criteria chosen by breeders has caused the original races to evolve. With the development of cotton then synthetic fibres, wool prices declined greatly and encouraged European breeders to select sheep based on their size and meat quality at the expense of their wool.
On the other hand, generations of Australian settlers who were too isolated to export meat, focussed on improving their sheep fleeces in order to obtain more and more fibre, a finer wool of the best quality possible. But this quest for wool perfection and the industrialisation of the flocks was at the expense of the animals’ health. The development of certain breeding practices, such as mulesing, have horrified yarn lovers.
REACHING FOR NEW HORIZONS
Witnessing a non-attractive yet expensive local yarn (because sheep need shearing anyway), some breeders have decided to reconnect with their history and select sheep once again based on their wool quality.
In the South of France, some Merino d’Arles breeders keep innovating to recover the breed’s original characteristics and promote the yarn. The interbreeding with meat breeds are being suspended, the shearing techniques are being improved to preserve the fibre quality and length, the fleeces are being sorted while getting rid of a maximum of dirt and residue and the shorn wool is being rapidly washed so it doesn’t turn yellow. In some farms, breeders are improving their flocks’ living conditions by favouring the outdoors, eliminating aggressive and systematic health care and delaying the weaning period of the lambs raised alongside the dam.
In 2009, the discovery of this yarn, its history and the increased humane farming resonated with my own research into eco-friendly, creative and respectful ressources.
In 2011, the first De Rerum Natura yarns, Gilliatt and Penelope, were birthed and helped me discover the full and bustling life of a small business. I faced both the fears and joys of the reality associated with being “made in France” and the happiness of seeing these yarns traveling the world and finding life in the fingers of enthusiastic knitters!
It is my joy today to be able to offer you a range of woollen yarns (Ulysse, Gilliatt and Cyrano), a selection of worsted yarns (Albertine and Penelope) in an increasing colour palet and a beautiful collection of modern, timeless patterns enabling you to knit with both happiness and consciousness!
Thank you for sharing in this beautiful adventure with me…