New Zealand is synonymous with sheep, but when most hand knitters think of sheep, we think of Merino. Polwarth is a crossbreed of Merino and Lincoln sheep, developed in the 1880’s. Polwarth fleece is characterised by its long staple length, low wax, softness and lustre, making it ideal for hand knitting yarn. Polwarth is a luxury fibre without the hype of merino, but it is every bit as wonderful - if not more so!
Wool mills love Polwarth, the long staple and reduced grease in the fibre means it’s much easier for them to process than Merino (and requires less washing). Polwarth also has consistent yield - at every stage of milling, Polwarth fibre goes through processing with a higher proportion of useable fibre to waste, and very little is lost during processing.
Our Polwarth is sourced from farmers on the South Island of New Zealand, bought from growers before auction to ensure consistent quality and ensuring supply chain integrity. Born, raised, shorn, and milled, all right here in New Zealand.
Merino has been well marketed internationally, with the intention of differentiating the finer fibre from “carpet wool” and therefore increasing the commodity price in New Zealand and Australia (where the bulk of Merino is grown). Polwarth, being 3/4 Merino (and 1/4 Lincoln), was bypassed by this marketing campaign, but retains it’s place in the hand knitting world because of its unique qualities. Merino fibre has a “chalky” appearance, whereas Polwarth has shine that reflects light to give your garments a special brightness and life.
What isn’t so great about Merino sheep- especially in the North Island of New Zealand, is that they don’t tolerate wet conditions, and their fleece is prone to felting in damp weather. Polwarth cope much better in wet weather, they lamb readily, and the increased staple length (the length of wool that grows per season) and the lovely lustre of the wool, makes them the perfect match for soft, fluffy, allergy free Alpaca in our Bohemia yarn.
Some other fun facts about Polwarth
Polwarth sheep have strong bodies are are great mums, with a high ratio of twins
Yarn made from Polwarth has less shrinkage than Merino, and garments made from it have beautiful drape
Polwarth fibre has been counted as low as 19 microns, though is usually found in the 22-27 micron range (very soft!)
When the breed was first introduced, they were sold under the name “Ideal”, as they were thought to be the ideal sheep for both farmers and end users. We still think they are ideal even though they are now called “Polwarth”.