New Zealand Wool- What’s the big deal?

Wool, cotton, silk… If you have been researching handmade rugs at all, you have found that these are the basic materials that are combined using art and industry to create one of the world’s oldest and most famous floor coverings.  The fiber that receives the most recognition for the durability of oriental rugs is wool, and the most famous of all wools is New Zealand wool.

So what’s the big deal about New Zealand wool anyway?  Is one wool really that much better than the other?  Well, it depends on who you ask, and what you plan on doing with the wool.

For oriental rug production, it really depends on what type of production you are working with and where you are.  Finer wools are softer, shinier, and have a thinner gauged thread.  Finer wools are also more expensive and require the ability to import them from other countries.  If you are producing a nubby textured, hand-spun wool piece, finer wool may not be worth the extra expense.  The nubby texture would essentially nullify the finer properties of a higher grade wool.  And if you are working with tribal rugs… importing fine wool from New Zealand or Australia is out of the question.

For your finer knotted “city” style rugs, though, high-grade wool is not only desirable, but can actually make production and maintenance of the rug easier.  Essentially, better wool is stronger, longer, thinner, shinier, softer, and whiter.   This allows you to make a finer, smaller knot.

Here is what earns New Zealand and Australian wool high grades.  The quality of wool is graded by the following main factors: fiber diameter, color (whiteness), strength, crimp, and yield.  The fiber diameter if the most important factor in determining both quality and price. (This is measured in terms of microns.)

Both New Zealand and Australian wools consistently score the highest among major rug producing nations.  And New Zealand wool is touted as the whitest, allowing for a broader range of color after dyeing.  Their finest wools are known as 1PP, which is the industry standard of excellence for Merino wool that is 16.9 microns and finer.  You normally hear more about the New Zealand wools because the have embarked upon a major marketing campaign touting their product as the finest.  Just google it.  You will find a beautiful website devoted to the cause.  They even put the wool emblem on their National Soccer Team’s jerseys!

Another reason that New Zealand’s wool takes the spotlight is because of the private market.  While Australia is the world’s largest producer of wool (roughly 25% of total production), 85% of that production is sold at open auction.  New Zealand only produces 11% of the world yield, but almost 50% of that is sold by the farmer directly to private buyers and the end user.

Still don’t think wool is a big deal?  The finest bale of wool ever to be publicly auctioned sold for a seasonal record of $2700 per kilo in June of 2008.  The wool measured 11.6 microns and was very strong (we’ll spare you the Newton measurements).  The total price of the bale was over $247,000.00.  It was exported to India.  You’ll never guess where we get almost half of our rugs…

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