Wool Breeds

In Honor of Sheep, for Easter

I’ve always loved sheep and have wanted to share their company and know everything there is to know about them. Especially since learning as a child that my name, Rachel in fact means “little ewe” in Hebrew. I was also born in the first hour after Easter as well. I’ve yet to find myself in that place in life where keeping sheep was a real option, but I’ve been readying myself for quite some time. I have countless books about sheep husbandry which include what kind of fencing to put up, when to move them around, and what plants to clear from our property. I learned to shear, skirt, spin, knit, weave, and dye. And I can talk to anyone who will listen about wool breeds or pepper them with questions on every aspect of their shepherding life if they are one.

But for now, I learn as much as I can about sheep breeds and their wool quality.

I started this project while taking a class with Deb Robson in spinning rare wool breeds back in October 2019 at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival. It was a glorious time of learning and driving around the area. I was so thrilled to be handling various wools I had never touched or even heard of before.

The morning of my first class, I had been up too early, excited for the day, reading the book I brought with me. It was about the life and work of Beatrix Potter. I was at the section where I was discovering for the first time that she worked toward nature conservancy and that she raised Herdwick sheep. She had a suit made from the wool of her sheep. A suit for every day wear. I lay there dreaming how I might be able to get my hands on such a wool. Then in class, that was our first wool we were introduced to. I nearly jumped out of my seat in excitement… much to the strange looks of others.

We were given about 8 breeds too try. Then I got a bit excited and found several more from Woolgatherings on Etsy. As I spent the slow and contemplative time it takes to spin all these samples up, I let ideas brew of what I would do with it all. I knew I wanted to put them all together into something useful that I would enjoy over the years and perhaps use as a teaching tool.

I eventually remembered that I saw this really sweet pattern for what reminded me of sand dollars stitched into a blanket on Ravelry. Once I found it again it, it was out of print and I wasn’t willing to try and figure out the patterning by looking at a picture. So I kept looking for something as close to it as possible. I found it in Rebecca Elster’s design, Hexagon Patchwork It was just so perfect. Such a fun, easy, quick knit. I loved carrying this around with me for my boat work, aka things I like to do while riding the 15 minute ferry back and forth from home to town. And I loved the garter stitch but with the slight curves.

I also kept track of all the separate fiber breeds. And because I didn’t want to forgot what each one was, and because I love embroidery, I stitched the names, not well, on one side of each of the hexagons. The ones not labeled are repeats, but I’m thinking now that was a little silly but I guess I’ll have to match them up as best I can. Embroidery is challenging when your trying to only surface stitch.

If your curious like I was about the info of each breed, keep reading. If not, I bid you farewell, and thanks for visiting 🤗🍀

Because every sample I used/ spun was in the form of squeaky clean roving, I cannot tell you much about the original fleece texture. All info below is sourced from both Wikipedia and Deb Robson’s The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook . I’m going to share just a few basic facts about the wool quality according to the above sources.

Because I’m crap with creating charts, I’ve listed the facts in this order:

Breed : (Conversation or not) Family : Origin : Color : Fleece Weight : Staple length (how long the fiber is from the skin to tip) : Micron Count (thickness/fineness of fiber) The smaller the number- the finer the fiber.

Jacob : Conservation : Other/ Primitive : Origins unknown but some believe it was biblical origins : piebald/ black and white spots : 6.5-10lbs : 2.75”-3.5” staple length : 23-30 microns

Suffolk : Down Family : Suffolk, England 18thc : white : 4-8lbs : 2-3.5” staple : 25-33 microns

Herdwick : Conservation : Other : Lake District of Cumbria, England : grey : 3-4.5lbs : 3-10” staple length : 36 microns

Shetland : Northern European Short Tailed Family/ Conservation : Shetland : 11+ colors : 2-5lbs : 2-4.5” staple length : 20-30 microns

Lincoln : English Longwool Family : Conservation : Lincolnshire, England : white, silver, brown, black : 11-16lbs : 7-15” staple length : 41 microns

German White Headed Mutton (Eider wool) : Class III Endangered : North Sea Coast, Germany : white : 10-14lbs : staple length ? : 37-41 microns

Corridale : Developed from Lincolns, Leicesters, and merinos 1800’s England : white, pale grey, black brown : 10-20lbs : 3-6” staples : 25-31 microns

Swalesdale : Black Faced Mountain Family : Yorkshire Dales, England : white : 3.5-6.5lbs : 4-8” staple length : 36-40 microns

Karakul : one of the oldest breeds, primitive? Other : Central Asia : dark colors : 5-10lbs : 6-12” staples length : 25-36 microns

Devon : Conservation : Other : Devon England : white : 5-8.75lbs : 3-4.5” staple length : 28-35 microns

Charollais : Other : Decended from Leicester Longwool : Burgundy, France : white : 4.5-5.5lbs : 1.5-2.5” staple length : 23-27 microns

Falkland : Developed from various breeds : Falkland Island : white : fleece weight ? : staple length ? : 27-30 microns

Wensley : Conservation : English Longwool Family : developed from Leicester and Teesewater : North Yorkshire England : white, grey, black, 7-10lbs : 7-12” staple length : 30-36 microns

White Faced Woodland (Pennistone Sheep) : Conservation : Other : Pennine Mountain, England : white : 4.5- 6.5lbs : 3-8” staple length : 28-38 microns

Perendale : Other : Developed from Cheviots and Roomneys in 1950 : New Zealand : mostly white : 7.5-11lbs : 4-6” staple length : 28-35 microns

Black Welsh Mountain : Conservation : Welsh Hill and Mountain Family : Southern Mountains, Wales : True black : 2.25-5.5lbs : 2-4” staple length : 28-36 microns

Southdown : Conservation : Down Family : Southdowns, England : white : 5-8lbs : 1.5-4” staple length : 23-29 microns

Romney : English Longwool Family : Conversation : Developed from Leicester : Romney Marsh, England : All the colors : 8-12lbs : 4-8” staple length : 29-36 microns

Cheviot : Cheviot Family : Developed from Merinos from Spain and Lincolns : Cheviot Hills, England : white : 5-10lbs : 4-5” staple length : 27-33 microns

Targee : Other : Developed from Rambouillet, Corriedale, and Lincoln in 1926 Idaho : white : 10-14lbs : 3-5” staple length : 22-25 microns

Manx : Primitive breed ? Northern European Short Tailed Family : Isle of Man : soft brown : 3-5.5lbs : 2.5-5” staple length : 27-33 microns

Gotland : Northern European Short Tailed Family : Sweden : mostly greys : 5.5-11lbs : 3-7” staple length : 27-34 microns

Polworth : Conservation : Other : Developed from merino rams and merino and Lincoln ewes in Southwest Australia : all the colors : 9-13lbs : 3-7” staple length : 21-26 microns

Zwarble : Other : Developed from Fresian Milk and Drenthe in the Netherlands : Black : 6.5-10lbs : 4-5” staple length : 27-30 microns

Icelandic : Northern European Short Tailed : Iceland : 4-7lbs : outer: 4-18”/ inner: 2-4” staple length : 27-31/ 19-22 microns

Texel : Other : Developed with Lincolns and Leicester in 1800’s Netherlands : white : 7-12lbs : 3-6” sample length : 28-33 microns

Rambouillet : Merino Family : developed from merinos in France in 1850’s : white : 8-18lbs : 2-4” staple length : 18-24 microns

Dorset Horn : Dorset Family : Conservation : 100’s of years old- England : white : 4.5-9lbs : 2.5-5” staple length : 26-33 microns

Masham : Other : Developed from Teeswater, Wensleydale, Roughfell, Swalesdale, Dalesbred : colors ? : fleece weight, staple length, micron counts ???

Welsh : Welsh Hill Mountain Family : Conservation : Wales : White : 3.5-4.5lbs : 3-4.5” staple length : 26.5-33 microns

Teeswater : English Long wool Family : Conservation : England : white : 7.5-18lbs : 12-15” staple length “ 30-36 microns

Romaldale/ CVM : Other : Critical : developed from Romney and Rambouillet in California : all the colors : 6-15lbs : 3-6” staple length : 21-25 microns

Finn : Northern European Short Tailed Family : Finland : white, black, grey, brown : 4-8lbs : 3-6” staple length : 24-31 microns

Phew! I know that was all a lot! My projects tend towards the very long, drawn out and often seemingly complicated. But it was a joy to complete this blanket and now it lives on my side of the bed where I see it every day.

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