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.