Do you spin, felt, knit, weave? Try something new: branch out and try using some Wensleydale, Gotland, Leicester, Bergschaf or other fibre! Keep it natural and try blending Merino with silk and Suri Alpaca, for example. If you love fibre the way we do, you’ll find it fascinating!
We source high quality wool from a variety of sources: local Vancouver Island farms, including the exceptional Parry Bay Farm in Metchosin; farms in California and other US states; some wonderful suppliers in Europe and Great Britain. Read on for information about the sheep, about the characteristics of each kind of wool and how they can be used.
Black Welsh Mountain Sheep are the only breed in the UK that is pure black. In fact, they were bred selectively to retain the black fleece and eliminate the kemp (coarse fibres) over the past century. The fibre is perfect for spinning and felting, as a medium fibre at 31- 35 micron fineness with a fair length at 80 – 100mm. The fleece has thick, crisp locks, often with brownish/red tips from being sun bleached, giving a wonderful highlight of lustre to the deep black fleece.
Bluefaced Leicester is a longwool breed developed in England in the 1700’s as a good meat and wool breed. BFL is now quite popular for spinners and feltmakers. The fibre is long, curly and threadlike, making the fleece lighter than many other breeds. The name comes from the dark blueish colour on the head that shows prominently as the sheep have wool on their bodies but not on their heads and necks.
Cape Merino is a brand name that describes merino wools coming from South Africa. Cape Wools is a regulatory body that acts as the official industry representative for producers, breeders, processors and traders throughout South Africa. Merino sheep have been traced back to the late 1700’s in South Africa with stock selectively chosen over the next 200 years for their adaptability to the region and for the quality of both their wool and meat. Cape Wools clearly believes they have succeeded in developing among the best merino fibre in the world.
Chubut is a South American merino from the Patagonia region. The fibre is very fine (19.5 micron) and ideal for handspinning and for felting.The climate is rather harsh in Patagonia and this helps in the production of very white wool. The city of Trelew, on the shores of the Chubut River, has a half dozen state-of-the-art wool scouring and combing mills. Argentina is a major wool producer with an estimated 16 million sheep in total of which approximately 11 million are found in the Patagonia province.
Corriedale was developed a century ago by Australian and New Zealand breeders as a cross between Merino and Lincoln. The fleece is dense with long, soft fibres with a defined, even crimp. It’s smooth and easy to spin to a fine or medium yarn, and it is wonderful to felt. The fibre ranges between 24 to 31 microns with a staple length between 9 – 15cm.
Cotswold is especially lustrous, curly and desirable. This historic English breed helped elevate life in the Cotswold region starting from Roman times 2000 years ago when the breed was introduced to create uniforms for the advancing Roman battalions and, later, for clothing for the early Roman farmers. It’s estimated that approximately 500 000 Cotswold sheep roamed the scenic hills of this region. Successful trade with the continent soon created a class of wealthy Cotswold merchants and the evolution of classic limestone churches and stately homes throughout the Cotswold region.
The wool industry was so important that it’s claimed that sheep created the wealth of England. To this day, the Lord Chancellor sits in The House of Lords on a cushion stuffed with wool as a sign of respect and gratitude to the wool industry.
The golden locks and the staple lengths of 8 to 12 inches are noteworthy features. Spinners frequently add Cotswold to other wools for added strength, and knitters traditionally added Cotswold to sock heels and sweater elbows for durablility. Felters find that it felts easily and takes dyes very well.
Devon fibre is great felting wool in the range of 40 – 60 microns and with a length of 200 to 250cm. The dense fleece is also an excellent fibre for spinning.
Dorset Horn is an ancient shortwool breed from southwestern England, ranked as one of the oldest and purest breeds in the UK. American breeders used a random genetic mutation in the late 19th century that caused a polled Dorset strain, and currently the Polled Dorset is more in demand. This has left the Dorset Horn more rare and brought it to the attention of conservationists. Dorset fleece are a relatively short, medium grade fibre of 27 – 33 microns and 6 – 10cm in length. Our batts are ready to spin and ready to felt. Give it a whirl!
English Leicester dates back to the 1700’s in the English Midlands and imported to Australia and North America one hundred years later. This pure bred was valued partly for its heavy, lustrous fleece with a noticeable crimp.
Falkland sheep are found on the Falkland Islands rather than a particular breed. The sheep are a mélange of mainly Polwarth with some Merino, Corriedale and others thrown in that give the fleece a very soft handle. The fibre ranges from 25 – 30 microns with long staple at 80 – 100mm.
Finns are an old and hardy breed, originally from Sardinia and Corsica, but well suited to Finland’s harsh climate. They have found popularity for their productivity in frequently delivering three to five lambs – a record of nine in Finland. Finns were imported in Canada in the 1960s and Australia in the early 1980s and often used in cross breeding to suit particular conditions. The colour range of fleece runs from the predominant white to black, brown and grey. A micron count of 24 to 31 and long staple at 10 – 15cm makes this a lovely and desireable fibre that is highly regarded by spinners and feltmakers for the way it easily blends with other fibres.
Gotland sheep come from the Swedish island of Gotland. Vikings developed the breed with sheep they had brought from Russia. Icelandic, Manx, Finnish and Shetland sheep have all been bred with crosses using Gotland sheep. The fleece is dense, long and lustrous. The colour is typically grey but white and black are found occasionally. Gotland lamb fleece is fine at 20 microns while fleece from adults is 29 – 34 microns. This fibre spins beautifully and is excellent in feltmaking.
Icelandic sheep are a descendant of the ancient Norwegian breed, Spelsau, and were brought to Iceland by the Vikings over 1000 years ago. Colours are black, white, brown and shades between. The fleece are dual coated with the inner coat a fairly fine fibre at 20 microns while the outer coat is heavier at 27 microns. Icelandic is considered a premium fibre for felting.
Jacob Sheep are distinctive for their multiple horns (up to 6!) and wonderful, randomly spotted, black and white fleece. Ram horns can grow up to 30cm long. This is an ancient breed, going back 3000 years ago to Syria with a possible migration to England during the Spanish Armada in 1588 when, it’s said, a shipwreck resulted in some sheep washing ashore. Jacob fleece is light, soft and springy with little lanolin. It measures 30 – 34 microns with a staple length of 5 – 15cm. The fibre is popular with spinners and feltmakers.
Kent Romney wool comes directly to us from England. The lambswool is soft and fine with a diameter of approximately 28 microns. The Kent Romney was developed in the early 1800’s in the south of England and soon caught on to become a popular longwool breed in many places, including New Zealand where it makes up almost 40% of the national flock. The fleece is valued for its excellent quality and staple and is considered one of the best British wools, suitable for felting, spinning for knitting yarns and for its use in weaving for the manufacture of fabrics and blankets.
Lincoln sheep are a longwool breed, closely related to the Leicester. Longwools go back to Roman times in Britain so these breeds have been tested and proven over many centuries. The Lincoln can be huge, with some exceptional rams weighing up to 350 pounds! Lincoln fibre is very long and very strong. It’s suited to textiles and projects that require durability. Although it felts quite well, it does take time and effort.
Manx Loaghtan is a rare breed of sheep native to the Isle of Man. The sheep are characterized by their dark brown wool and multiple horns. The wool has a micron count of 29-31 making it perfect for hand spinning and felting. The word Loaghtan comes from Celtic Manx language and means mouse brown, describing the colour of the sheep. At one time the breed was considered at risk with only 43 surviving animals so the Manx National Heritage jumped in and helped, leading to healthy commercial flocks today. This breed is also valued for its meat, which some consider a delicacy.
Maori wool comes to us from New Zealand as a longwool developed from cross-breeding Coopworth and Corriedale sheep. The fibre is semi-soft at 24 microns and is popular for both wet and dry (needle) felting and for creating sturdy, durable items like bags, felted vessels, boots or slippers and even carpets. It felts quickly, producing stable structural pieces for felted sculptures. Maori also spins beautifully and takes dyes with ease.
Massam (also Masham) is a cross of Teeswater or Wensleydale ram with Dalesbred or Swaledale ewes. The fleece is very long and lustrous and the breed is found mainly in the north of England. The fleece is suited to combing due to its length and is used in speciality products due to its limited availability. The fineness varies from approx. 38 – 44microns and length approx. 150-380mm. Masham ewes are medium sized and polled. The fleece is long staples, 8-10 inches on a yearling and 6 to 7 inches on a ewe, with a good degree of luster. The fibre is excellent for spinning and feltmaking.
Merino is the finest of wools, with fibres ranging from superfine at 12 microns to fine at 25 microns. It’s an excellent fibre for feltmaking and for spinning, either on its own or blended with other fibres. The fineness of the fibre makes it luxuriously soft and comfortable for those who find wool makes them itch. Coarse wools at 30 microns and above tend to be the culprits for itchiness. In Merino, the crimps (curls) may be as close as 100 within an inch, making it elastic enough to have a good bounce back effect with use in items like sweaters and blankets.
Norwegian is another ancient breed for sheep, this one tracing back to the Iron Age when it appears to have been used as a domesticated animal. The breed faced possible extinction in the early 1900s but were rescued with some help from Finnish and Faroe Island sheep. The fibre shows some characteristics of the Finnish and Faroe cross, as it is uniform in character and quite soft and shiny with colours ranging from white to greyish, dark brown and black. The fibre can be as long as 30cm and is valued for its use in spinning, knitting and feltmaking. This strong fibre was even used by Norse sailmakers for their ships!
Perendale is a New Zealand cross of Romney and Cheviot as an excellent wool breed for New Zealand’s rugged hill country of the North Island. The fleece is described as low lustre, chalky and crisp to the touch, with the fibre measuring 28 – 31 microns and 12cm in length. This makes a very nice woolen yarn that’s easy to spin, producing a springy and bulky yet light yarn with good insulating properties for winter warmth.
Polwarth breed was developed in Australia in the 1880s using Merino (75%) and Lincoln (25%) to produce a fine, soft staple of 22 to 25 microns. This wool is popular for spinners and felters due to its elasticity, excellent draping qualities and staple length of up to 130mm.
Shetland sheep are considered a rare breed and were rated as endangered in the 1970s. They produce very fine, high quality wool, however, so they have a distinguished place in the world of spinners, knitters, felters and weavers. The fibre is 20 – 25 microns with a shorter staple at 5 to 12cm in length. Native to the Shetland Islands, the sheep come in eleven colours with thirty patterns in their markings. The local Shetland Islanders frequently use the wool undyed, a testament to the lovely spectrum of colours the breed produces naturally.
South African Sheep were first introduced to South Africa before 1800. This is a Merino blend wool at 23 microns with excellent characteristics for softness, colour and crimp. The South African wool industry is carefully controlled to ensure quality and consistency.
South American is a blend of luscious, semi-lustre wools from S. America. The fibre spins beautifully and is perfect for adding texture to felted pieces. 25-26 micron with a 75-80mm staple.
Teeswater is an English longwool from the Teeswater area. This rare breed produces a fine, long stapled and very lustrous wool. The staple length can be as long as 30cm with the first clip. The locks are long with a well defined and lovely curl with fibre measuring 30 to 40 microns. The fleece is perfect for spinning, felting and doll making.
Wensleydale wool is the finest and most valuable lustre longwool in the world, having commanded the highest price in the British Wool Marketing Board’s Wool Schedule over recent years. The fibre staple is a generous 20 to 30cm with 32 to 34 microns in thickness. Wensleydale wool is used for its special effects and handle in hand knitting yarn, knitwear and cloth as well as upholstery fabrics. It is frequently blended with mohair. Wensleydale is ideal for dyeing, and adds superb effects to yarns and felting without a loss of lustre.