Sheep Breed Study Closeups

  • Shetland Sheep Breed Study Closeup

    February 2015

    Shetlands are a primitive breed of sheep from the UK that come in a wide variety of beautiful colors with 11 main colors and 30 markings. There are three diiferent coat types: single-coated (usually short and very crimpy); long/wavy (medium length and crimp); and primitive/double-coated (very long, usually straighter, but still soft). Some of the primitive Shetlands shed and are “rooed” where the wool is pulled off by hand. They are one of my favorite breeds and some of the prettiest sheep IMHO.

    This is a lovely fleece I bought recently from Sycamore Farms in North Carolina. The sheep is named "Kalmia" and she is a black/brown ewe with Smirslet markings. According to the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders AssociationSmirslets are dark-colored with white around the mouth and frequently a narrow band of white extends to the top of the head.

    This fleece is long and wavy, with a soft undercoat and some long coarser wool that you can see in the light colored tips. The color ranges from a medium to light brown to grayish with blonde tips. A little bit of the darker brown from near the extremities can be seen in the picture of the whole fleece.

    Shetland Sheep "Kalmia"

    Shetland Sheep - Sycamore Farms

    Photo courtesy of Sycamore Farms

    Washed Shetland Wool Fleece

    Washed Shetland Wool Fleece - 222 Handspun

    Shetlands have low grease/lanolin so you don't see much of a difference before/after washing in these photos. To wash this fleece, I rinsed it in warm water first then soaked it in hot tap water with detergent for 20 minutes and then rinsed again. That was it. Easy! 

    Raw Shetland Fleece

    Raw Shetland Wool Fleece - 222 Handspun

    Raw Shetland Fleece

    Raw Shetland Wool Fleece - 222 Handspun

    Raw Shetland Fleece

    Raw Shetland Wool Fleece - 222 Handspun

  • Sheep Breed Studies - January 2015

    Sheep Breed Studies - a few Norwegian / rare and primitive breeds

    I purchased some amazing fleece samples from The Spinning Loft. I wanted to try some breeds I haven't spun before. I bought a bunch but only washed half of them. Here are the breeds for this month that I sampled:

    • Grå Trøndersau (2 fleeces)
    • Norsk Pelssau
    • Ryeland 
    • and a black Shetland double coated fleece 

    All images © Elysa Darling | 222 Handspun

    Gra Trondersau A

    Gra Trondersau wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    Gra Trondersau wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    From Wikipedia: "The Norwegian Grey Troender (NorwegianGrå trøndersau) is a very rare breed of domesticated sheep that originated from crossbreeding native landrace sheep with the now extinct Tautra sheep in the late 19th century. There are currently approximately 50 individual animals, nearly all residing within Norway.[1]The Tautra breed may have had Merino blood which could explain the softness and crimp. (I think they look like Merinos from the old photos).

    The description of this fleece was: "A rare Norwegian breed from Trondheim, Gra Trondersau is soft, silky, crimpy and lofty.  A dense fleece with  great locks.  Some weathered tips, and some minor VM with evidence of the rise typical of more primitive breeds. Very nice crimp. A very pretty fleece."

    It really is lovely. It's softer than I expected and reminds me of a Shetland.

    Gra Trondersau B

    Gra Trondersau wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    This is the second Gra Trondersau fleece. It feels a bit more primitive - not quite as soft, but the color is very nice. 

    Norsk Pelssau

    NorskPelssau wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    NorskPelssau wool fleece - © 222 Handspun(Norwegian Pelt Sheep) A Norwegian landrace breed originated from Gotland (Sweden) and Old Norwegian breeds (a "grey-bluevariation of short-tailed Spelsau sheep in the early 1960s"). This is the description for this fleece: "Typical blue color with very lovely locks. Soft, silky & shiny. Clean and VM free. Crazy wavy crimp, but a bit shorter than the other Norsk Pelssau. This is a fine fiber! Average staple length 4.5″.

    So I think this fleece description is understated. The color is an absolutley stunning silver. It has a beautiful curly lock structure and the lustre of a Cotswold when washed. I am in love with this one.


    Ryeland wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    Ryeland wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    From Wikipedia: "The Ryeland is one of the oldest English sheep breeds going back seven centuries when the monks of Leominster in Herefordshire bred sheep and grazed them on the rye pastures, giving them their name. It was introduced into Australia in 1919 and are classified as an endangered breed by the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia and also are one of the nine heritage breeds[1] that were the foundation of the sheep and wool industry in Australia. The Ryeland was one of the breeds used to introduce the poll gene (no horns) to the Dorset breed in the development of the Poll Dorset.[2] "

    Here is the fleece description: “Blackie”  Very pretty charcoal with nice staples and low VM.  Some weathering.  Scours true to color. Average staple 3″.

    This is a very interesting fleece. It is very dense with a fine crimp that reminds me of a sponge. The tips are cotted a bit but I love the blunt shape of the locks. They are almost perfect rectangles. A very cool fleece.


    Shetland wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    Shetland wool fleece - © 222 Handspun

    Most of the Shetland fleeces I have spun are not double coated so I chose this for that reason and also the very beautiful black color. It has long typical primitive staples that I think would make a cool rug.

    Here is the description: "Low VM, nearest to true black on a shetland I’ve seen. really nice dual coat with very pretty locks.  I love this fleece. Average staple 6″"

    You can read more of my sheep breed studies closeups here.

  • Sheep Breed Studies - October 2014 Breed Box from Namaste Farms

    UK Breeds: Jacob, Whitefaced Woodland, Romney, New Forest Boreray, and Hebridean

    My continuing exploration of sheep's wool from various breeds around the world following along with the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. I've been purchasing Breed Boxes from Namaste Farms and enjoy listening to Natalie's informative discussions of the featured breeds with Martin Dally on Namaste Farm's BlogTalkRadio cast.  

    You can read my other sheep breed closeups here.

    Jacob (UK)

    This is a long staple fleece (about 7 inches) with no crimp and is more coarse and straight from what I'm used to seeing (North American). The sample had distinct dark brown and white without any light gray (lilac) color. It's not the softest handle but would probably be OK for outerwear.

    Whitefaced Woodland 

    To be honest, I was not a fan of this sample at all. It seems like mostly kemp and feels like mattress stuffing. It could just be this particular sample, but it was one of my least favorite of many breeds I've looked at.

    The Whitefaced Woodland is a large breed of heavy horned British hill sheep. It also known as the Penistone sheep after the Yorkshire town where it dates back to 1699. It is listed as a vulnerable breed. 

    Romney (US)

    In the podcast, Martin said that this doesn't look like a UK Romney fleece at all. It is in fact from the US. They have a very dense fleece with a broad crimp and squared off tips on broad flat locks. I've spun a lot of Romney from local Virginia farms and I would say that this is very comparable to those fleeces. They are classified as a longwool although they don't grow as long as others like Lincolns or Teesawaters for example. I really liked this sample. It's very clean and has a nice lustre. Martin said that in the showring it may not be as good because it doesn't have as even a crimp and lock formation and blocky tip that you would like to see with this breed.

    New Forest Boreray 

    This sample was very interesting. it's very soft and fine with a few inch staple and wavy crimp with long tips similar to a Shetland in handle. It does not have any coarse hair like some primitive breeds. There are some small bits of white kemp but nothing too bad. Martin thought it was a lamb fleece because it is very soft with fine tips. It is a tender fleece though, so when you tug on the ends, it will break apart. Natalie said it could be because they were rooing though when it was sheared. I noticed that the cut end is where the breaks occur, so I agree that it would naturally break there and the tips are actually stronger.

    From Wikipedia:

    "The Boreray is a breed of sheep originating on the St Kilda archipelago off the west coast of Scotland and surviving as a feral animal on one of the islands, Boreray. It is primarily a meat breed. Also known as the Boreray Blackface or Hebridean Blackface, it is the one of the rarest breeds of sheep in the United Kingdom, and is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep group of breeds. It is the only sheep breed to be listed in "Category 1: Critical" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, because fewer than 300 registered breeding female Borerays are known to exist. The Boreray should not be confused with the Soay sheep, also from the St Kilda archipelago, nor with the Hebridean sheep, which was formerly called the "St Kilda", although it is probably not in fact derived from the St Kilda sheep."

    From The Smallholder Series website: 

    "The Boreray is a primitive breed. They stand approximately 55cm at the withers. The tail is short. Both sexes are horned and the horns of the ram are large and spiral. The face and legs are black, tan or grey, often with dark marks on a white background. The wool is predominantly cream or light tan with a small proportion of sheep having grey or dark brown wool. There is sometimes a dark rump patch and a dark colour, particularly in rams. Average mature ewe weighs 30kg. Boreray Sheep are the descendants of the domestic sheep which were kept by the St. Kildans. When the inhabitants evacuated Hirta, (the main island of St. Kilda), in 1930, all their domestic stock was evacuated with them. Any stock left on the island was killed. But a replacement flock of domestic sheep had been kept on the island of Boreray. These sheep were left there after the evacuation and have lived feral on the island since 1930. In recent years a small group was taken off the island and the descendants of that small group are now registered with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. "


    I really love this sample. It's much nicer and softer than the one in the September 2013 Breed Box. This is another one that the cut ends will break off about 1/2 inch from the end and I believe was rooing. I really like the lock formation with it's long waves that come to a pointy tip. The sample is a bit felted but would make a great tailspun yarn boa. So as far as spinning, this would be tough to spin in a traditional fashion, but I would keep it's lovely primitive character and keep the fleece intact. If I had a larger sample, I would felt it into a rug.

    From: The Smallholder Series website: 

    "A small, fine boned sheep with black wool and two or more horns, belonging to the North European short-tailed group. Usually a dark brown colour, the Hebridean is horned in both sexes, some rams having 4 horns. From the Western Isles, the Hebridean became popular as a parkland sheep in England in the 19th century."

  • Sheep Breed Studies - January 2014 Breed Box from Namaste Farms

    Sharlea Merino, Rambouillet, and Debouillet Sheep

    Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge animal lover and supporter of humane treatment of animals. I've had some concerns recently about the way in which wool is sourced from some farms and dubious farming practices in countries like Australia where sheep farms cover more land than some states here in the US. Recently I've seen a lot of anti-wool growing propaganda on the Internet and I've tried to be impartial and reach my own conclusions based on both sides of the issue. I like to know where my wool comes from and prefer to buy from small farms where I know the animals are well tended-to and treated more or less like pets. This isn't always possible however. Although I don't eat meat, I understand that even on some of these small family run farms sheep are "dual purpose" which means they are killed for their meat too. It's unfortunate, but there isn't much I can do about that. What I CAN do however is NOT support big farms and the animal slaughter industry. I wanted to purchase some Sharlea Merino but at the same time make sure that the wool was sourced humanely. So when Natalie of Namaste Farms offered some sample fleece I thougth I'd give it a try. Knowing where this wool came from and how the sheep are raised in a very controlled environment was reasurring.

    I was doing some research on housed sheep and Sharlea Merinos and came across this information:

    According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook,  

    Sharlea is a registered name for a type of Saxon Merino that has been carefully bred and raised with specific husbandry practices that result in a very fine, exceptionally clean fiber without any weather damage to the tips. Sharlea fiber diameters run from 12 to 15.5 microns (indisputably ultrafine) and they are also the highest yielding of the Merinos, with more than 75 percent clean weight derived from the raw fleece. 

    (The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook Page 146)

    Housed Sheep

    The housed sheep industry began in the early 1970s when Mr Wallace Reynolds, a grazier at ‘Sharlea’, Horsham, Victoria and Tom Harmsworth, the Director of the Melbourne College of Textiles noticed that animals kept in sheds for drought-feeding produced an extremely high quality fibre, free from many wool faults found in grazing sheep (Cottle, 1991).

    The industry gradually increased in popularity until 1990 where there were approximately 55 sheds each with an average of 300 sheep, producing a total of 250 bales per year (Cottle, 1991).

    There are approximately 40 ultra fine wool housing systems in Australia, which are concentrated in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland involving an estimated 25,000 sheep.

    The majority of Sharlea growers house sheep in multiple pens of 3 to 20 sheep (usually 10 to l5). The sheep housed for Sharlea wool production are usually superfine Merino wethers from Saxon bloodlines.

    Sheep health and production: the T. G. Hungerford refresher course for veterinarians, proceedings 110, 15-19 August, 1988

    I wanted to learn more so I tuned in to Namaste Farms BlogTalk Radio cast where Martin Daly, a sheep expert discussed the housed sheep practice and the history and fiber properties of the Merino breed. He went on to say that sheep with this fine of a fleece must have steady and well controlled nutrition and low stress in order to grow fine micron wool without any breaks (weak spots). If an animal is stressed at all or reproducing, it can weaken the fiber. That is why they only use whethers (castrated males). These males would normally be sent to slaughter but they are valued for their prize fleece instead. Sheep who graze in a pasture can encounter all sorts of stresses such as predators, draught. and parasites. These sheep are kept in ultra clean pens and it really shows in the cleanliness and pristine condition of the raw fleece.

    So, I took a look at this fiber and it is uhhh-mazing. Wowza! 

    Here are some photos of the fiber.

    A) Sharlea Merino Raw Fleece - 13.5 microns

    © 222 Handspun

    The 16.6 sample has a slightly longer staple length but it's very hard to tell the difference in softness. Both have very low grease. When I tested the strength, they made a nice sound and were solid. 

    B) Debouillet Raw Fleece

    "The Debouillet is a breed of domestic sheep originating from Tatum, New Mexico. It was developed in the 1920s through crossing Rambouillet and Delaine Merino sheep. Specifically adapted to the arid ranges of the Southwestern U.S., the breed is medium–size sheep with long, fine wool. Ewes are polled and rams may or may not have horns." - Wikipedia

    © 222 Handspun

    This sample had weathered tips and an almost dry feel. A deep dust penetration line will result in a lower yield because the fleece is not very dense. There is a big difference between this fleece from a sheep that was raised in the desert and the housed fleece.

    C) Sharlea Merino - 15.4 microns

    Natalie said the grower called the 15.4 sample "milky". It just doesn't have the same brightness to it. It's just a little less white and more on the creamy color side. It felt like it had a bit more grease in it. It's still a lovely fleece.

    D) Rambouillet 

    © 222 Handspun

    According to Martin, this sample has a short staple, lower yield, with quite a bit of dust penetration, and not as uniform crimp or character as the others. When you have more of a dual purpose sheep that are more selected for certain traits, you lose a lot in the quality of the wool where you gain in the growth. I also noticed that my sample had some tender sections that broke easily. 

    The Rambouillet is a breed of sheep also known as the Rambouillet Merino or the French Merino. The development of the Rambouillet breed started in 1786, when Louis XVI purchased over 300 Spanish Merinos (318 ewes, 41 rams, 7 wethers) from his cousin, King Charles III of Spain. The flock was subsequently developed on an experimental royal farm, the Bergerie royale (now Bergerie nationale) owned by Louis XVI, and built on his Domain of Rambouillet, 50 km southwest of Paris. The flock was raised exclusively at the Bergerie, with no sheep being sold for many years.[1]

    Outcrossing with English long-wool breeds and selection produced a well-defined breed,[2] differing in several important points from the original Spanish Merino. The size was greater, with full-grown ewes weighing up to 200 pounds and rams up to 300 pounds, live weight. The wool clips were larger and the wool length had increased to greater than three inches.

    In 1889, the Rambouillet Association was formed in the United States with the aim of preserving the breed.[3] An estimated 50% of the sheep on the US western ranges are of Rambouillet blood.[4] Rambouillet stud has also had an enormous influence on the development of the Australian Merino industry though Emperor and the Peppin Merino stud.

    The fleece was valuable in the manufacture of cloth, at times being woven in a mixed fabric of cotton warp and wool weft, known as delaine.[5][6] The breed is well known for its wool, but also for its meat, both lamb and mutton. It has been described as a dual-purpose breed, with superior wool and near-mutton breed characteristics. - Wikipedia

  • Sheep Breed Studies - September 2013 Breed Box from Namaste Farms

    Primitive Breeds (UK)

    My continuing exploration of sheep's wool from various breeds around the world following along with the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. I've been purchasing Breed Boxes from Namaste Farms and enjoy listening to Natalie's informative discussions of the featured breeds with Martin Dally on Namaste Farm's BlogTalkRadio cast. Each breedbox is shipped blind, so you have to wait to find out what breeds the samples are from.

    You can read my other sheep breed closeups here.

    I apologize for the crappy iPhone pics of the fiber. This month's breeds are:

    A) Icelandic (USA grown)

    Icelandic sheep (Wikipedia)

    Washed Icelandic Fleece

    Washed Icelandic Fleece (© Elysa Darling | 222 Handspun)

    This changed my mind a little bit about Icelandic wool. I've spun Icelandic top before and it was a super pain to work with. I've heard it's great for felting though. These samples were OK when you separate out the long outer coat called tog from the fine inner coat called thel. While listening to the BlogTalkRadio cast, Martin instructed listeners to pull the tippy end to separate the hair from the more downy wool underneath. The tog is about 2x the length of the softer thel staple. There is definitely a big difference in texture and a nice soft undercoat.

    Description of the breed from Namaste Farms:

    The Icelandic sheep is one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds of sheep. Throughout its 1100 years of history, the Icelandic breed has been truly triple-purpose, treasured for its meat, fiber and milk.

    The Icelandic breed is in the North European short-tailed group of sheep, which exhibits a fluke-shaped, naturally short tail. To ensure the continuing purity of the breed, tail docking an Icelandic will disqualify it from being registered in North America. Icelandics are a mid-sized breed with ewes averaging 130-160 pounds, and rams averaging 180-220 pounds. Conformation is generally short legged and stocky. The face and legs are free of wool. The fleece is dual-coated and comes in white as well as a range of browns, grays and blacks. There are both horned and polled strains. Left unshorn for the winter, the breed is very cold hardy.

    The most eye-catching aspect of the breed is the variation of colors and patterns. Genetically, Icelandics have one of two base colors, either black or moorit (brown). They exhibit 5 pattern combinations: white, gray, badgerface, mouflon and solid. Individual sheep may also display various shades of these colors/patterns, ranging from white, cream, light gray, tan, caramel, milk chocolate, silver, dark chocolate, dark gray, to jet black. A spotting gene adds even more combinations with many recognized and named patterns of white markings.

    The Icelandic sheep produces a premium fleece. The fleece is dual coated, with a fine, soft undercoat called thel and a longer, coarser outer coat called tog. The tog fiber with a spinning count of 56-60 and a micron count of 27-30, grows to a length of 6-8″ in six months. It is lustrous, strong, water- and wear-resistant, and sheds off the rain and weather. Thel is the soft downy undercoat, with a spinning count of 64-70 and a micron count of 19-22, growing to a length of 2-4″. The thel provides the loft for the outer coat and insulation for the sheep. Tog grows from the primary hair follicles and the thel from the secondary follicles. Tog is a true wool, and is not a kemp or guard hair. The combination of the two fibers on the sheep gives superb protection from the cold and wet.
    Icelandic fleeces are open and low in lanolin. The weight loss when washed is significantly less than many other breeds.

    The average adult yearly fleece total weighs 4-7 lbs. Producers often shear their Icelandics twice a year. This is due, in part, to the fact that Icelandics have a natural wool break in late winter for the rams generally, and in spring for the pregnant or lactating ewes. Shearing at or around the time of the natural break is recommended to remove the “old” coat before the “new” coat grows in. The sheep are sheared again in the fall to harvest the fleeces before the animals go on hay for the winter. These fall-shorn fleeces are very soft and clean and can bring a premium price per pound.

    The two coats can be separated by hand for special projects, or they may be processed together. The traditional lopi is a lightly spun blend of tog and thel. Thel is very soft and downy, with an irregular crimp and can be used for baby garments, and for the fine shawls in the style of the Wedding Shawl. The tog is similar to mohair; wavy or corkscrewed rather than crimped and is wonderful in worsted spinning.

    The versatility of the wool, the ease of spinning and the wide variation of tones and colors are a true delight to handspinners, and put Icelandic wool into the exotic or premium category. It is also known as one of the best fleeces for felting, which is fast gaining popularity in the craft community. Photos and info from

    Average Fiber Diameter in Microns: 27-31 (outercoat); 19-22 (undercoat)

    Grease Fleece Weight 4-7 lbs

    Staple: 4-18 in (outercoat); 2-4 in (undercoat)

    Yield = 50-90%

    (Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook)


    B) Shetland

    Shetland Sheep
    Shetland Sheep (Wikipedia)

    Washed Shetland Fleece  Washed Shetland Fleece (Elysa Darling | 222 Handspun)

    I was surprised by these samples. There are a couple different types - Double Coated and Single Coated. It was the Doubled coated that threw me off because at first glance I thought it was Icelandic. It looks so similar, but on closer examination it is actually much softer and more of what I'm used to seeing.

    Description of the breed from Namaste Farms:

    The Shetland’s roots go back over a thousand years, probably to sheep brought to the Shetland Islands by Viking settlers. They belong to the Northern European short-tailed group of sheep, which also includes Finn sheep, Icelandic sheep, and Romanovs. The Shetland is a primitive, unimproved breed noted for its natural hardiness, lambing ease, longevity, and ability to survive under harsh conditions. It is one of the smallest breeds of sheep.

    Shetlands are known primarily for their production of colorful wool upon which the Shetland woolen industry is based. Shetland comes in one of the widest ranges of colors of any breed. There are 11 main colors as well as 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names. Shetlands naturally shed their wool during late spring/early summer.

    However, one of the marvelous aspects of the Shetland is its variability within the breed. A small spinner’s flock can produce ultra-fine Shetland yarn for handknits as well as coarser, but equally gorgeous yarns suitable for sturdy socks and warm outer garments and remarkable tapestry yarns.
    Shetland wool comes in one of the widest ranges of colors of any breed. Everything from the purest white to the deepest coal black. There are 11 main colors and 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names. Unfortunately, many of these colors and markings have become rare as white wool is dominant and for the last two hundred years has been preferred by commercial mills.

    Shetland sheep have for generations been noted for their very soft and well crimped fleece. The wool is the finest of all native breeds and shows an amazing variety of colours and markings. There are 11 main whole colours and 30 recognised markings. By selecting from coloured fleeces a range of naturally coloured yarn can be produced. This eliminates the need for dyeing and therefore retains the soft feel of the natural fibre and is favoured by those who prefer a totally natural approach.

    Shetland wool fibres are of a simple construction with a central cortex covered by a thin scaly cuticle, and have an average diameter of about 23 microns. However there is a range from 10 to 20 microns for neck and shoulder wool to 25 to 35 microns for britch wool. The average staple length is 3.5 inches. The amount of crimp varies, and is important in providing the ‘bounce’ required for knitwear. There is a positive correlation between fineness and crimp, with wool of the finest quality being crimped at between 8 and 12 to the inch. Wool from Shetland sheep is used to produce gossamer lace, the famous ‘Fair isle’ knitwear, and fine tweeds.

    Pure bred Shetland sheep tend to shed their fleece in spring. The growth of new fleece can cause a rise or weak point and where this is present the fleece can sometimes be plucked or ‘rooed’ by hand. The timing of this can be different in each sheep, however, it is worth taking the care to get it right as rooed fleece can be amongst the softest because the fibres have no harsh cut ends as occurs with a sheared fleece.

    Average Fiber Diameter in Microns: range of 20-30
    Grease Fleece Weight 2-5 lbs
    Staple varies depending on type of Shetland: 2-4.5 in. in general; North American Shetlands have range of 4-6 in.; longer fleeces 6-7 in.
    Yield = 65-80%
    (Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook)


    C) Manx Loaghtan

    (pronounced "lock-tan")

    Manx Loaghtan sheep Ramsey, Isle of Man (Wikipedia)

    Washed Manx Loaghtan Fleece

    Washed Manx Loaghtan Fleece (Elysa Darling | 222 Handspun)

    This fleece has a very short staple length and almost appears to be a bunch of second cuts. I initially thought it was the Shetland fleece because the color and reminded me of a Shetland fleece I just purchased. It's very crimpy and the sample was fairly clean. It's a milk chocolate color with blonde sun damaged tips. It feels similar to a Jacob fleece. Surprisingly I like it a lot. I'm not sure why since it isn't the softest texture and  probably not long enough to spin but there is something appealing about it anyway. I think I'm just partial to really crimpy locks. Anyway, I can't stop playing with it.

    Description of the breed from Namaste Farms:

    The Manx Loaghtan is a small primitive sheep, one of the rare breeds of sheep on the watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The breed originates from the prehistoric short-tailed breeds of sheep found in isolated parts of North West Europe where they survived because they were not replaced by more developed breeds. Other breeds in this same group are Soay, Hebridean, Shetland, Boreray and North Ronaldsay.

    Loaghtans and their relatives grazed the hills of the Isle of Man until the 18th century but by the 1950s numbers had declined to a handful. As a result of the work of enthusiasts on the Isle of Man and in England, numbers have steadily increased over the last 50 years. Continued success will ensure the Loaghtan has a future providing excellent quality meat and wool as a pure bred.

    Originally, most of the sheep were white, however there were also many grey, some black and relatively few the “loaghtan” colour we see today. Loaghtan is the Manx word for the brown “moorit” colour of the fleece which is derived from two Manx words “lugh” meaning mouse and “dhoan” meaning brown, or from “lhosht dhoan” meaning burnt brown. Clothing made from this loaghtan coloured wool was highly prized and, as the numbers of the sheep declined, breeders selected sheep of the loaghtan colour. As the loaghtan colour is recessive to all other colours, it breeds true and so it was relatively simple to fix that colour as a characteristic of the breed. This is why the rich brown loaghtan colour is the only colour, with variations in shade depth, which survives today.

    Average Fiber Diameter in Microns: 27 (wooly type) – 33 (hairy type)
    Grease Fleece Weight 3-5.5 lbs
    Staple: 2.5-5 in.
    Yield = not listed

    (Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook)


    D) Hebridean

    A three-horned Hebridean sheep (Wikipedia)

    A flock of Hebridean sheep (Wikipedia)

    Washed Hebridean Fleece

    Washed Hebridean Fleece (Elysa Darling | 222 Handspun) 

    OK, nothing remarkable here, but not bad overall. It has a nice black color and long staple length. It feels a bit like the Icelandic or a Karakul. I think it would make a good rug wool.

    Description of the breed from Namaste Farms:

    The Hebridean sheep is one of the primitive breeds comprising the Northern Short-Tailed group of sheep from northwestern Europe. These sheep are relatively small and fine boned, with black or dark brown wool. The face and legs are largely free of wool and are covered with glossy black hair. Both sexes commonly have two or more horns; but ewes may be polled or scurred and some may carry large woolly topknots. Ewes typically weigh 35-40kg and rams proportionately larger. The legs are slender and the feet are small, with hard, black horn. The body is relatively long. These sheep are slow maturing and are not inclined to carry excess condition; mature adults, even on good keep, rarely have a body condition score greater than 3.

    Adult fleeces range from black to dark brown; fleece tips may become brown through sunbleaching. Lambs are born truly black; fleeces on many yearlings become quite brown before the first shearing. Some sheep go grey with age, particularly on the flanks and the coarse wool of the hindquarters. Lambs may be born with a white spot on the poll or elsewhere, but this generally disappears within a few weeks. Some animals have a double-coated fleece of fine underwool overlaid by coarser fibres. Some rams may carry a mane or a ruff of coarse wool. Fleeces may range from dense and coarse to fine and soft, with the average ewe fleece weighing about 1.5 kg and ram fleeces about 3-4 kg. The staple length is 3-37 cm, with any crimp varying from slight to moderate. Fibre micron count has been measured at between 33 and 38, which equates to a Bradford count of 45-50.

    This is what Hebridean Sheep originally looked like. Over the years, relentless selection for 2 horned sheep, whilst producing some stunning animals for the show ring, has resulted in sheep like these becoming incredibly rare. Note particularly the original fleece type and colour distribution. At Wester Gladstone, we are desperately trying to keep the original type of sheep alive.Photo courtesy of Dr David Kinsman.

    Hebrideans are descended from the old Scottish Shortwool or Dunface breed, a breed which came in all colours. The current Hebrideans are black as only black sheep were originally selected to form the new breed. Up until 30 or so years ago, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust still recognised white Hebrideans which turned up occasionally, but since then it has not been possible to register them. Even a white spot on an otherwise pure black Hebridean makes it ineligible for registration.

    Average Fiber Diameter in Microns: 29-38

    Grease Fleece Weight 3.5-5.5 lbs

    Staple: 2-8 in.; generally 2-6 in.

    Yield = not listed

    (Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook)





  • Sheep Breed Studies - August 2013 Breed Box from Namaste Farms

    My continuing exploration of sheep's wool from various breeds around the world following along with the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook.

    I've been trying to continue my sheep breed studies with more unusual fleece that is rare or hard to find. I purchased the August breed box from Namaste Farms and finally got to wash the fleece and take a closer look at it. Listening to the Blog Talk Radio segment was a big help and interesting to hear (and confirm) my assessment of the fiber. I have to admit that my favorite (without knowing which was which first) was the sample of Lincoln lamb that was a bonus she threw in. It feels amazing! What a gorgeous fleece:

    Namaste Farm August Breed Box E fleece sample - Lincoln lamb 

    Here are the other fiber samples from the breed box:

    A) Vlaams Kuddeschaap

    Namaste Farm August Breed Box // A - Vlaams Kuddeschaap

    As Martin noted this had some yolk staining. Not bad - I'd say an average fleece.

    B) Ile de France

    Namaste Farm August Breed Box // B - Ile de France

    I liked this one better. Nice medium fleece.

    C) North Country Cheviot

    Namaste Farm August Breed Box // C - North Country Cheviot

    A good solid fleece. Lovely gray color and nice handle.

    D) Valais Blacknose

    Namaste Farm August Breed Box // D - Valais Blacknose 

    I was really excited about this because, well, this:

    Valais Blacknose sheep (via 

    OMG, how adorable, huh? I had done some research ahead of time and knew it was a fleece not know for it's softness being a coarse, carpet wool type breed. I had to have some anyway. I think Natalie said it took two years to get a sample of this fleece. Unfortunately for me it was a bit of a let down. It was coarse and pretty dirty. I think this would in fact make great mattress stuffing. I guess all the sheep's energy goes into being cute rather than soft and fine. Bummer. I'm glad I tried it though! Now I can check that off my fleece bucket list.




  • Jacob Sheep Fleece

    This past weekend I set out to wash the raw Jacob fleece that I bought recently from Kenleigh Acres Farm in Northwest Oregon. I had never spun Jacob wool before and was intrigued by some fleece I saw listed online by Shannon of Kenleigh acres. Most of the wool I find in my area is typical handspinning fare. I'm fascinated with "primitive" breeds like the Jacob that have horns and spots and look kind of wild. You might expect that the fleece would be not as fine as it is since it is an "unimproved" breed, but actually it is quite soft and easy to spin. I generally think natural selection is better for animals. We humans tend to mess with nature and introduce more problems than we solve.

    Here is the raw fleece in all its loveliness about to be washed:

     Raw Fleece - Jacob Sheep

    Raw Jacob Sheep's Wool Fleece

     Washed Jacob Fleece

    Washed Jacob Fleece

    I have to say, the fleece was well skirted and washed up really nice. I just loved the crimpy locks and color variations of this fiber.

    Sheep: "Queenie" The fleece was about 2 lbs. 7 oz. with a 4" staple length.  23.1 microns

    Queenie - Kenleigh Acres Jacob Sheep

    Queenie - Kenleigh Acres Jacob Sheep 

    Here is some info and history about the Jacob sheep that I swiped from Wikipedia:

    The Jacob sheep is a rare breed of small, piebald (colored with white spots), polycerate (multi-horned) sheep, long-tailed sheep. Jacobs may have from two to six horns, but most commonly have four. The most common color is black and white. Generally referred to as an unimproved or heirloom breed (one that has survived with little human selection), the Jacob is descended from an ancient Old World breed of sheep, although its exact origins remain unclear. Spotted polycerate sheep were documented in England by the mid–17th century, and were widespread a century later. Unlike most other old world breeds, the Jacobs of North America have not undergone extensive cross-breeding and selective breeding; their body habitus resembles that of a goat.


    Each Jacob has distinctive markings that enable the shepherd to identify specific sheep from a distance. Desirable color traits include an animal which is approximately 60% white, with the remaining 40% consisting of a random pattern of black or "lilac" (brownish-gray)[1] spots or patches.[16] The skin beneath the white fleece is pink, while skin beneath colored spots is darkly pigmented. Both rams and ewes exhibit black markings, some of which are breed specific and some of which are random.[16]

    Wool and Hides

    While other British and Northern European multi-horned sheep have a fine inner coat and a coarse, longer outer coat,[8] Jacobs have a medium grade fleece and no outer coat.[2][17] The grade of Jacob wool is of a spinning count (S number or Bradford count) of 46–54,[17] which corresponds to an average fiber diameter of about 32.7–27.9 micrometers, or Low 1/4 Blood–1/4 Blood on the American or Blood grading system.[19] Lambs of the more primitive lines are born with a coat of guard hair that is protective against rain and cold; this birth coat is shed at 3–6 months.[17]

    In general, the fleece is light, soft, springy and open, with little lanolin (grease). The fleece generally weighs 3 to 6 pounds (1.4 to 2.7 kg) and varies in crimp and fineness. Staple length is generally 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 13 cm) and may be up to 7 inches (18 cm).[17] In some sheep (particularly British Jacobs, which have denser fleeces), the black wool will grow longer or shorter than the white wool. This is called "quilted fleece" and is an undesirable trait.[20]

    Jacobs are shorn once a year, most often in the springtime. Some individual sheep may develop a natural "break," or marked thinning, of the fleece in springtime, which can lead to a natural shedding of the fleece, particularly around the neck and shoulders. The medium-fine grade wool has a high luster, and is highly sought after by handspinners. The colors may be separated or blended after shearing and before spinning to produce various shades of yarn from a single fleece, from nearly white to nearly black.[17]

    You can read more about different sheep breeds here as I continue my quest to spin them all.

  • My RedGate Farm Excursion - Karakul Sheep

     Me and Cookie the Karakul Sheep at RedGate Farm 

    Me and Cookie the Karakul Sheep at RedGate Farm 

    I had an unexpected treat today when I stopped by RedGate Farm in Leesburg to buy some wool fleece. Sue Bundy, the owner of RedGate, was gracious enough to allow me to go there in person and pick out some fleece and show me around the farm. I usually buy washed fleece and roving from her and her business partner at Solitude Wool, Gretchen Frederick. Both raise various breeds of sheep on their respective farms and hand pick wool from local farms to create a range of special breed-specific yarns. The quality and colors cannot be matched by any commercial yarn. Fox5 in DC just did a piece last weekend featuring their yarn business.

    As a handspinner, I've been a big fan of their washed fleece and dyed locks for a while so I was like a kid in a candy store today picking through bags and bags of woolies. At RedGate they raise karukul sheep, a heritage breed of fat tailed sheep that have a hair outercoat and a down undercoat. Karakul is traditionally used for rugs and is a great felting wool. To me, Karakuls are a particularly beautiful looking sheep. Their fleece was so tempting, but today I was on a mission to get some good all-purpose white wool that I use as a base in my fiber bags and carded art batts. I just love their color tones though - ranging from a warm honey and cream color to cinnamon, chocolate, and blue black. They were just stunning in person.

     Sheep at Redgate Farm

    Sheep at RedGate Farm 


    Sheep at Redgate Farm

    Sheep at RedGate Farm 

    After I picked out some Tunis fleece (a new one for me – I usually buy Romney from them), Sue invited me to go take a look a the flock. I was so amused when she called one of the sheep over by name – “Cookie”, and she came running over to greet us! Apparently Cookie was a bottle baby that Sue raised and she thinks she’s her momma. Cookie immediately came up and started to lean on me as I patted her. She then followed us around like a puppy the whole time I was there. She was so sweet I wanted to take her home with me. Here’s are some pictures of Cookie.

     Cookie the Karakul Sheep RedGate Farm Cookie the Sheep 

     Cookie Ready For Her Closeup

    Cookie Ready For Her Closeup 

    RedGate Farm not only raises sheep, but they have a variety of other animals including Midget White Turkeys and two guard llamas. When I was there the turkeys were hanging out in the trees and their barn cat was napping in the sunshine.

     Midget White Turkeys at RedGate Farm

    Midget White Turkeys 

     Barn Cat RedGate Farm

    Barn Cat


    RedGate Farm  RedGate Farm 

    The llamas came over to check me out by giving me a sniff over the fence and then went back to their business. I forgot to ask Sue about their honey bees (I did get some of their beeswax candles though!). Here's a link to an article about their honey. I've heard local honey is good for allergies so I'm going to try it.

    Llama RedGate Farm

    Guard Llama 

     Llama at RedGate Farm

    Llama at RedGate Farm


    Llama at RedGate Farm 

    Llama at RedGate Farm 

    Horned Karakul Sheep

    Horned Karakul Sheep 


    It was such a pleasant and relatively warm day for November and I felt like the weather was just right for my visit and walking around. I only had my iPhone camera with me though. Hopefully I'll have a chance to visit again in the Spring and take some photos with my Nikon when everything is green and colorful.

    I found myself thinking about Karakul sheep as I was driving home and I've spent the last hour Googling them. Not surprisingly, I learned that they are known for their "exotic carriage, intelligence, hardiness, common-sense instincts, beauty, and independence".  I think this really sums up my impression. I'm so happy that the folks at RedGate Farm have decided to keep this rare breed - they truly are a treasure!

     Cookie Saying GoodbyeCookie Saying Goodbye


    You can read more about different sheep breeds here as I continue my quest to spin them all.


  • Solitude Wool Field Day with Cotswold Sheep at Davlin Farm

    I spent Sunday afternoon on a Field Day at Davlin Farm nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Lincoln, Virginia (Loudoun County) . The Field Day was organized by the wonderful folks at Solitude Farm and our gracious host, Lynn Updegrove. They have a gorgeous pasture, stream, and one of the nicest looking barns I've seen in a while.

    Davlin raises endangered heritage breed Cotswold sheep. We learned about their flock and got to watch their sheep being sheared. Everyone was so nice and I was really impressed. I was even able to buy a fleece (Coopworth) right after it was shorn. I hope to spin something special with it soon. I'm super excited but I have to wash it first! I also bought some hand dyed Cotswold locks and roving from Solitude. Their dyed locks are sooo amazing. I'm glad they brought some this time.  Among the other goodies I picked up was a bag of Cotswold lamb washed locks from Davlin. It's buttery soft and I think it will dye up very well. I can't wait to tailspin some of those.

    Here are some pictures I took on the tour:

    Cotswold Sheep

    Davlin Farm Field Day

    Solitude Wool Booth at Davlin Farm Field Day

    Sheep Waiting To Be Sheared - Closeup

    Sheep Waiting To Be Sheared

    Sheep Waiting To Be Sheared

    Bringing in Sheep To Be Sheared

    Shearing Sheep

    Shearing Sheep

    Shorn Fleece

    Fleece in the Barn

    Antique Spinning Wheel

    Maremma Guard Dog

    Sheep in the Field

    Sheep in the Field

    Buckeye Chickens

    You can read more about different sheep breeds here as I continue my quest to spin them all.