Tag Archives: sheep breeds

Armchair Travel, Woolery-Style

kumihimoSummer is officially here! For many folks, this is the time of year to take that adventurous trip or relaxing vacation you’ve been dreaming about. Sometimes, however, a staycation is closer to reality. If you’re traveling near (not far) this year, consider trying a little armchair travel with crafting inspiration from around the globe!

Saori Weaving is a freeform weaving technique from Japan which was recently featured in Handwoven Magazine; it can be done on a portable rigid heddle loom and is a great technique for beginning weavers. More than simply a technique, Saori weaving is a philosophy that focuses on individuality and creativity rather than trying to create a “perfect” looking woven cloth.

backstraploomAnother portable craft that is popular right now at The Woolery is Kumihimo, the art of Japanese braiding. A special stool (called a marudai) is used to support bobbins and hold the working threads. Many bobbins can be used, to create very complex braids. Pet leashes and collars are just a few of the useful projects you can make with this exciting technique! There are many South American cultures with a rich weaving history as well.; a portable backstrap loom (shown at left) is a great way for novice weavers to start exploring these traditions by weaving colorful sashes, straps, and bands.

cashgoatSpinners can travel the globe with fibers from a variety of locales: Louet’s Canterbury Prize Wool fibers are raised with care in New Zealand, or perhaps you’d prefer to sample British sheep breeds such as Herdwick, Masham, or Shetland (just to name a few!). Traveling eastward, you can indulge in Mongolian Cashmere fiber, which is among the softest and best in the world: it is hand-combed from each Cashmere goat (shown at right) in the spring as the weather warms and the undercoat naturally begins to shed. Another exotic fiber to try spinning is Muga Silk top, a ‘wild’ silk from the Antheraea Assamensis worm which is native to the Assam region of India. Traditionally only royalty was allowed to wear the golden fabric of Muga silkworm!

Happy Exploring!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

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Connect with the Past Part 2 with Deb Robson

debrobsonMay is an exciting time at The Woolery! Not only do we have the annual Kentucky Sheep and Wool Festival to look forward to (May 18-19 in beautiful Lexington, KY), we also have an excellent guest post from fiber expert Deb Robson this month! Deb is coauthor of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and will be teaching a two-day workshop at the festival that explores six specific sheep breeds in-depth.

As a follow up to last month’s blog post exploring primitive sheep breeds, today’s post will highlight two more unusual breeds of sheep from The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook.

Karakul
The Karakul breed is very, very old. It’s native to the steppes and deserts of central Asia…This region of the world is one of the cradles of the domestication of livestock, so the Karakul is considered one of the oldest sheep breeds.

When it comes to the wool featured here, we’re talking not about the Central Asian Karakuls but about American Karakuls. This breed was developed from several imports to the United States, starting in 1909 and continuing through the first half of the twentieth century.

KarakulKarakuls are double coated, with a soft, fine shorter inner coat and coarse, sturdy, longer outer coat, although sometimes the distinctions between the two are quite narrow. The coats can be the same color, but in some intriguing fleeces they are differently colored. Colors can also vary along the staple from butt to tip. The wool has a nice luster.

When relatively free of dust and vegetable matter, Karakul lends itself to being spun in what little grease it has. It also washes up beautifully. Karakul is one of the quintessential felting fibers.

WensleydaleWensleydale
Wensleydale may be the only breed that can be traced directly to a single ancestor. In 1839, a ram lamb was born in New Yorkshire to a Mug ewe (an old-type Teeswater ewe that didn’t show much of the New Leicester influence). The offspring had the blue head and ears that show up as a recessive trait in Leicesters from time to time and was named Bluecap by its owner.

Bluecap grew up to be a potent ram and was leased by shepherds through a fairly wide area for a number of years. He was primarily used for breeding Teeswater ewes. His blue-headed trait passed to his progeny, and by the 1870s, these unique sheep (although closely related to the Teeswater) were recognized as a separate breed and called Wensleydale.

fleecefiberWensleydale fleece is long, lustrous and shiny, hanging in distinct, curly ringlets that do not felt well. It has no kemp and the wool is uniform throughout the fleece.

We are very thankful to the folks at Storey Publishing and the authors, Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarious, for granting us permission for this excerpt!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Connect with the Past: Exploring ‘primitive’ sheep breeds

As we delve deeper into the wonderful world of fiber, we’ll discover that there are many breeds of sheep who have quite literally weathered history unchanged by modern breeding programs. Many of these breeds can be traced back hundreds of years – some even a thousand! Iceland, Norway and the UK are just a few countries whose sheepy inhabitants have their own unique history.

The complex fleece of primitive breeds also tells their story. These breeds grow double coats consisting of a soft, insulating undercoat coupled with a hardy outer coat which protects them from the harsh elements which they have endured over centuries. These coats typically come in a variety of natural colors beyond white, most likely to act as camouflage for sheep who had to fend for themselves: many breeds were deposited on remote islands by the Vikings and Spanish explorers as a sort of “insurance plan” in the event of a shipwreck so that the crews wouldn’t starve.

Today we’ll profile three primitive breeds whom you may have encountered at a fiber festival: Icelandic, Jacob, and Shetland. You can find out more about primitive breeds in Deb Robson and Carol Ekarious’ Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook or Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Book of Wool.

icelandicsheepIcelandic Sheep
This breed’s history can be traced back over 1,000 years, when the Vikings introduced this hardy breed of sheep to Iceland. Their dual coat is unique because it can be spun together in a traditional Lopi-style Icelandic yarn, or separated by hand for a special project. The soft undercoat (called the thel) boasts a micron count of 19-22, a fineness that is similar to Merino; the coarser outer coat (called the tog) has a micron count of 27-30 and often behaves similarly to mohair. This breed comes in a variety of natural colors and is excellent for outerwear and felting projects. 

For more information about this breed, please visit the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America website.

jacobsheepJacob Sheep
These sheep were once a popular ‘novelty’ animal, roaming parks and estates in England for many years dating back to the 1700s. Their large horns and spotted black and white coats are quite striking, and unlike other primitive breeds, they do not have a dual fleece. However, each color patch is often unique (both in staple length and micron count) which gives this fleece a broad micron range of 27-35 microns.

For more information about this breed, please visit the Jacob Sheep Breeders Association website.

shetlandShetland Sheep
This breed dates back to the bronze age, most likely deposited on the rocky islands from which they get their name by the Vikings over 1,000 years ago. This breed is available in a variety of natural colors; despite having many colored variants bred out of the line at the height of the Shetland woolen industry, 11 natural colors and 30 markings remain today, though some are rarer than others in the quest for bright white wool. The fleece is a joy to spin with; each fiber can be drawn from the lock with ease.

For more information about this breed, please visit the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association website.

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Where the Sheep Are

sheepshearingSpring is here! In the fiber world, we know that means more than just warm temperatures; spring is the time that many sheep are shorn, giving us their beautiful fleece to spin, weave, knit, or crochet. It’s also a great time for fiber artists to branch out and try working with a new-to-them breed of sheep. If you’re wondering how to get started, here is a handy guide to begin your journey in to the wonderful world of sheep:

Fiber Festivals

Your local fiber festival is a great place to start! You might be surprised at how many sheep are raised in your region, and fiber festivals are an excellent way to support small farms and purchase fleece and fiber that you might not encounter anywhere else. You can often find breed-specific yarns in addition to raw fleece or prepared top, many of which can be purchased directly from the producer. We have several upcoming fiber festivals listed here on our website.

borderleicesterSheep Breeder Associations

If you’ve encountered a breed of sheep you’ve never heard of, chances are there is an association dedicated to that particular breed which can be found with a simple web search. For example, if you came across a Border Leicester fleece, the American Border Leicester Association would be a great place to see photos of the sheep, learn about the breed’s history and read up on the characteristics of the fleece. Some association websites have classified sections where members can post sheep or sheep products for sale; you can also check for upcoming events to find out when and where the sheep will be shown!

FleeceandFiberSourcebookBooks

There are many wonderful books dedicated to all things sheep, but one of our favorites is The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarious.  This comprehensive photographic encyclopedia features more than 200 animals and the fibers they produce, covering almost every sheep breed in the world from the longwool breeds of the United Kingdom to the Tasmanian merino, the Navajo churro, the northern European Faroese, and dozens  more. bookofwoolAnother fantastic book is Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Book of Wool, which focuses on how to best use the yarns created from specific breeds of wool and gives an excellent introduction to many breeds of sheep along the way.

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team