What’s the fuss? Should you care about whether your roving or yarn comes from a specific breed or specific individual sheep? What about cross-bred sheep? Is knitting with a breed specific yarn any different than knitting with commercial yarn made from mixed wools?
I raise 2 breeds of sheep: Blue Faced Leicesters and Cormos. They and their fleeces are like night and day. BFL’s are a longwool breed. They grow fleeces that are fine, lustrous and long. The staple length of this wool is usually 5-6 inches. Their fleeces grows in lovely ringlet locks. They are leggy and regal looking with a roman nose. They are also the loudest sheep in the pasture. They are the ones who signal the others when they spot us coming to the barn. Cormos, on the other hand, as shorter and more compact. They grow heavy, fine, crimpy wool that is kind of like a thick blanket all over their bodies. Staple length of my sheep is 3 1/2 to 4 inches.
I chose these 2 breed because I wanted to make some yarn that was lustrous and other yarns that were more squishy and soft. Both of these wools would also be great complements for my mohair for nice yarn blends.
Last year was my first sheep breeding year. I borrowed Finegal from Grindstone Ridge Farm. I made the decision to breed my BFL ewes and 2 of my cormo ewes to see what a cross would be like. About half way through breeding, the open ewes decided that they wanted to be with Finegal too….including a small Icelandic ewe. In fact, she was the instigator. We were able to separate them out after about 2 hours. But 2 hours was enough to get more sheep bred than I wanted.
Last year’s lambs were Purebred 4 BFL’s, 4 BFL X Cormo, and 1 BFL X Icelandic. The cross bred fleeces are fantastic. The BFLXCormo fleeces are longer than their cormo mom’s fleece, but it is denser and crimpier than their BFL dad’s fleece. They don’t have the lock structure of the BFL breed standard. The Ice-Leicester lamb fleece grew as quickly has her mother’s fleece. It was not double coated, but rather a consistent fine fleece. It also didn’t have the BFL lock structure. Her current fleece has grown in differently than the first. It has lock structure. It is extremely dense and soft. It is still a single coat. It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop. I am excited for shearing day in March. I am looking forward to have those cross bred fleeces made into beautiful lustrous, next to the skin yarn.
So back to the original questions. What’s the fuss? Should you care? It depends on your goals. Breed specific yarns and roving can be fun to work with and very educational. You can see and feel the differences between the breeds and pick projects that complement the characteristics of the breeds. Will your knitting be different with these yarns? You may find yourself beginning to be more mindful of your yarn and project combinations as you begin to learn about the different breeds. You will also feel great about supporting individual fiber farms and maybe even your local fiber farm.
Do you have a favorite breed fleece or yarn to work with? Leave us a comment to share your opinion.