There are four broad categories of wool: fine wool, medium wool, coarse wool, and longwools.
Fine wools are just that. They have a micron range less that 17 microns. These wools are perfect for items that you will wear next to the skin. Because it is fine, it grows more slowly on the animal. Therefore the staple length is shorter. My cormo fleeces are typically 3.5 to 4 inches in length. They have amazing crimp and some luster. These fleeces also have a lot of lanolin in them. They are delicate fleeces. Both of these characteristics make them very hard to wash well by hand without felting. Breeds in the fine wool category include merino, cormo, rambouillet and polwarth.
Medium wool is the most prevalent and most affordable wool. The wool grows very quickly and so staple lengths in the 4-6 inch range can be easily found. There is a wide variety of micron counts in this category of wool. There are fleeces that are next to the skin soft and others that are on the more scratchy side. This differences in fleeces and yarn come from the care the sheep received, processing of the fleeces and the twist of the yarn. This category also has breeds with a large number of natural colors of browns, grays, and blacks. Breeds in this category include perendale, romney, shetland, corriedale, targhee and southdown.
Coarse wools mostly come from primitive breeds, those that have been on earth for eons. Some of these are double coated with a long outer hair and a soft downy undercoat, like icelandic sheep. These can have quite long staple lengths of 7 inches or over. There are many colored sheep in this category. The wool can be used for outerwear or household products such as rugs, tapestries and felted items. The wool and yarn is very durable and can take a lot of abuse. Besides icelandic sheep, breeds include karakul, Navaho churro and Scottish blackface.
The Longwool category is aptly named. The wool of these sheep grows very quickly and can be sheared twice a year. Or when sheared only once, they produce locks of up to 12 inches in length, which is highly prized by art yarn spinners and doll makers. This category is highly diverse in fiber diameter. There are fleeces that are next to the skin soft or those that should be used for household products like rugs and wall hangings. Breeds in this group include the Leicester group, coopworth, lincoln, teeswater, wensleydale and cotswold.
I’m definitely a fine wool girl with my love of cormo. I also have blue-faced leicesters with a micron count less than 25. I want to have fleece and yarns that aren’t itchy and scratchy. Do you have a favorite type of wool? Leave a comment and tell me what wool you love and why.