The fleece of coloured sheep
Differences in the fleeces of coloured sheep
Some fleeces such as Icelandic and Swaledale have a fine under layer with a longer coarser outer layer to repel the harshest of weather. Others, like Ryeland and Southdown, can be bouncy but matt in appearance. This contrasts with the beautiful shiny locks of Wensleydale and Gotlands, which have no bounce.
All the breeds and crosses produce a tremendous range of fleece types suitable for almost any project. There is a wide variety of colours from white to black or pale grey to dark brown. This means that within this website you will find details of the raw material of your choice.
The history of wool
Wool was immensely important to Britain. In the 15th Century it was the main export of England. The Lord Chancellor sits on the Wool Sack in recognition of this fact. For many centuries there was a thriving smuggler’s trade taking wool from the Romney Marshes to France and bringing back brandy.
The original coloured sheep
The first sheep in Britain were mostly coloured; similar to the Soay of today. The Romans are thought to have brought in white sheep to cross with them. Most sheep today are white because of selective breeding from that time on. Some coloured breeds have persisted and the recessive colour does occasionally come out in breeds that are mainly white.
The insulating properties of wool
Wool is a naturally insulating fibre. The scales on the outside of the fibres help to trap air to retain warmth. Wool has the unique ability to retain warmth even when it is wet. The sheep are, obviously, the first to benefit from these characteristics. By felting, weaving or knitting wool, man has used it for centuries to produce clothing and shelter. Today it is also used as a loft or cavity wall insulation.
Fleece is incredibly varied. Very fine and soft wool, such as Shetland and Merino, is ideal for baby’s clothing. Coarser harsher wool, such as the Herdwick, makes fantastic carpets.