As well as making things from our own fleeces, each year, at shearing time, I buy in a variety of fleeces from other farms nearby. Variety is the spice of life and I love being able to offer rugs or cushions made from different types of wool. With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to list some info about the different fleeces I use, their attributes, what makes them so special and where I get them from. Scroll right down to the bottom for info on the farms. I’ll be adding more sheep photos later in the year once their wool has grown back so you can see their beautiful fleeces.
But before I describe the fleeces from neighbouring farms, I’ll start off with some information about our own wool, from our dear flock of Coloured Ryelands:
Both Ryelands and Coloured Ryelands are a well established breed with records dating back more than six centuries. Ryeland sheep were bred by monks in the rye-growing areas of South Herefordshire hence their name. Ryeland wool has always been of very high quality and it is reputed that Queen Victoria would only have Ryeland wool stockings, no other wool would do apparently.
Resembling teddy bears, maybe because, unlike most sheep, they have woolly faces, they look and are, extremely cute and friendly.
While Ryelands are white, Coloured Ryelands are lots of different colours ranging from black, brown, beige, grey, caramel, cream, through to silvery white and all sorts of mixtures in between. As a general rule, Coloured Ryelands start out in life black and gradually fade to slivery white as they get older. Some Coloured Ryelands start out in life brown and fade to caramel as is the case of our Yogi. This is quite unusual though.
I love working with Ryeland wool because each fleece is a complete surprise. Although Ryeland wool isn’t long and glamorous, it is incredibly soft and springy and of course it comes in beautiful colours.
Making Ryeland rugs is a little bit fiddly because of the short locks and fineness of the wool. It also doesn’t felt as quickly as some of the courser wools I use which is why I generally make smaller items from our Ryeland fleeces, baby rugs or cushions for example.
Colour: black, brown, beige, grey, caramel, cream, through to silvery white and all sorts of mixtures in between
Staple length: 5 – 8cm
Micron count: 30 – 32
Characteristics: fine, springy, dense,
Fleeces from neighbouring farms
Herdwick x Texel
As the name suggests, the Herdwick x Texel is the result of crossing a Herdwick with a Texel. The result of this mix is a very cute sheep with beautifully lustrous, thick, springy wool with a well defined crimp which gives it a look of a cuddly toy made out of “pompoms”. This “hairstyle” is due to the lofty quality of the wool which has a tendency to stand up rather than to lie flat.
The Herdwick is mostly grey while the Texel is usually creamy-white. The Herdwick x Texel inherits the creamy fleece from the Texel although sometimes there is a hint of grey on the underside.
The Herdwick and the Texel are both breeds who are well adapted to living in cooler climates. The Texel (as the name suggests) comes from the island of Texel which is off the north coast of Holland. The Herdwick comes from the Lake District in the North West of England. While the Herdwick has a coarsely textured, double coated fleece (long outer coat to repel water and downy undercoat for warmth), the Texel has finer wool, but being tightly stapled (dense) with a well defined crimp, is just as warm and insulating.
The result of this cross, is a sheep with a not only a very eye catching fleece, but one which is warm, weighty and silky soft.
Staple length: varies from fleece to fleece, between 7 and 14cm
Micron count: 31 – 34.5
Characteristics: well defined crimp, lofty, lustrous, thick, springy
Cheviot (North Country Cheviot & Cheviot)
The North Country Cheviot (which is found in Scotland), as opposed to “the Cheviot” (from the north of England and Scottish Borders), differs from its southern counterpart in that it is a larger sheep and has slightly less perky ears. Whether the Scottish variety or the English, the Cheviot is a hardy, easy going sheep and happy to roam the uplands and hills where other sheep might complain, the Cheviot is content and can live off the hill throughout the year.
The wool of Cheviot fleeces is dense and tightly packed. Being a large sheep with a lot of wool, whenever I make a rug from a Cheviot fleece it is generally going to end up a “biggie”.
Cheviot wool is very springy (rather like the Herdwick x Texel) above. The tightly packed, “puffed up” staples makes the wool push outwards rather than lie flat giving the sheep the appearance of being surrounded by a beautiful woolly halo. To get a bit technical, one of the reasons for the springiness of the wool is thanks to a rather special crimp within the wool fibres; a “helical crimp”, (spiral shaped), as opposed to a standard crimp which is more of a zig zag shape. This helical crimp doesn’t just serve to add spring and bounce to Cheviot wool though, it also makes it strong, resilient and flexible.
Staple length: 8 – 12cm
Micron count: 30.5 – 33
Characteristics: springy, tightly packed, “puffed up”
The Border Leicester (along with the Bluefaced Leicester) are both descendants of the “Dishley Leicester”, a sheep developed during the 18th century by the agriculturalist, Robert Bakewell of Dishley in Leicestershire. Bakewell is best known for his work in sheep and cattle breeding using methodical selection as opposed to random breeding. His work revolutionised the way livestock was bred and many of his methods are still with us today.
While the Border Leicester is a little hardier than the Bluefaced Leicester, both breeds have lovely wool. Their fleeces are highly desirable and their wool is commonly used for hosiery, dress fabrics and hand knitting.
Almost pure white in colour, their wool is long and lustrous and falls in well defined locks with the tips ending in a small curl.
I love working with Border Leicester fleeces, I love the silky feel of the wool and the way the locks fall into long, loose ringlets. If I could go back in time I would like to meet Robert Bakewell and say thank you for producing a sheep with such a pretty fleece.
Staple length: 10 – 15cm
Micron count: 32.5 – 35
Characteristics: well defined locks ending in a small curl
Feel: soft, silky
Scottish Blackface Mule (Scotch Mule)
The Scotch Mule is the result of crossing a Scottish Blackface ewe with a Bluefaced Leicester tup. Simplistically put, this paring brings together the best of both breeds. The Scottish Blackface is hardy and thrifty and has excellent mothering instincts although she will usually produce only one lamb. The Bluefaced Leicester on the other hand produces multiple lambs. This combination brings about a strong, hardy sheep with good mothering skills who would generally produce more than one lamb.
But the reason I love Mules is because they have beautiful fleeces. Both the Scottish Blackface and the Bluefaced Leicester are long woolled sheep (with fleeces I would describe as “glamorous”). But while the Scottish Blackface has a lovely fleece to look at, it is a little on the course side. The Bluefaced Leicester however has the crème de la crème of wool, it’s not only long and silky, it’s also soft to the touch. The Scotch Mule has all the above traits minus the coarseness which is why I love working with Mule fleeces.
Staple length: 10 – 22cm
Micron count: 30.5 – 33
Characteristics: well defined crimp, long, silky
Feel: soft, silky
Christine & Russell’s smallholding in Crocketford, Dumfries
Christine & Russell McGahan are a hardworking young couple who have day jobs, but also run a sizeable smallholding in Dumfries where they keep sheep, horses and dogs. Christine also “farm sits” which is how we got to know this lovely couple.
Fleeces: Herdwick x Texel, North Country Cheviot, Border Leicester (hoggs and ewes)
Marwhirn Farm, Moniaive
I happily got to know Robert & Alison Wilson by helping Alison out with her garden. I soon spied their beautiful sheep and it wasn’t long before I was lucky enough to acquire some of their fleeces.
Fleeces: Scottish Blackface Mule hogg, North Country Cheviot Mule hogg
Craiglearan Farm, Moniave
We live right next door to the lovely family at Craiglearan Farm. When it comes round to shearing time, I go round and hand select the fleeces I think would turn into lovely rugs.
Fleeces: Cheviot hoggs
Andy McQuaker, Corsock
We were fortunate to get to know Andy when he came to help us with some fencing work. You couldn’t meet a more hardworking man than Andy. He has incredible energy, managing his own farm as well as doing heavy duty contract work around the area. He also shears his own sheep, which if you’ve ever sheared a sheep yourself, you will know is no mean feat. Hats off to Andy!
Fleeces: Scottish Blackface Mule hoggs