Continuing with our more in-depth look at the yarns we review, in this issue we’re concentrating on Breed Specific Wool. Different breeds of sheep produce wool that has different qualities, something which is easier to see and feel than it is to describe. I have done my best to describe the qualities of each yarn here, but I often repeat myself using the same terminology. Bloom is bloom, for example, and there isn’t really another suitable word, blossom perhaps? None of the yarns we’ve reviewed are Merino soft; they are woolly wools and all but one of the yarns featured is a pure 100% wool yarn.
If I have the opportunity I would like to experiment further with each of the yarns listed here and knit a swatch in lace and cables and perhaps even crochet one too. If time permits, then I will, of course, let you know my findings.
gwlân Cambrian Wool
Shade Pictured Ecru 01
Fibre Content 100% Pure Welsh Mule Wool
Ball Weight/Length 50g = 100metres/109yards
Needle Size 4mm
Tension 19 sts by 27 rows
The Welsh Mule Sheep is the progeny of a Blue Faced Leicester ram with the Welsh Beulah or Welsh Hill Speckled Face ewe. The fleece they produce is of a high quality with the characteristic length, texture and crimp inherited from the Blue Faced Leicester. The staple length of a Welsh Mule is typically between 10cm and 18cm with a micron range from 29 to 32.
Cambrian Wool was born out of a conviction that premium yarn could be produced from Welsh flocks, and in 2016, following an extreme amount of hard work and dedication, the dream finally became a realisation.
Completely sourced from the farms on the Cambrian Mountains Region, scoured, spun and dyed in the UK, it’s 100%, British Wool. Worsted spun to retain the soft, lustrous qualities of the fibre, gwlân Cambrian Wool is a delightful yarn to work with. When knitted, the fabric was light, bouncy and probably soft enough to be worn next to the skin by most people.
It was the softest yarn we tested pre-washing and it softened a little more after. It has a gentle halo, delicate lustre and good stitch definition. It also holds its shape well; our swatch remains lovely and square after blocking (it’s slightly skewed because I forgot to pin it all the way around, blame the person on the other end of the phone call I took while in the middle of pinning out).
The fleece of the Welsh Mule is a creamy white, which takes up dye well, and this is reflected in the 11 shades currently available to choose from in both 4ply and DK weights.
Shade Pictured Basalt
Fibre Content 100% Jacob Wool
Ball Weight/Length 50g = 110metres/119yards
Needle Size 4mm
Tension 20 sts x 28 rows
With its black and white fleece, the Jacob sheep is regarded as the only true spotted sheep. Interestingly, there may be differences in texture and staple length between the different colours on the same fleece. Believed to have been taken to the UK from the Middle East, possibly via Spain, the sheep takes its name from Jacob in the Old Testament. The staple length ranges from 8cm to 15cm in length and the micron count is from the mid to late 20s.
When the fleece arrives at the mill it is sorted by colour and then re-blended to create three different bases – pale, mid and dark. Spun to either DK or 4ply weight, these three shades are available as is or in three dyed shades (12 colours available in total).
I had anticipated the Jacob yarn would be quite firm and was surprised by how soft it felt when knitted up. A two-ply worsted spun yarn, the fabric is bouncy with a gentle haze, which becomes slightly more pronounced after washing. Whilst the Jacob is classed as a ‘crisp’ yarn, I think the knitted fabric is soft enough to be worn next to the skin of some people. However it is a little too rustic for baby clothes. It would be perfect made into garments, homewares and some accessories.
Our swatch has retained its shape well after being blocked and whilst the yarn has great stitch definition, it is somewhat hidden by the marl effect of the yarn and the fuzzy halo.
From the Island of Árann
Shade Pictured Ivory White
Ball Weight/Length 50g = 70metres/77yards
Sometimes you meet someone whose enthusiasm and passion for a subject literally oozes out of them and you can’t help but become infected. One such man is Mairtin, a shepherd who lives on the Aran Islands. He loves the island’s history, its heritage and his Galway Sheep.
The Galway Sheep is thought to be the only remaining native sheep from Ireland (although many people think the mountain sheep should be recognised too). As such, the breed has been granted Rare Breed Status and receives financial support here in Ireland. Selective breeding between Irish breeds and English Leicesters resulted in the Galway as we know it today, which is a variant of the Roscommon Sheep now thought to be extinct.
Classified as a Longwool sheep, the staple of the Galway fleece are not sleek, shiny or exceptionally long like those belonging to other Longwool breeds. The staple length is usually between 11.5cm and 14cm with a micron count of 30 plus. Galway Sheep produce a strong, dense, matt wool, which is referred to as white or báinín in this part of the world.
Snáth Árann is made from the wool of Galway Sheep that live on the Aran Islands and on the mainland; however it is currently processed in the UK. I had been forewarned that some knitters find working with the yarn a little hard on their hands. Personally, I didn’t experience any issues, perhaps this is because the yarn is an aran weight and therefore it grows quickly (it’s also my favourite weight to work with). It is true that the yarn is very strong, and the tight worsted spin might not be everyone’s favourite, but the fabric produced is completely fit for its traditional purpose.
Before washing my swatch, it did feel quite firm, but with washing, it softened a little. Not to the degree that it would be suitable for next to skin wear, but it’s easy to see why the ‘crisp’ handle is ideal for traditional aran knitwear. A dense fibre, this aran weight yarn produces fantastic stitch definition. There is a very gentle halo over our swatch and it has held its shape perfectly – all properties you want in a sweater to last you for years of wear.
The Galway wool takes dye very well and there are currently eight colours available including the natural báinín. It’s worth mentioning here that the báinín is also available in an aran weight woollen spun yarn. Something to investigate further me thinks?
Rare Breed Portland Wool
Shade Pictured – Natural
Fibre Content 100% Pure New English Wool
Ball Weight/Length 100g
Tension 25sts to 10 cm
Taking its name from the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England, the Portland Sheep Breed had almost become extinct. Efforts made by dedicated breeders and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust means the breed has now recovered but is still classed as ‘at risk’ in the UK.
Portland lambs are born with a rusty brown wool that changes to a creamy white within the first few months although the animal usually retains a tanned face with lighter patches around its eyes. Their wool is fine with a short staple, typically between 5cm and 9cm with a micron count from the late 20s to the mid 30s.
Farnell Farm in Rolvenden, Kent, sheer their sheep each Spring. The fleeces are then taken to the mill, where they are processed and spun into a worsted yarn. Available in natural ecru, in two weights 4ply or dk, the Farnell Farm Portland Wool is lovely to work with. To be fair, I wasn’t completely sure if the skein we had been sent was mislabelled as the yarn felt a little fine for a standard DK weight yarn. The swatch I knitted could be best described as ‘gapey’ however when I gave it a gentle wash, it bloomed especially well and took on a cohesive feel.
With this loose, 2-ply yarn, the stitches aren’t completely uniform, but they have character and this more traditionally produced yarn is ideal for making historical garments. The knitted fabric is light and springy, and the swatch has retained its shape after blocking. There is a soft, fine halo that sits over the stitches and I didn’t feel any ‘catch’ from my swatch. Personally, I would think that the majority of wool wearers would be able to wear this next to their skin or with only a light top under any garment made in it. I am interested to see how it dyes and hope to be able to have a play with some of the remaining yarn at a later date.
Exmoor Horn Wool
Shade Pictured – Natural
Fibre Content 70% Exmoor Horn Wool/30% Exmoor Blueface Wool
Ball Weight/Length 100g = 250 metres/273yards
An ancient breed indigenous to Exmoor, the Exmoor Horn Sheep are a tough, hardy breed. Their fleece is considered to be relatively fine for a hill breed with a staple length of 8cm to 12cm and a micron range of 33+. The Exmoor Blue Face Sheep is a relatively new breed that is the result of crossing an Exmoor Horn and a Blue Face Leicester. The fibre produced is softer than a true Exmoor Horn with a gentle lustre from the breed’s long staple. When combined, these two fibres produce a yarn that is crisp and springy with a smidgen of lustre.
Produced by approximately 120 farmer members of the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeder Association in conjunction with the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund, the Exmoor Horn Wool is also spun in Exmoor at the John Arbon Mill in South Molton.
When I first began working with the yarn I was immediately struck by how strong it felt, it did seem to soften slightly as I continued and after a wash the fibre relaxed much more and any gaps between my stitches closed. The slight halo that was in the ball has turned into a lovely, all over fuzz that in no way hides the great stitch definition. While a little too ‘rustic’ for next to skin wear, it would be perfect for accessories like hats and mittens, or garments worn over a shirt.
Ivory in colour, the yarn takes dye readily. Mindful of the environment, Exmoor Horn Wool uses low impact dyes to produce their range of 12 beautiful shades, including the natural ecru pictures. Originally only available as a DK weight yarn, a range of 4ply in 50g balls has recently been introduced, perfect for stranded colourwork.
Pure Devon Wool
Shade Pictured – Devon Green
Fibre Content 100% Grey Faced Dartmoor Sheep Wool
Ball Weight/Length 50g = 70metres/76yards
Lily Warne Wool is a mother and son partnership founded and based on Twig Farm, a small family farm on the edge of Dartmoor in Chudleigh, Devon. The farm is also home to a flock of Pure Grey Face Dartmoor Sheep, a breed which is currently classed as being a minority by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The breed was developed in the 1800s and its a hardy longwool breed that produces a strong, firm wool. The staple length is between 15cm and 20cm with a micron range of 40 to 42. It is traditionally used for blankets and carpets.
A worsted spun aran weight yarn, it produced a dense, warm fabric with a soft sheen when knitted. Great stitch definition makes it perfect for textured knits and as there is certainly a ‘prickle’ I think it would be most suited to outerwear, including hats and mittens, or homewares. I wouldn’t mind a lovely, warm pair of slippers made from the yarn myself. A gentle wash encouraged the fibres to bloom and the fabric became fuzzier. The swatch retained its shape and kept it despite being pulled in every direction.
At the time of our review, the natural, undyed shade was out of stock, however, the shade is typically a creamy white and takes dye readily, which can be seen in the 14 different shades currently available from Lily Warne.