Sometimes the wool we come across is a complete mystery, sometimes we know exactly what type it is. My rule of thumb is if it’s soft, we’re good! I’m a total fiber snob, so soft to me is REALLY soft! Because we work with a handful of small local farmers, our variety of available fleeces isn’t always the same, and the farmers don’t always know what kind of sheep they own! These fleeces are less common in our fibers, and we do use processed fiber available from production mills for specific offerings, such as Merino. We occasionally have other offerings as well, and can always look into custom requests if you are looking for a particular kind of wool to blend angora or alpaca with.
The Merino sheep is a breed of sheep that produces extremely fine wool. It has a very low micron count and has a wonderful crimp. The finest I have ever seen is 14.5 micron! Along with the fineness comes a higher price, of course. The most common I use is 18.5-19.5 micron. This is the middle ground of Merino, both in price and softness, and is extremely soft.
The Merino originated in Spain, spreading to Australia and New Zealand in the 17th century. Because of the way the sheep has been bred over the centuries they do not have the ability to shed their coat like a Shetland. They must be sheared in order to maintain the animal’s health. Another interesting fact about Merinos is that they have loose skin with lots of folds, resulting in higher yields of wool per animal! This is my most favorite wool to spin as it has amazing smoothness and spinnability.
Falkland are a smaller breed of sheep that hails from the Falkland Islands. The Falkland’s fleece, though not as soft as Rambouillet or Merino, is still quite nice for next to skin wear. The Micron count ranges from around 18 all the way up to 40 microns. The name, Falklamd, refers more to the location the wool comes from than to a specific breed and is actually not one specific lineage, but made up of a range of breeds that are found on the Falkland Islands off the coast of South America. Wool from all over the islands is collected into a “wool pool” where it then sold to market for the best price.
Ahhhh. Rambouillet. This is one of my favorite wools to work with, and you’ll usually be able to find a lot of it in the shop! It has a springiness (crimp) that makes it an amazing choice for blending fibers that have little to no memory like Alpaca and Rabbit). It is so yummy soft, with a micron count ranging from 18.5 to 24.5, it’s a pleasure to wear next to even the face and neck. The breed is a cross between the Debouillet and the Merino, and it has definitely inherited the best of both in it’s wool.
Bluefaced Leicester, commonly referred to as BFL, is an amazing and versatile wool that ranges from 24-28 microns. The staple length is longer than Merino, and the larger micron count means that although it is nearly as soft as Merino it is much hardier and holds up to wear much better. Another factor in this is that it has more of a curled fiber structure as opposed to being a crimpy wool. This gives it more memory and, as such items made from BFL are less likely to stretch out over time. Oh, and it’s pronounced “Lester” for all you folks like me that try to say it phonetically all the time!
Shetlands are a smaller breed of sheep that hails from the Shetland Isles of Scotland. They are the only remaining breed of sheep that releases its entire coat at once. This quality makes it possible to “Roo” the sheep. When the Falkland Sheep sheds its coat there is a “break” between the new coat and the old coat. This section overlaps slightly, and the old coat can be pulled from the new coat by hand. This process is called Rooing, and is a lot of fun to watch! The range of the fleece runs from 10 to 35 microns depending on where on the sheep the wool comes from, with the softest being the neck and shoulder wool. The average is between 20 and 30 microns.