Saturday, September 1, 2012

Praise for Icelandic Sheep

At some point along the fiber-collecting road, I ended up with some commercial Icelandic roving. It was a pretty steel-wool gray color, and felt about the same. I wasn't so much impressed.

Fast-forward to working on my Master Spinner Program level-one homework. Part of it is a breed study, where you select 10 breeds, start with raw fleece, and work your way through scouring, prepping, spinning, and a small knitted sample. I tried to spread my breed selections out across a wide range of sheep (and fleece) types. One we had gotten samples of in class was Navajo Churro, and I knew I had more at home so I'd have enough to include that one. Except... my own stash of 4oz was nowhere to be found.

So. On to a substitution. To stay within the same type, I looked at other sheep with primitive or dual-coated fleeces, and decided on Icelandic. The sheep themselves are cute as all get-out, and I wanted to see if my initial impression of that commercial roving was correct or not.

Photo from

Icelandic sheep first ended up in Iceland thanks to the Vikings, who brought along sheep belonging to the Northern European short-tailed sheep family way back in the ninth and tenth century.  There has been little change or 'improvement' during the intervening years... intentionally. They are hardy, intelligent little sheep that apparently tend to exhibit a bit of personality.

In Iceland, most of the income from these sheep comes from the meat trade. But the wool fiber is highly valued too, both there and around the world.  The fleece has two layers... an outer coat called tog, which is longer and coarser. The undercoat, thel, is short and soft. They can be spun together, but often the coats are separated. The tog can be spun for stronger fiber needed for durable items, while the thel can be soft enough to use for next-to-skin items.

For class, I got both a lamb fleece and an adult fleece. The lamb fleece is incredibly soft, and I'll likely spin both coats together.

Lamb fleece

Staples from lamb fleece

The adult fleece has better definition between tog and thel and I'll be separating those coats out for spinning.

Adult fleece
Staples from adult fleece (those boards are 6" wide)

Both fleeces are from Sunrise Sheep and Wool, and I highly recommend them - they are in lovely shape.

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