Fifteen years ago, I thought a sheep was a sheep. They all had open, black faces and white, spongy wool, apart from that “black sheep of the family” that so often figures into metaphors and allegories.
Around that time, my family and I moved to Kentucky, and, during our first Christmas here, we found ourselves chauffeuring animals to and from the local church’s nativity scene. From these first interactions with sheep, I loved the animals, and I spent several years researching them before deciding to welcome a small flock to our farm.
Our flock of five sheep includes a Tunis, a Shetland, a Shetland/Icelandic cross, and twin Tunis/Icelandic crosses. When sheering them each spring, I’m struck by the diversity of their fleeces – some have two-layered coats, some have wool with lots of crimp, some leave us covered in lanolin while others seem to have none at all – but the diversity of our flock pales in comparison to the wide array of fleeces that we’ve been processing at HeartFelt.
In the past week alone, we’ve been working on fine wool, coarse wool, and fiber from hair sheep, let alone several alpaca fleeces.
In our collective culture, we hear about the value of Merino wool or “baby alpaca” fiber, but the truth is that each wool and fiber has something distinctive to offer fiber artists. Coarse wools like Lincoln might look scratchy and unruly, but their strength is commendable. Fine wools, such as Romney and Merino, might lack strength and crimp, but their softness doesn’t go unnoticed. Short, spongy staples, like those from a baby doll sheep whose wool we’ve been processing, might be difficult to card, but they felt beautifully.
In short, the next time you see a label that just reads “100% wool,” it might be interesting to consider what sort(s) of sheep once wore that wool.