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Shetland Wool
Colors and Textures

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Note: Pictures coming soon!

The Shetland wool project is still going on! I am researching into wool textures and colors. If you would like to participate, send me several locks of each of your fleece types and colors. Information about each sheep, what color it was registered as, and its pedigree, would also be welcome. I hope to be able to write a report of my findings, and illustrate it on this page. See our contact page for our address, to send your samples. Thank you for your help!

There is some controversy about what "real" Shetland wool is like. The documentation of Shetland wool over the years prior to the 20th century is vague, with different conclusions reached by each breeder who reads it.

Officially, Shetland wool is short stapled, no more than about 4 inches in length, quite crimpy, and has a soft handle. I have come to apply the term "modern-style" Shetland to this wool, as it seems to me that it is the result of selecting for wool types that could be processed by modern wool mills. It has been documented that Merinos were brought to the Shetland Islands prior to a breed association being formed. I think these modern-type Shetland wools show that influence.

If you're interested in breeding for this type of wool when you buy your animals, insist upon being able to handle samples of the wool belonging to the sheep you are considering, or if that's just not possible, its parents. Some wool looks just like this modern type, but is actually very 'crisp' handling rather than soft, and resembles Suffolk wool very strongly. You can't tell from a picture what kind of wool it is! It, too, can be useful--Suffolk is famous for not felting and for being uncrushable, but if you're looking for Merino-type wool, it won't have the softness you want.

Modern-type Shetland can be used interchangeably with Merino, Rambouillet, Corriedale, etc. I find it doesn't full quite as much, which I think is an advantage. It makes soft, warm next-to-the-skin and baby items, and isn't particularly durable. It's easiest to hand or drum card, but can be combed if you're experienced with combing. Be sure to choose only the best fleeces to have commercially processed--any weakness in the staple will show up as neps and noils in roving.

Modern style Shetland wool
Modern style
Shetland Wool
Primitive style Shetland wool
Primitive style
Shetland Wool

Some purebred Shetlands have an entirely different type of wool. This wool may be quite long--as much as 8 inches in length, sometimes even more--and wavy rather than crimpy. It may have an undercoat of soft, short, downy fibers, or may be single coated. The outercoat may be soft or strong. I call this the "primitive-style" wool, as I and some other breeders believe it represents the original type of Shetland wool before the sheep were selected for fleece that would compete with mainland wools.

This type of wool is quite multi-purpose. If strongly undercoated, the over and undercoats may be separated and spun separately, making one yarn almost angora soft and warm, while the other will be very suitable for rugged outerwear. Combine the two coats by drumcarding and spin with little twist to make a marvelous Lopi-type yarn suitable for warm knits and handwovens. Although I haven't yet tried it, you might also get a good sock yarn by carding together the two coats, spinning fine with moderate twist, and plying together three or more singles. It can be combed or drumcarded; the undercoat by itself can be handcarded; and it can usually be commercially carded--but check with your chosen processor to be sure.

Another type of wool which I personally find very satisfying, is what I call 'medium Shetland', for lack of a better term. This wool is generally around 5-6 inches in length, has a definite crimp but not a lot of it, and is quite soft handling, though not as soft as the modern-type Shetland wool. This wool is virtually all purpose. Blended with 15% mohair, it makes a wonderful sock yarn; spun alone can do everything from lace to heavy sweaters; woven shawls to blankets. I would compare it to a Border Leicester x Corriedale wool, which happens to be one of my favorites for weaving.

Processing and spinning are especially easy with medium-type Shetland. It can be readily hand or drum carded, processes beautifully in carding mills, and is a delight to comb. It has much more luster than the other wool types, which is particularly evident in combed and worsted-spun yarns. All-purpose, delightful wool!

Medium-type Shetland wool
Shetland Wool

In addition to the variety of wool texture, there is also a wide range of natural colors. I plan to take photos and post them here, each with its official name, the genotypes which could produce that color, and any other pertinent information I can find.

Each year we shear our own sheep. The next job is to skirt the fleeces, which involves removing all contamination such as manure and vegetable matter, and all poor quality wool. We also take samples at this point, for our records. The final weight of skirted wool is recorded, and then each fleece is washed. Finally, we take the clean, dry fleeces to Stonehedge Fiber Mill, only 9 miles away, to be processed into wonderful roving that's delightful to spin. We charge $2/ounce plus shipping for our roving. Shetland wool roving
Shetland Roving
in a variety of
natural colors

Contact us for information about our current inventory of colors and textures of Shetland wool on hand.

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