Looking for a new type of fleece to experiment with? It’s easier than ever to get fleeces, or prepared wool if that’s more to your liking, and there are tons of choices. Let’s look at a few of the options!
The wool from any sheep can be used for handspinning, with medium wools being the most beginner friendly.
I love to play around with wool. All the colors, the huge variety of breeds it’s just really interesting to me. Our home flock is mostly Dorset based crossbred ewes so the easy choice for me was to start spinning with our wool.
The great news is using our own wool gave me tons of practice wool that was low cost.
Even if we had sold the fleeces I was learning on the wool was worth $10 or so in the high priced years (some years closer to $2.50) so I didn’t feel bad about all of my learning projects being well learning projects.
As I’ve gotten better at handspinning, I began to see the way I like to spin and the wool we have at home are not the ideal match.
Plus I love natural colored wool and felting neither of which happens in our Dorset based wool.
Dorset and Dorset cross sheep are wonderful ewes to choose for your farm! For my hobby time messing around with wool and handspinning I wanted to branch out a bit.
The rest of this article is my opinion about what is working for me regarding fleeces that I have used.
Some of the wool I purchased if it is a breed we do not have on our farm.
What will work for you depends upon your spinning style, what you want to make with the finished yarn if you want to felt the wool and if you want natural colored wool or you prefer white wool.
This link will show you a chart I put together of more than 100 breeds of sheep and their wool characteristics. Check it out if you want more choices than those listed below.
Breeds of sheep for handspinning wool that I have used
- Blue Faced Leicester
Blue Faced Leicester
The Blue Faced Leicester was developed in northern England about one hundred years ago. These sheep are known for being great moms and having one of the finest long wool fleeces.
Their wool is semi lustrous meaning a little silky feeling, can be natural colored and comes in locks. Spinning Blue Faced Leicester is fun and easy.
I love the color and the silkiness of the spun yarn. Not surprisingly silky yarn means that whatever you knit will drape well because there is little springiness to the yarn.
The Dorset is originally from England and is known as a wonderful ewe to have in your home flock because of her likelihood of raising twins.
Interestingly enough there are horned as well as polled (no horns) type Dorsets with the polled type being much more popular.
Dorset wool is easy to work with and common enough you should be able to get a fleece for a good price.
Dorset wool only comes in white. This the wool I learned to spin and knit with.
Finnsheep are a newer breed to the United States being imported from Finland in 1968.
Finns are known for having litters of lambs 3-4 being common. We have a few Finns here on our farm.
They are a smaller sheep with a friendly disposition. The fleece can come in many natural colors but white is most common.
I like spinning this Finnsheep wool. The yarn is soft and has a lot of fluffiness-not normal for my spinning.
I tried spinning it in the grease meaning not washed first just straight off the sheep. It spun well but did not rinse as clean as the wool I washed first then spun.
Finn wool felts well -even on the sheep! Keep a close eye on the sheep and consider shearing twice a year to prevent the wool from felting before you get to it.
The Lincoln is a longwool breed from Lincolnshire, England. For me Lincoln worked so well actually I wish I had purchased more of it!
Everything I made with this wool did well for me. It was mostly hats and some felting projects.
Lincoln wool can be natural colored -the fleece I got was a nice mouse like grey. This wool would be great for anything that will need to be able to take some abuse like socks.
Shetland is an ancient breed from the Shetland Islands which are located north of Scotland. Shetland sheep came to Canada in the 1980’s then the United States.
This breed actually had low enough total numbers in the world it was considered endangered.
Thanks to it’s popularity with handspinners because of the huge variety of fleece colors and the breed’s attractive looks this breed is now well established on both sides of the Atlantic.
Shetland is my current experimental fleece. I’m having a great time with this wool. I purchased an entire natural colored fleece at a fiber show and am glad I did.
The fleece is a dark brown almost black really and easy to work with for me.
I like to spin straight from the raw fleece-no washing, combing or carding first. Just sort out the shorter bits, second cuts and sometimes hay chaff and start spinning.
Sheep breeds on my wish list
Since I enjoy trying out new breeds and seeing for myself what the fleece does (or doesn’t do) for me I always am on the look out for my next handspinning adventure.
I buy a new one every year or so just to try out something that catches my eye.
It takes a while to use an entire fleece. If you’ve never purchased a fleece before start with just one!
Each fleece will provide plenty of wool for many projects.
Here are the breeds on my “wish list”. This list contains wool from breeds that I have heard or read about or just maybe I like the looks of.
I’m sure I will add more breeds to the list sooner or later- probably sooner!
- California Variegated Mutant
California Variegated Mutant
California Variegated Mutant is a natural colored sheep started in the early 1960’s from one of Glen Eidman’s purebred Romeldale ewes.
His Romeldale ewe gave birth to a multi colored ewe lamb, then had another colored lamb. The second colored lamb one was a ram lamb a few years later.
This was the start of the CVM. The CVM was developed over the next 15 years to be a long lived sheep that produces twins.
The fleece has a long staple length and is fine wool. Fine wool means each wool fiber has a small diameter so is soft and good for wearing next to the skin-Merino is a famous and popular fine wool breed.
I love that the CVM has so many natural colors for the handspinner to choose.
I do have to admit that with my spinning style and knitting ability (I am self taught with both) I tend to have a harder time with the fine wool fleeces. With as great as the CVM fleece looks to me I am willing to up my game.
Update: I just got a CVM fleece and it is wonderful! I did have to up my spinning game quite a bit including a new wheel to spin a different type of yarn, but wow does this fleece spin well!
Corriedale was developed by crossing Merino, Lincoln and Leicester sheep. Corriedale originated in Australia and New Zealand in the 1800’s and was brought to Wyoming in 1914.
The fleece is medium fine dense and has good staple (fiber) length. Corriedales are very popular among farmers and handspinners alike so it should be easy to get a fleece to try.
So far I have only used commercially available Corriedale, but it is easy to use and very spinner friendly.
Cotswold is another breed from England. Cotswold sheep have very long fleeces-growing 8-12 inches per year!
We purchased a Cotswold ram lamb but have not shorn his wool yet so this will be the wish list fleece I’ll get to first.
Cotswold wool is coarse and hangs in ringlets so would be a great choice for weaving handmade rugs.
Romney breed is named after the area they came from the Romney Marsh in England. Romneys are quiet sheep that do well on pasture.
Their wool is much finer and more lustrous than that of other longwool breeds.
Romney fleece is known for being easy to use when handspinning and some of the sheep are natural colored-a point of attraction for me.
Romney is definitely next up on my “great fleeces that I plan to buy” list!
Update: instead of a fleece, I purchased some Romney top. It was super easy to spin but a touch more on the coarse side than I tend to like.
Tunis sheep is an American breed developed in the southern states. Tunis are known having for more heat tolerance than other breeds of sheep, will breed out of season and are good mothers.
This was the most popular breed of sheep in the South at the start of the Civil War and now is quite popular with people who show sheep.
The wool is said to be very spinner friendly.
Tunis lambs are born red and turn white bodied as they grow but the head and legs keep the red coloring. The red coloring alone is enough to make me want a few!
What sheep has the softest wool?
The softest wool from a sheep is called fine wool. The most popular fine wool breed is the Merino.
What are Finnsheep used for?
Finnsheep are used in crossbreeding programs to increase the lambing percentage of the ewe flock.