In February 2017 I had the opportunity to help support my local spinning mill by offering some rare breed and native breed British wool for sale in my Etsy shop.
I have developed a great interest in native British sheep breeds and the wool they produce in the last year. Manx Loagthan fibre was one of the first that I tried when I learned to spin on a drop spindle. I love its rich brown colour and the robust but squishy nature of this DK yarn makes it suitable for a range of uses.
I would recommend it for mittens, wrist warmers, outer garments such as cardigans and sweaters designed to be worn over other clothing and for hats and scarves and cowls for those who don’t mind wearing wool yarn that is a little on the rustic side. It also works up really well for accessories such as knitted or crocheted bags, cushion covers and blankets, particularly when combined with other natural wools with different colours.
The Manx Loaghtan is an ancient sheep breed that is native to the Isle of Man in the UK. It is related to other primitive breeds of sheep such as the Shetland, Boreray, North Ronaldsay, the Hebridean and the Soay and is similar to the prehistoric sheep that were originally farmed by our ancestors in northern Europe many hundreds of years ago when people first started to keep domestic livestock.
Until about 100 years ago, Manx Loaghtan sheep were common on the Isle of Man, being perfectly suited to the higher ground and fairly harsh grazing conditions. The breed as a high resistance to common diseases and thrives on high pastures where other sheep struggle.
In the early part of the 20th century, other sheep breeds were introduced into the Isle of Man and the numbers of Manx Loaghtan fell dramatically. Only a handful of rams remained by the 1950s and the breed was in danger of being lost.
Since then, the work of individual farmers and breeders and the Manx Loaghtan sheep breeders group founded to save the breed, Manx Loaghtan numbers have recovered reasonably well. Nevertheless, the breed is still regarded as rare by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Their Watchlist 2016 puts the Manx Loaghtan in the ‘At risk’ category, which means there are between 900 and 1500 registered breeding ewes within the United Kingdom. The numbers would need to increase to over 3000 before the Manx Loaghtan could be taken off the rare breed watchlist.
The wool has a distinctive brown colour, which is technically known as moorit. Fleece that are washed and processed produce fibre and yarn that is a rich chestnut brown. This is still highly prized by crafters and has always been popular with knitters and weavers, particularly those living on the Isle of Man in times past.
Characteristics of Manx Loaghtan wool
The fibre produced from washed fleece is a pleasure to spin as the staple length is between 7.5 and 8.0 cm. This is a rustic wool but is one of the softer natural British wools; it has a typical micron count of 29-31.
Crafternoon Treats Manx Loaghtan DK
This yarn has been spun from fleece obtained from one British flock. This has been registered with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the sheep are allowed to graze freely and kept in conditions that represent the highest welfare standards in farming.
The fleece have been washed, carded and spun at a small independent mill in Yorkshire (The Halifax Spinning Mill), which is less than 2 miles from where I live. I then post out all yarn purchased direct to buyers, so the yarn is ethically produced and has a relatively low carbon footprint (this will vary dependent on the location of the purchaser).
The wool is natural and undyed and has not been superwash treated. After spinning it has been wound into 50 gram balls, so is already to go whether you want to use it in a crochet, knitting or weaving project.
Each 50 gram ball contains approximately 110 metres (120 yards) of yarn.
The yarn feels plump and it works up to form a dense fabric that softens with gentle washing. All items made from this yarn must be handwashed in a gentle wool-friendly detergent using lukewarm water. Squeeze gently, or spin in a hand or table top spinner, then dry flat.