Rare breed British wools are, as their name suggests, quite hard to get hold of. Only a few hundred animals of each breed remain in the UK and as sheep are only shorn once a year, the fleece available as raw material for spinning is limited. I’m very lucky to live very close to a mill that does spin rare breed wools in a traditional, ethical and sustainable way.
During the last few months while I’ve been working with the spinning mill, I’ve learned a huge amount about wool. That doesn’t mean I’m an expert by any means… I’m at that stage that I know enough to just about grasp how much more there is still to learn. One of the things that I’ve wanted to do right from the start is to be able to use some rare breed British wools and also to be able to tell you about them and to offer some for sale in my Etsy shop. Isn’t it gorgeous? The natural colours are so varied…
From the top (at 12 o’clock) is a BFL cross, a lovely plump cream DK; the next one at 2pm is a Torduu Badger Faced Welsh Mountain sheep with gorgeous oatmeal/grey tones; at 4pm we have Manx Laoghtan, a rich brown; at 6pm is Zwartbles, originally a Dutch breed but now living very happily in the UK; 8pm is Balwen, a rare breed from Wales, at 10pm Masham, a more common breed but unusual in texture as it has a very high lustre. Finally, the central one is Hebridean, a Scottish breed.
This February I’ve got the chance to get my hands on these beauties but under rather sad circumstances as I explained in Episode 26 of the Crafternoon Treats Podcast.
My local mill has spun up a large order that now cannot be taken up by the original customer due to serious health problems but the wool all done and ready and needs to be sold to cover the mill’s costs. I decided to try some and was so impressed by it, I quickly obtained a dozen balls of the breeds available and loaded them up to my Etsy shop.
You’ve been all over it like a rash… as they say and I’ve had to go up to the mill again twice this week to get more supplies. My previously tidy January office is not looking quite so empty as I have several boxes of this lovely stuff, so lets hope the orders keep coming in!
Actually, I also hope that I can still claim some of it as my own to be able to crochet and knit with and perhaps develop some new patterns. I am working on something at the moment that uses the combination of the different natural shades, which I think go so well together. And the texture… well, that really is something else.
Two rare breed British wools: Manx Loaghtan and Balwen
I’m going to tell you a bit more about all the different breeds that are available over the next few days but the first two I’m going to cover are the rare breed wools. These are the Manx Laoghtan and the Balwen Welsh Mountain, both of which are breeds on the Watchlist of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust here in the UK.
The Manx Loaghtan is regarded at risk of becoming lost as there are only between 900 and 1500 breeding females registered at the moment in the whole of the UK. The Balwen is classed as vulnerable as there are between 1500 and 3000 females currently.
I’ve put together a sort of fact page on both of these breeds so if you want to know more, hop over and read on…
Rare breed British wools – what are they like?
The simple answer to this question is that they are all different. Each breed produces fleece that has its own characteristics. These vary from year to year depending on the weather, the health and fitness of the animals and so a batch of yarn from one year may look completely different to a batch from the following year.
The Manx Loaghtan wool that I have managed to get my sticky mitts on is beautiful. Rare breed British wools are not the softest when unblended with other fibres such as alpaca or angora but they have such a lot of character. The Manx is one of the softer of the wools that I have been using. It has a firm, plump feel and although its a DK it does feel more like an aran weight when you are working with it.
Whether you are knitting or crocheting, I think you need to try out a few swatches on different sized needles and get the effect you are after. The textural sample above is hopefully going to be a new bag, so I have used a 4mm hook to keep the stitches firm and tight. I’ve been impressed with the stitch definition and I think the Manx would work up well in cabled knitting patterns, such as in an Aran style sweater, for example.
The Balwen feels finer in terms of the diameter of the yarn but it is harsher. A real rustic wool. It is very dark but there are still many shades within it, including black, dark brown, some lighter brown and grey and white.
Both of there rare breed British wools would be perfect for making sweaters, mittens, hats, and maybe scarves if you feel fairly robust for wearing rustic wool. If you are allergic or sensitive to the slightest prickle, this is probably not for next-to-skin wearing or possibly not for you at all.
But remember that we crafters, particularly we crocheters use yarn for all sorts of things, not just for things to wear. The combination of the natural colours in these rare and native breeds would, I think, make it perfect for things like coasters, mug rugs, place mats, cushions, small throws, decorative items such as garlands. Imagine a crocheted leaf garland in these gorgeous autumnal colours?
And, of course, bags. Bags need to be sturdy and practical and my first project, which I’m hoping to be able to show very soon on the podcast, is going to be a rustic, natural coloured wool bag perfect for taking to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and Yarndale and whatever other woolly adventures I decide to go on later this year.
But don’t let me keep it all to myself. I would love to share this rare and interesting and gorgeous yarn and I’ve priced the individual 50g balls of these two rare breed British wools at £7.00 each. The other native breeds are £6 per ball as its possible that I might be able to get hold of more of them in the next few months. The rare ones, maybe not…
I’m really looking forwards to seeing what the lovely folk who have already ordered some are going to make – my mind is buzzing with ideas and I wish either I could crochet faster, grow some more arms and hands or get more hours in the day… Same old, same old… 🙂