I’ll give you a topic

I’m in the airport, with only a few minutes to write to you.  Since I’m travelling to Shreveport this today, and since that will take hours and hours, and it’s hard to spin on a plane (somewhere Denny’s hand just shot up and she said "No, no it’s not!" because Denny uses her drop spindle on planes all the time, which I don’t, so just let it go Denny.  Just let it go.)  Because of all of that, I’m leaving my wheel sadly behind, and have picked up Ken’s Francie socks, and another pair of socks – and I really think I can come home with at least one finished pair, which would be a nice change from all this spinning.  Not that I’m tired of the spinning, because I’m really, really not. 

I’m leaving behind two full bobbins of this lovely stuff, which is Manx Loaghtan.

It’s a  rare breed that was a real treat to spin.  I bought mine from Spirit Trail from whence so many wonderful woolly and unusual things come.  it’s an interesting primitive, and crimpy, a little dual coated, and delicious to say the least. 

So, a little question.  Rare breeds. As a spinner or a knitter, do you try to use them? Do you think that helps sustain the breed? Is that something that interests you, or that you think about why you buy wool?

168 thoughts on “I’ll give you a topic

  1. I’m actually right now spinning up a Leicester Longhair and blogged about it:
    I have a poster of rare British breeds and my goal is to make a shadow box of samples spun up from all 28 breeds.
    Because there is a chance that I may only spin their wool once in my lifetime (I mean I 28 fleeces is a lot to spin), I take extra care when handling the fleeces so that I preserve what makes them great.

  2. As a knitter and extremely novice spinner and weaver, I would love to use rare breeds; it’s just that they are often difficult to find (that whole “rare” thing, you know). If I have a particular project in mind, and have a sense of what properties would be best for it, and what breeds that would correspond to (where is my Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook?), I’d want to try to track down the yarn.

  3. As a spinner I do try to use rare breeds, for a couple reasons. First, for fiber diversity, I learn both about the spinning process and about qualities of fiber by spinning with a wide variety of fiber types, and using rare breeds fits nicely here. Second to help preserve rare breeds, I believe this is important for maintaining the overall genetic diversity of our agriculture animals (full disclosure: I’m a marine geneticist, thus the odd thinking in terms of genetic diversity). Monoculture has problems, and encouraging the maintenance of rare breeds can help prevent these problems. And finally because I think it helps preserve some of our collective human history. Over time people have used many sheep breeds and produced unique and wonderful art/functional objects with them, and I find it fascinating to think about the culture associated with each breed as I spin with their fibers.

  4. I agree with Meredith/2:15 PM & would add that I think it’s important to support other people’s diverse interests, such as raising or spinning the fiber from the rare breed animal.

  5. I am a beginning spinner and love the idea of rare breeds and think that spinning them helps sustain the breed. If there is no demand for a product it tends to go away and that would be a darn shame to lose breeds because no one knows how fabulous they are. I think the internet is a godsend for finding rare breeds. I found the rare breed sampler at the Spinning Loft and because of the Spin Doctor podcast.
    And my goodness, but all your spinning is making me jealous. I need more that 24 hours in a day!!

  6. I don’t spin, but I am extraordinarily lucky to live in a place with local sources of fiber. Once last summer I went to the farmers’ market for tomatoes and onions and came home with a few skeins of yarn. It’s not so unusual here, really. I’ve bought wool from black welsh mountain sheep, jacob sheep, rambouillet, and romney…and I am just tickled pink that I know the breeds, rare or not!

  7. I’m allergic to wool (really and truly, with the test results to prove it), so I have to use alternatives. I do pay attention to where my yarn comes from and whether it is environmentally responsible or not. I figure I worry about that in the rest of my life, I should in my yarn and fabric, too.

  8. I am also spinning some Leicester Longwool right now(on drop spindles, Denny is right!, I’ve done it on a plane). I love spinning longwools, and many of them are unfortunately rare. There is something so fun in turning what looks like curly hair into lovely, shiny yarn. And I also agree with doing whatever I can with my dollars to support those farmers who are keeping those sheep going.
    BTW, I was once stuck in an airport waiting for a flight, started spinning and ended up having something like 15 people gathered around to watch.
    I am attempting to master the art of spinning and walking, it amuses me to do this on 5th Avenue near Union Square. I can still pay more attention to what’s around me than most people on their phones.

  9. Yep, not only is it fun for me and my yarn customers to play with rare breed wools, but I feel it is my duty as a shepherd to promote sheep as much as possible 🙂

  10. I would love to spin my way through all the breeds in Deb Robson’s book. 🙂 Of my small spinning stash I’ve spun 8 different breeds. It was a pleasant surprise to find that I really enjoy spinning and knitting with longwools. If only I could find some commerically spun longwool yarn to compare with!
    Though I think my biggest drawback at not seeking out these hidden gems, is that I don’t want to process the fleece into roving. (My time is limited, and I would rather spin or knit.) It seems to be much harder to find roving in such unique sheep breeds. Decent roving. I’ve had some duds that I just ended up putting in the garden.
    Granted I have my eye on Crown MT Fibers as they are starting to source some great non mainstreamed fleeces/rovings into their fiber clubs – and its processed in the USA. 🙂 I like that. Now if only I could manage to wiggle some sheepy money into my monthly household budget. *grin*

  11. I’m just gotten the crazy notion to spin enough Lincoln to weave myself a rug. I’m told I should spin 4 to 7 pounds if I want to weave a 3 foot by 5 foot rug. I’m trying to talk myself out of this craziness.

  12. As a livestock producer, I applaud all the uses of ‘exotic’ or endangered breeds. Around here, shorthorn cattle were unheard of as a beef breed – if your calf wasn’t black, you were screwed if you showed it – but my kids had the opportunity to help change that. They showed shorthorns because they loved their beautiful deep red color. Now the shows are about half and half. I think my boys were among the first in the area to breed and win with shorthorns.
    Lots of people locally raise rare breeds and it’s fun to see them out in the fields. We will need these breeds when the inbreeding becomes so bad the animals are loosing their genetic ‘umph’.

  13. Rare breeds intrigue me, but I’m a novice. And I’m not even sure which are really considered “rare.” (In my ignorance, I’ve taken it to include cormo, jacob, rambouillet, BFL, but they may not actually be rare.) I’ve read the book of wool several times, but more hands-on experience is needed, especially since I don’t spin. Indeed, my sense is that supporting rare breed fiber producers helps preserve their existence. I do hope that’s the case!

  14. I’ve been raising Soay for four years now, and I’ve definitely had their fleece processed for yarn and use it in Very Special knitting projects. (I don’t really spin, myself–my husband does a bit–and Soay staple length is generally 2 inches if you’re lucky: hence, sending it out to be processed.) (My Soay projects are in Ravelry under the user name mmiscevic, if anyone is interested.)
    We also added Shetlands this past fall; their first shearing is coming up, and as much as I love my Soays, their fleece is mostly uniform in color among animals, so I’m really excited by the possibility with Shetlands of knitting a “Carly” hat or a “Mistine” shawlette.
    Which is all to say–PRESERVE RARE BREEDS! Biogenetic diversity is really important. 🙂

  15. When the budget allows, I like to purchase yarns made of rare breeds from reputable breeders. I want to support their efforts to keep the breed going, and I think it contributes to the diversity in the fiber world. Also, I just like trying something different to break out of the rut.

  16. Once I learned to spin I did.
    Otherwise it seems that there is only half a dozen types of wool available to buy, if you don’t count blends or types of preparations.
    Currently I’m stalking Cheviot (because of KnittySpin). Not a rare breed, as it’s common in the UK, but unusual in North America. Supposedly good for socks.

  17. As a knitter only (and likely to remain that way), I’m really fascinated by all the different breeds and find it very important to try them out, if only to help the breed continue on. The very best part of fiber festivals for me (beyond ravaging Tina’s booth for Rare Gems and mill ends)is seeing both the sheep or goats and the processed yarn from them. I adore the vendors who list the types of fibers used in each skein. There is a local one who not only does that, but supplies pictures which each one, so you can kind of match them up out in the barn. I love that! After years of yarn collecting, unique breeds are the new must-haves to add to the collection (and I don’t feel bad about my stash, either)!

  18. Not a spinner (sigh), but I *love* to knit with exotic/rare fibres when I have the chance, mostly for all the reasons that people have stated in the comments above mine. I would much rather support “the little guy” than big fibre companies, whenever and wherever possible. My all-time favourite to use has to be qiviut (arctic musk ox) that my darling hubby bought me for Christmas a couple of years ago. I haven’t yet found a store that stocks it, and so he had to buy it online, and you can bet that it was NOT cheap…but it’s ooooh so gorgeous!

  19. I love the idea of preserving rare breeds. I’m not able to spin or knit with it, so I quietly donate.

  20. I spin rare breed fleece because I enjoy the characteristics of the fiber, not because they are rare breeds. But then I’m lucky enough to live in the UK, and within easy walking distance of a shop that carries fleeces and raw fiber from over a dozen breeds, so my rare may be rather difference from the next spinner’s rare.
    I think it’s important to support biodiversity, but I’m not going to put time and money into working with something I don’t enjoy spinning.

  21. Question for all you knowledgeable spinners out there (I, alas, am not yet one):
    When you buy yarn that’s just marked “100% wool,” with no breed specified– what breed is it likely to be?

  22. i would like to knit with rare breeds (i’m not a spinner…YET) but it’s rather hard to come by them. i hope it helps to sustain them and that i get a chance to find out more about them. any input by you will surely sway me, so post on if you care to continue. 🙂

  23. Oh thank goodness you’ve finally hit on this topic. Rather than limiting to “rare breeds”, how about “do you spin/knit anything other than Merino? If so, why?”
    I must admit that I’m on a pretty strong anti-merino kick. There are better wools for socks (BFL, Romney, Columbia, Wensleydale, Lincon, etc.) and there are better wools for sweaters (Romney, Corrie, Rambo, etc.). For some reason, we’ve decided that wool = merino and that’s really limiting! Particularly as a spinner, I get the opportunity to make The Yarn that’s perfect for what I’m doing. Not just in size and twist, but in fiber composition. And thank goodness Jennifer and others like her (myself included) offer more than just Merino. That way, I’m really the Boss of my yarn.
    All hail other breeds. It’s like having a full cabinet of spices rather than just having salt and pepper.

  24. Yes, I do think about it and it is important to me. It’s important to keep the genetic diversity and not breed/modify them into extinction. I try to use rare breeds in my pantry also.

  25. HOnestly I love buying new and unique fibers but I have never thought about sustaining it in the process. I just loveadding new and special fibers to the stash. I love it just as much as adding local fibers to the stash. If in the process it sustains it and makes it that much easier to get in the future than that is the most wonderful side effect there ever could be. What a real reward

  26. I don’t spin (yet), but I do seek out yarn from rare or unusual breeds. My favorite source for learning about these breeds is Knitter’s Review; I’ll read about a wool or breed I haven’t tried yet, add the yarn to my Ravelry queue (with the link to Clara’s write-up) as a “someday” thing, and then will buy skeins when I have a project in mind.

  27. I don’t spin but I really like to know the breed of sheep in the yarn I knit with. If I am in a yarn store and I have a choice of 100% wool yarn that is generic or 100% BFL I will choose the latter. I just like to know what I am using. I wish I could find more yarns where I know what breed of sheep was used.

  28. I like to spin different breeds for different purposes, out of curiosity, and out of respect for the shepherds who invest their effort and love in maintaining nonstandard breeds. I am also trying to spin from local flocks, so I guess I’m trying to be a “locafibervore.”

  29. As a spinner, I like having the variety in spinning fibers available in rare wools or even just under-appreciated wools. Different breeds are bred for different qualities, and it’s good to be able to choose the right fiber for the job instead of trying to “make it work”.
    At the same time, however, I am coming to prefer to get my wools raw and process them myself, if I can, to get the best the wool has to offer. Each fleece is a little different, and each part of a fleece is a little different. Some wools want to be combed and some do better carded; sometimes there’s both on a fleece. Mill processing doesn’t take advantage of fleece variety like hand-processing does.

  30. I keep missing “Minnesota” in your list of future tour locations. Maybe you’ve just misspelled it….?

  31. Ohh. Your fiber is why I wanted to learn to spin. My family is from Isle of Man (where the sheep came from) and I could only find fiber no yarn. Being new to spinning (learned at Knot Hysteria-free plug GO if you get the chance) I am super excited to see the yarn when it is put up. Keep the rare breeds alive, we need them.

  32. I don’t but I should. We all should. I’m a novice spinner, so I go for easy and well known fiber. But I love Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter and Loft yarns and applaud all the efforts (Deb Robson!) to make rare breeds better known and more sought after. And the instant cashmere becomes rare, I will be *intensely* interested!

  33. I’ve only been knitting for just over a year now and don’t do any other fibre arts. To date, I haven’t been interested in the breeds of sheep of my wool. Mostly, it’s because I’m still figuring out *how* to knit.
    That said, I am very interested in where my food and clothing comes from and try to support local and independent as much as possible. I know that this will eventually seep into my knitting. When? I’m not sure. I’m about to go to Fibres West, so I’m sure that will get the ball rolling.

  34. Absolutely! I listen to the SpinDoctor podcast and it’s wonderful to hear about all the different characteristics of each breed. I bought the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook with the hope to do my own little breed study over the years. I think it would be terribly boring to spin the same type of fiber over and over again.

  35. The chance to use and create a market for rare breed wools is yet another one of the reasons I love spinning. I won’t buy Merino. Anyone else is welcome to, but I figure in a capitalist society, my dollar is another way to vote and I “vote” for things that are more interesting. Merino seems to have flooded the market and I want to make sure there keep being alternative options. I have a chunk of North Ronaldsay roving from Spirit Trail waiting for me in my fiber stash – probably the rarest breed there. North Ron is the seaweed-eating sheep from the island of the same name. The rest of my stash is jacob, shetland, bfl, suffolk, finn, and something that might be coopworth. And silk. Homegrown silk.
    (oops – I think I might be oversharing on my stash explosion there.)

  36. I don’t spin (a failing, i know) but i love the idea of rare breed–and how knitters and spinners are helping to support them. I wish i could afford to work with some of these wonderful yarns. the color is so lovely!

  37. I love to spin Jacob because a sheep than can have 2, 4, or even SIX horns intrigues me and I have loved them from when I was a child going to the county fair in England.
    I like exploring different sheep breeds, but I got sucked into a Polwarth rut I’m reluctant to climb out of.

  38. I’m a knitter first and have only dabbled in spinning. I’ve never taken rare breeds into consideration when buying wool, but I’d like to. I dont live in an area where it is accessible. I wouldnt even know whete to look.

  39. I have been spinning for 37 years. I remember when it was hard to find anyone with wool. So I learned to spin a lot of weird wool in the beginning. Then we evolved into rovings and batts. That was heavenly. Now I am concentrating on unusual and rare breeds. I have never tried the Manx Longhan. I think interest in any kind of wool other than the finest of the fine is good. We can create a market and keep them alive. I love to knit handspun. It has an “aliveness” that I don’t find in overly processed wool yarn. I try to get people interested, but often they don’t like the coarseness or guard hairs from the dual coats, or they don’t want anything but fine.

  40. I’ve made my rare breed. I started out with three Jacobs my husband brought home. Not the best quality, but the best friends of which I still have a ewe that is somewhere around 13 years old. She has twins this year and is still very happy. I liked spinning their wool, but was really wanting more softness, so in came two ewe Blue-Faced Leicesters. Unfortunately, they only bred once since we had a barn fire and lost both of them (horrible). My neighbor was able to save one of the little BFL-Jacob white cross lambs, whom we named after him – Johnny. He became our breeding Ram. We also acquired a Border Leicester Ram from our neighbors – Butter. So, off we went to the races. Through selection, and over the years (I’m still working it), I’ve ended up with a BFL/Jacob/Border Leicester cross that is a good size (single and double coateds so far), colored and white. A nice little flock of 20 sheep. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up with a new breed one day? 😀

  41. Yes, I do spin them. And, actually, in my modest sized spinner’s flock I have a couple of jacobs and a couple of cotswold crosses. And some other non-rare breeds. I love their wool. I’ve had a small mill spin up the jacob into a wonderful dark soft 2 ply yarn. I’m supposed to be thinking of selling some to make back some of the cost, but I just love to knit with it. I have 3 shetlands too, but they are considering “recovering”. I also just bought a 15 breed sampler of rare breeds wool from the Spinning Loft. I’ve been washing them up and getting ready to spin.

  42. I downloaded Deborah Robson’s Handspinning Rare Wools video from Interweave last year. It was fascinating.
    Robson explains what makes a breed “rare” (it’s not what you might think) and discusses wool preparation and spinning options. Her Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook is another great resource.
    Beth, from The Spinning Loft, has put together a Rare Breeds fiber sampler based on Robson’s book that I then purchased. A nice package of several different wools — just enough to get a real taste of them.
    Some of the fiber I would never spin again because it doesn’t cater to the type of yarn I would use (e.g. fiber primarily for carpet making), but I also spun fiber I might not have otherwise tried.
    Spring is here and the fiber festivals are starting up. It’s a great way to find fiber that might not pop up on the internet very often, and it supports local shepherds.
    My philosophy is: Try everything!

  43. I nearly (literally, I missed you by inches) walked into you at the Spirit Fiber booth at Rhinebeck this year. You and your group were elbow deep into a bag of fiber. It looked soft and springy from my angle, and I also wanted to join in the smooshing and squishing of it.
    I’m glad to know its as delicious as it looked. In fact, I bought fiber from Spirit Trails (even though I don’t spin) because yours look awesome. I have a drop spindle, I haven’t used it yet. I should try soon.

  44. I would love to protect some of breeds out there. I want to buy local, I want to try new wools, fibers, everything. But it isn’t always as simple as that is it. But I sure do love to learn from you about all that is out there and make a mental note to try it if I can find it.
    Great question. PattiO

  45. When I have the opportunity to buy knowing the breed info, I always try to buy rare breed fibers. And if it’s from a local farm, that’s even better. Yes, I think it helps keep those farmers going and the breed going. I did see a program on adopting a rare breed sheep and if I can figure out how to use a drop spindle instead of just making a mess for my puppy to play in, I think I’ll adpot one. Rare breed sheep – diversity of species – I believe it’s something to cherish.

  46. I definitely try to spin rare breeds or ones I have not spun before. I just finished spinning and must ply 8 oz of Swalesdale that I bought at the Yarn Barn in Lawrence, KS last spring. It has a “lot” of kemp in it but think the two ply will knit up into a nice vest when I am finished. I also tried dying a bit with some Protien dye and it took the dye very well.

  47. I love the variety of wools available to spin. I did a breed study last year and got my hands on 65 different breeds to spin. Glad I kept notes, ‘cuz now I can look back on them and know which ones I’m interested in spinning again & which ones I hope to never have to touch again. I love that some folks (Solitude Yarn for example) are providing breed specific yarns too. The more variety available, the longer we can all be learning something new……

  48. While I’d love to buy a lot more rare breed and local yarn, I’m pretty limited by budget. I have a REALLY tiny amount to spend on knitting in a year. Honestly, most of it goes towards yarn for gifts I knit. So finding a good deal is usually the biggest factor in what I buy. However, on the rare occasion when I have a bit to spend on something nice just for me, I love to buy local yarn! I like to support local business whenever possible.

  49. The short answer is “Yes”.
    I’m not a spinner but I love finding skeins of “rare breeds” or even unusual breeds. For me that includes things like camel, mink, buffalo, quivit (sp?) and whatever else stretches beyond the basic merino. (Someday, after the lottery money comes in I want a skein of Vicuna)Here where I live it’s sort of uncommon to find even BFL so I do a lot of seaching on-line. It’s so interesting to see how the fiber acts and feels and even smells sometimes. (Yes – it’s true – I AM a yarn geek.)
    So – Yes.

  50. Thank you for this thread. I always spend time in the barns when we go to Rhinebeck but never seem to complete the process by crossing to the vendor tents and buying the actual yarn. Spinning is not going to happen for me just yet.

  51. Knitter here, not a spinner & guilty of buying yarn based on hand feel, rather than breed info. I’d like to learn more about the various breeds & their characteristics, but more often than not, my driver is “Ooh, pretty! And Soft!” I do look at how the yarn is spun & whether I think it’ll knit up & hold up well, but I don’t pay much attention to breeds. I’m hanging my head in shame.

  52. I got given a Gotland fleece by an internet friend. What a divine thing. So long, so silky, colors galore. Haven’t done anything with it except wash it and ooh and ahh. Yuk on Merino. So much bother and so many pills. Give me something with umph and you have my complete devotion. Of course, I tend to go nuts because I want to have spun every kind of fleece at least once.

  53. Yes, I don’t spin but I like to buy rare breeds yarn that have been hand spun. Right now I have some Shetland DK wool to knit up. It’s so satisfying to knit yarn that hasn’t been processed within an inch of its life and knitting a rare breed makes me feel closer to knitting history and traditions of the past.

  54. I am a new spinner, and I’m utterly fascinated with rare breeds, and natural colored fleeces/fiber. Your bobbin full of singles today looks wondrous to me. I can’t wait to explore this territory on my own. I’m in no rush, I know it will take time to learn, but I’m planing to enjoy every moment of my journey!

  55. Another SpinDoctor fan who also has “the book”. But I am trying to work through 3 Jacob fleeces, sorting by color before washing and hand-combing (which I don’t do in the winter ’cause it really needs to be done on the back porch) and spinning true-worsted, so it is taking forever (darn work gets in the way of so many things!) I have a bunch of Navajo Churro to spin on my navajo spindle (took the 3-day workshop with D.Y. Begay last fall at SOAR) once I can at least give a few skeins of the worsted Jacob to the woman who gave me the fleeces (whose growers were killed by coyotes after shearing — so I want to do a good job)
    There is not enough time!
    mmiscevic: Which are the Soay projects? I looke don your project page –lovely things!

  56. I’ve been buying some of the less well known breeds to dye and hopefully sell because I think some of them deserve a wider audience. Not all of the minority breeds are carpet sheep. My current favourites are Whitefaced Woodland, Dorset Horn and Southdown, there’s just so much out there other than bfl, merino and shetland.

  57. I do think about spinning with rare breeds and I hope it helps to sustain those that breed and raise these wonderful animals. My current passion is fine Shetland fleeces. I guess I am becoming a fiber snob because I really enjoy seeing a picture of the sheep I am spinning and knowing their names.

  58. Lucky me, I just finished my first spinning class with the owner of a flock of Jacob’s sheep. I’m absolutely hooked and have ordered my first wheel.Can’t wait to find out what other wonderful fleeces there are out there waiting for me!

  59. just a thumbs up for starting the topic! Love hearing everyone into supporting different breeds of sheep by using their wool!

  60. As a farmer in Ontario, although not a sheep farmer, I can tell you that many of us are looking towards niche markets to sell our products. Wellington Fibres near Elora, for example(and I have no affiliation to them), raises angora goats and processes their own fleece & fleeces from other producers as well. There minimum requirement is 1 fleece. They also have their own spinning mill. I think as knitters & spinners if we started investigating some of these producers we would create interest & need. All that said, my point is that rare breeds offer rare(also read different) types of fleece with colour & wool/fibre qualities that are unique. Each to have it’s own benefits & it’s own distractions. There is an open house at Wellington Fibres on April 21/12 9:30-4pm. Maybe some of us should check it out and help promote fibre growers. PS: cute baby goats will be available!!

  61. I like to spin from animals I have met. I live in Portland, Maine and they won’t let me keep sheep in town. But I do have fiber friends in my spinning group and I regularly purchase fiber from them. So there is Jacob, Coopworth, Romney, Icelandic, Cormo…and my particular favorite which is from Bella who is a generic Maine sheep with nice lofty white wool and a very sweet disposition. I will often overdue her wool and combine it with llama from her friend, Big Mama Llama. I have a significant spinning stash

  62. I almost never spin (drop spindle is not my friend!), but I love using unusual wools and locally sourced fibers. When I travel, that’s what I look for. Working with some right now from Santa Fe, making a bed shawl. Lovely

  63. I loved Clara Parke’s book, The Knitter’s Book of Wool which is a great “consciousness raiser” about the attributes of diverse breeds. Although I haven’t gone out of my way to find older breed wool it has on occasion found me thanks to dedicated local shepherds here in Central NC. I think it follows that if we support our local fiber farmers then we may automatically end up diversifying our stashes.

  64. I don’t spin, but I applaud those who do, and especially those who spin with rare or unusual fibers. There is a fellow on the Isle of Skye (Teo the Handspinner) who does neat things with his spinning- I am the proud owner of a bunch (I don’t think that’s the technical term) of Wensleydale that looks like dreadlocks. Creeps out my sister but I love it.

  65. I try to buy local and from small scale breeders as well, but mainly for a different reason. It’s impossible to know the origin of yarn marked as ‘100% wool’, and because I care about animal welfare, it’s important to me to try and avoid ‘cruelty wool’. The only real way I see around this, is by buying from the nice people who breed because they love the wool (and most of them are quite fond of their animals too). Maintaining the diversity of breeds, and buying a variety of wool because of different fiber qualities, not as a byproduct of the large scale meat industry, will hopefully contribute to a more humane way to get to the wool.. I am prepared to pay a lot more for small scale and locally produced wool (and I think there is a market for expensive yarns today anyway), but it’s not easy to live by this principle, depending on where you live in the world. My dream is, just like the people who want to see a larger variety of breeds again, that the yarn industry makes a major change in this direction. And I also dream of a sheep or two in my own backyard, but who doesn’t?

  66. I’m a new spinner and I’m fortunate to have access to some rare breed wool to spin. I’ve spun some Finnish Landrace,(made a mess of it, but I reserved some for when I get better), and some English Longwool. I’ve spun Romney that I love, love, love, and some BFL which I also love, love, love.
    I’m all for preserving any rare breeds; they evolved into what they are and just because they aren’t soft enough, long enough, shiney enough, short enough, thin enough, etc., doesn’t mean we can’t find a lovely use for their wool.
    There is a heritage breeds farm near me, (well, 20 miles is near in Maine- grin), and I make a trip there a few times a year just to contribute to keeping it alive.
    Frankly, as someone who isn’t thin enough, tall enough, sleek enough, or any other kind of enoughness, it’s my solemn duty to preserve others of my ilk..grin.

  67. Safe travels.
    Love spinning. Love different breeds. Do it all. Spun quite a but and have yet to knit any of it up…. soon, I tell myself. Soon.

  68. I have just started to learn to spin, but am very interested in rare or heritage breeds. I believe genetic diversity is important to over all sustainability. Mostly, I love people who are devoted to promoting something they’re crazy about.
    My family raises belted galloway cows – they are a heritage breed that look like oreo cookies. People are just fascinated by them, as we are too. And like most diversity, they offer unique attributes – such as healthier, lean meat- we don’t eat them though, we just pet them and feed them peppermints along with lots if good cow food.

  69. I try to spin all sorts of fleece and would definitely spin rare breed fleece when I can find it. I’ve discovered such wonderful wools by doing this. I am so very tired of everything-merino! I have a very bad habit of not keeping a diary of what I spin. I think I will remember, but I don’t!

  70. i don’t spin … but this was such an interesting discussion that i just googled “drop spindle spinning”, watched two videos and … well. i might be hooked. given the size of my stash, i can’t decide if this is a good thing or not.

  71. I’m a new spinner, but I have been bitten hard by the bug. To make things worse, I was given “The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook” for my b-day. I have a list of breeds I want to try, if I can get the fiber. I’m working on Cheviot now. It’s different, but I love it.

  72. As a knitter, yes, I try to do a couple things and one is to try new (to me) fibers. I really like it when I’m supporting smaller industries. So, that is why i have camel wool as well as yarn made from nettles (a little rough on the hands, I won’t lie).

  73. As a spinner, I do try to use rare breeds and look for them at the sheep and wool festivals I attend. I don’t know that buying their wool in small quantities helps keep the breed alive, but I enjoy trying them out and using a lot of different techniques.

  74. As a spinner, I’m always game for trying all different breeds. I also have a preference for buying local. Since we have some really terrific shepherds around here raising rare/heritage breeds, I can satisfy both interests. Locally available breeds include shetland, icelandic, cotswold, wensleydale, jacob, clune forest, border leicester, blue face leicester, romney, corriedale, finn, cormo, tunis and others. When at a fiber festival, I try to find something new-to-me to try.

  75. Last night I spun a lot of alpaca and then a basket of sheep…I am not that sophisticated to know any better….. Fairly new to the spinning scene..:) Maria

  76. As a spinner I’m curious about rare breads but I must confess that when I’m shopping I’m mostly looking at colours (I’m also mostly shopping online and never get to pet things before I pay for them which might be a factor).
    I’m actually leaving a comment because I’m really curious what it is you’re talking about on your twitter that doesn’t have metric? Doesn’t most of the planet use metric? Even some groups of people in the US (I’m mostly thinking of scientists here)?
    Happy sock knitting.

  77. Budget and opportunity are limiting at this point. I do like to read about all kinds of sheep, spinning and yarn, though.

  78. I do think buying rare breed wool supports the breed. The breeder/farmers could pick sheep based purely on economic return, but decide to be supporters of those rare breeds instead. That said, I haven’t dashed off and bought rare breed wool just yet, I tend to buy by the fleece and I’m trying to work through what I have on hand.

  79. I don’t seek rare breed wools but if I come across them, I do buy them. I think rare breed wools make a knitted piece so much more memorable.

  80. I would class the use of/familiarity with rare breed wool in the same category as being familiar with specialized tools and techniques (e.g. worsted vs. woollen spinning, spindles of particular design, particular type of spinning wheel, specific hammer designed for special kind of carpentry task, etc.). In other words, wools with different properties will fit particular niches in our textile creation work, and the more we know about them the better we can do. It seems like a useful form of expertise!

  81. Yes, it does interest me! I only spin a little, but I knit a lot, and whenever I can find a breed-specific yarn, especially from a local breeder, I am delighted and immediately cast on! Right now it’s some lovely Border Leicester (maybe not so rare) and before that some East Freisian which was very soft and still had a lot of “sheepiness” to it. Very comfy, contrary to its reputation.

  82. I do love to spin, I do spin rare breeds CVM/Romeldale (extremely expensive habit), I have white and grey leicester longwool, which I love and I’m thinking of making a purchase at Desert Weyr soon. Like Severin I enjoy the spinning, not so much the knitting.

  83. I’ve spun wool from several rare breeds with great pleasure. I find the variety of wool fascinating. I like the idea of supporting the people who raise these animals because I think it is important to preserve diversity. I also seek out yarn that is breed-specific. I am disappointed to pick up a skein of yarn and have it just say “wool”. I care a lot about where my tools and materials come from.

  84. YES! I love spinning unique breeds and knitting with interesting fiber. I have a few knitting and spinning friends who won’t touch anything unless it’s SOFT, and they have high standards for soft. It kills me – they’re missing out on so many other interesting characteristics that fiber can have! It would be very boring for me if all we had to play with was Merino.

  85. I think about that not at all when I’m buying yarn because… I know next to nothing about the different breeds. All I really think about is the color, the gauge and whether or not it’s going to drive me crazy making me itch. It’s just been this year that I discovered the wonder that is merino.

  86. I think about rare breeds when I purchase yarn and I like to try them if the yarn is reasonably priced. I think if I was spinning I would try more varieties of wool from the different breeds. I do think using rare breed yarn sustains the breeds. We need more diversity in this world, not less! Peace.

  87. As a relatively new spinner I like to use different breeds, some rare, some not so rare. I have a coopworth fleece and a shetland fleece sitting here waiting to become yarn. I have spun or have waiting to be spun jacob, baby doll, shetland, corridale, BFL, Romney, and merino. I’d love to try some other breeds as well. I like diversity in my friends, my food and in my wool. I hope in my small way I do help to sustain the different breeds. And yes, I think conservation is important.

  88. Rare and uncommon breeds are interesting to me, but more on an experience level. In my attempt to become a more educated and experienced spinner I look for fiber from different breeds that I haven’t had the privilege to spin before. Even blends are interesting to me simply for seeing how differently they spin than a non-blend. So while I’ll probably pick up a few ounces of something that is ‘new’ to me I wouldn’t do it if it broke the bank. Qiviut I’m looking at you! And once I know what I like I tend to jump on a sale opportunity.

  89. I would love to know more about rare breeds! I must confess it never crosses my mind to inquire… hmmm. Since sheep are domestic animals, I assume these breeds are not on the verge of extinction, so is the rarity-factor simply that very few sheep farmers raise them? Is there an official list somewhere of specific rare breeds? how interesting to ponder… 🙂

  90. Since wandering into the spinning world I’ve become more aware of different breeds. I want to get Deb Robson’s book. I know I’ll be looking for those breeds as I increase my fiber purchases.
    I would hope that our purchases would help those breeds become more sustainable and assist small holders to remain on the land.
    (Looks like most of the comments are of a like mind.)

  91. Do I try rare breeds? If I can, I’ll try almost any fiber at least once. If I like it and can remember it, then I may try to get more.
    Will my buying rare breed help sustain the breed? People like me, and a few die hard fans (pushers) of a breed will help sustain it I think, but nobody can’t do it alone.
    It’s kinda cool that there are people out there trying to keep breeds alive, and I think it’s interesting how a breed can evolve to have totally different characteristics from sheep of that same breed name from a hundred years ago.

  92. Yes. I hang out in the Knitter’s Book of Wool group on Ravelry. I try to participate in the monthly woolalongs. Soon after I learned to spin, I became fascinated with breed-specific wools, and that is most of what I buy. Ironically, I find Navajo-Churro (a rare breed) easy to find and I have 3 fleeces. One I bought, but the other two were gifted to me.

  93. Right now I am spinning a Cotswold fleece from Shaw Island (Our Lady of the Rock). It is a variegated grey about 6″ long. It spuns up strong and shiny; drapes well, and will make a nice jacket. Shetland used to be rare, as did Merino and Rambouillet when I started spinning in the 70’s. We are so lucky to have so much variety. Many thanks to those who preserved all the wonderful breeds so that we can spin them today and tomorrow.

  94. Yes, I try to spin with wool from a variety of breeds spun in a variety of ways. Beaverslide is a very different yarn than Shelter which is very different from Briar Rose’s Glory Days. I love having different textures in my life.
    Do my handful of purchases make any difference at all to breeders? I doubt it. I can only hope that I am part of a growing group that has the purchasing power to make a difference.

  95. I just love rare breeds. I’m currently processing a beautiful Lincoln Longwool fleece that is just gorgeous. It’s a first shearing. It has such a beautiful sheen and is so soft for the breed that I’ve really enjoy the hours I’ve spent flicking open the locks. It’s not the softness of Cormo or Merino, but is so silky and shiny that it’s just a pleasure to play with!
    I do think about the rarity of breed of sheep that I’m purchasing when looking for a fleece. It’s not always the deciding factor on what kind of fleece I buy, that’s usually dependent on what I’d like to make with it, but I do like to try and look for fiber that will help out someone trying to maintain the breed. I don’t think that my purchase of a fleece is going to make or break a farm. However, I do think that sometimes when I get really enthusiastic about a breed of sheep or a particular fleece that I’m buying, it does let the sheep breeder know that I care about what they do. I think it shows that all the time, energy and passion they put into their animals is appreciated by others. Plus, I really like to try and spin all kinds of fibers because it’s just so much fun to spin different types of wool. It’s just so amazing to me how the all the qualities of wool change from one breed to the next, or the differences of one sheep from another in the same breed. It makes it all so much fun to be a spinner. Add the differences in the way the fibers dye and it’s almost too much fun! So bring on all the rare breeds. I’ll just confess right now that I have a thing for Shetland, and Cotswold, and Soay, and Lincoln, and Teeswater, and Wensleydale, and ….

  96. I do absolutely love rare breeds of sheep. In fact, I’m currently trying to start a business that specialises in rare and British breeds of sheep. I grew up in a village that was once well known for it’s wool and I think it’s such an important part of our heritage.
    And I’ll be stocking some Manx 🙂

  97. PS: I forgot to tell you to have a great time in Louisiana. The food down there is amazing! I swear a person could eat amazing food from one end of the state to the other. If you can find it try a Dixie Blackened Voodoo beer. It’s amazing. I hope you have a wonderful time. I have to admit I’m a little jealous. What I wouldn’t give for a Shrimp Po’boy Safe and happy traveling!

  98. I would love to knit with rare breeds and would like to see them spun and labelled up! For garments I find wool just too itchy, plus I’m allergic to lanolin, so I have to stick to alpaca or silk (cue the posh lady blues). I’d love to make more things for the home with rare breeds though – I like the undyed look for rugs and blankets.

  99. I learned to spin because I was intrigued by the chance to experience all sorts of wool. I’m lucky to live in the DC area, where Spirit Trail offers rare breed rovings and where Solitude Yarns sells a really wide range of breed-specific yarns. I enjoy buying fiber from local shepherds; it’s a fiber festival highlight for me.

  100. > do you try to use them?
    Absolutely. For me,
    preserving genetic diversity in farming domesticated species is nearly as important as preserving species diversity is in the general ecosystem. As spinners we have access to a fascinating area of study; further the small marginal extra cost for this material helps maintain these producers who are often on the edge of subsistence because of their love of the product.
    I’ll give a +1 to Loughtan too. And pretty much every rare breed I’ve spun.
    But I have to give shout about the roving available from the mill on North Ronaldsay (they sell from the website – google for it). I pretty much taught myself to spin using this stuff and far more knowledgable spinners than I have raved about it. This mill is ON THE ISLAND and surely can do nothing but help maintain this precarious breed (and its producres).
    If you are in the UK get to woolfest and hang out at the rare breeds end of the show. All sorts of wonderful gooodies available – it will also give you a good idea why preserving this diversity is so important.

  101. I’ve been reading your blog for three years and Ive never left a comment before… But your mention of Manx loughton compelled me to express my love of these sheep!!
    I live in the Isle of Man and I’m Manx through and through. Since I started knitting I’ve been longing to use loughton wool… But all the spun yarns I’ve seen have been so scratchy and coarse. I wondered how you’re planning on combatting this problem?
    Also have you looked at pictures of these sheep… Absolutely beautiful with the most gorgeous horns.
    Fastyr mie!! Xx

  102. The most rare I’ve gotten is Tunis, which isn’t really all that rare, except that it’s not a sheep known for its wool but rather for meat – which I would not eat – although I’m not vegetarian anymore, but wish I were. Can’t find any local shepherds where we live now (central Alabama) but used to get lovely Corriedale from a friend with a spinner’s flock in upstate NY.
    We are headed to Shreveport right now from Birmingham, AL for the signing and talk! Can’t wait! Thought we’d never see you again after we had to give up going to dear Rhinebeck! Hurray for Knitting Under the Influence of Nancy!

  103. Even though I’m only about an hour and a half from where you are in Shreveport. Money keeps me from heading that way to meet you today! I hope Shreveport treats you real nice like knitters should be treated and that it will make you want to come back. 🙂 Enjoy your stay in Louisiana.

  104. I am not a spinner, but am a knitter. I like to try different types of wool. The most unusual I have ever knit with was Qiviuk – fibers from the musk ox. Really beautiful and soft yarn, but I found that the 100% qiviuk doesn’t have a lot of strength and it would come apart while knitting. I ended up with a huge hole after blocking and had to do some fancy fixing afterwards. If I decide to use it again, I would use a mix like qiviuk/silk mix. I think that would be a lot stronger – and less expensive!!! 🙂

  105. Can’t believe you’re using Manx wool! I lived on the Isle of Man for 8 years 🙂 Never had the chance to use Manx wool though. Looks great so far, well done 🙂

  106. I’ve been trying to spin with breed-specific wool, although not necessarily rare breeds. Right now I’m working on some Navaho Churro wool.

  107. I think it’s so timely that i’m reading this thread on St. Patrick’s Day, a day that we (in the US, at least) celebrate the Irish people and our own Irish heritage if we’re lucky enough to have it. Not only does Ireland produce some great breeds, but Irish history provides us with one of the most powerful arguments for biodiversity (this was actually one of my own blog topics just yesterday – http://www.dmluvsprufrock.blogspot.com) in the story of The Great Famine of the late 1800s. About a million people starved to death when the potato crop was blighted. When the same blight hit Peru, where about 3000 varieties of potato are grown, no one died. But the Irish only had, and only cultivated, one variety.

  108. I bought a Lincoln fleece from a local farm, washed and dyed it various colors, and I’ve been spinning it right from the locks. It is awesome.

  109. Unfortunately, I don’t spin. 🙁 But when I get the chance to knit with handspun, I buy it. And if it is a rare breed, doubly so. I want to encourage uniqueness, because there is too much “sameness” in the world.

  110. I don’t really spin, although I have a nice ashford kiwi that I have tried using several times (to frustration) but I do have a handmade drop spindle (a friend made it for me, it’s a bit heavy though) that I kind of meditate with. I’m too nervous to use rare breeds.
    I always buy special yarns with the intention of making a really special project with, and then spend the next x amount of years petting it, and saying “I got this handspun baby alpaca from this quaint little farm we discovered when we were out picking apples. I don’t know what to do with it now. But I have it.”
    I think on the one hand, these animals naturally produce a fleece to keep them warm. In the summer, they are sheared, and the natural thing to do is use that fleece to make ourselves warm – humans not naturally producing large quantities of fur/hair, yet living in ridiculously cold regions. If paying attention to nature’s course and the order of things suits your belief system, you ask yourself – what is the purpose of this animal’s existence? Can I really allow myself to waste all of this wonderfully warm wool? And if the animal is rare – wouldn’t using it yourself be the highest honor you can afford that animal? A well knit garment can survive centuries, if you are worried about posterity.

  111. I haven’t thought about it too much, though I think I will start doing so – the problem is how few rare breeds are represented in my local LYSs. Since I prefer to support local businesses as much as I can, buying online is not an option I’ve considered. However, when I travel and come upon a yarn store (like the astonishing little Desert Thread in Moab, Utah, where I found some churro yarn too beautiful to resist) that stocks rare breeds, I usually buy a little to make sure there is support for the breeders and retailers. Thanks for reminding us all about being thoughtful consumers and crafters…

  112. Dear Stephanie, I’ve never posted on a blog before but must get a message to you from my sheep, and this is somewhat appropriate as they are Shetlands and I’m fairly certain the breed was listed as rare at some point. The message is that they are avid fans of your books and would be devastated if you stopped writing. Now, before you dismiss me as a crazy woman (not far from the truth) let me tell you how this all started. I was reading a book, Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann in which the shepherd read murder mysteries to his flock every night. The book is written from the sheeps’ point of view and when he was killed the flock solved the mystery. I thought I would try reading to my sheep as I just started locking them up each night in the barn and they weren’t pleased with this arrangement. (The guardian dog has arthritis & I was letting him sleep in the house – another story altogether.) The problem came when I couldn’t find any other books written from the sheeps’ point of view (imagine that!), so I went with the knitting murder mysteries. But they seemed to be boring the sheep as partway through a chapter, Carmela, my lead ewe (who also has a attitude) would turn out the light (switch is on a string I keep forgetting to put out of her reach)and leave and the others would follow. Finally my friend (an avid knitter) gave me the Yarn Harlot and the sheep & I are in paradise. That of course led to your other books and when they see me coming in the evening they run into the barn without coaxing (although sometimes I have grain.) But they are always attentive and calm when I read. (I do skip or fill in when you rave about alpaca or some other yarn besides wool so they don’t get insulted.) Now some folks would say they only like your books because I laugh out loud so much when reading and it’s important to sheep that their shepherdess is happy, but whatever the reason, please keep writing. Books that satisfy sheep are darn hard to find. By the way I am an avid knitter and of course a spinner as well. I’m just not as good or productive as you (I can’t knit and walk.) Also I don’t know what URL: means. Thank you, Vicki & the Triple E Shetlands

  113. Each spring at the regional fiber festivals I try to buy fleeces I’ve never worked with before. (Though I seldom pass up a nice Shetland, either.) In buying processed fibers, I look for a mix between tried-and-true and novel. Rareties are always exciting to find, and I’ll pounce on them whenever I can. I do this for my own interest, certainly. But it’s also an attempt to encourage and support those who maintain the rare breeds. Both handspinners and the world will be the poorer for each breed that is lost to us.

  114. I wish there was more available locally. My hubby went to Harrogate for work with instructions to buy me something I couldn’t get easily here.
    He brought me Teeswater (fantastically gorgeous) and Wensleydale (luscious).

  115. Our spinning guild periodically runs a fleece study, where we track down rare breed fleeces and divide them amongst ourselves, so I’ve gotten my hands on some interesting fiber over the years. I like to buy directly from the breeders whenever possible – supporting them is the only way to keep this whole thing going. So yes – firmly committed to supporting rare breeds, and yes, I have sought them out.

  116. Now I love you even more. As someone who has Jacobs, we absolutely need folks to try the rare breeds. I’m a spinner and a knitter so when I have bred, I go for a finer fiber. Because rare breeds haven’t been bred over the centuries to produce a consistent meat or fiber product, there is a a tremendous amount variability in the fibers. I know some folks who raise Jacobs because they are into livestock conservation, and some who do for the meat (a wonderful mild lamb, scrumptious) and they don’t worry about the fiber. Their fleeces tend to be coarser than mine. What I would and do say to spinners and knitters is that if they have had one bad experience with a rare breed fiber, don’t give up, try again. You may have gotten a kempy, coarse fiber the first time but look for a breeder/seller of fleeces who is a fiber person herself. The fleece will have been skirted better and the ones with a doggy fleece are probably in the freezer.
    All that said, I love spinning standard breeds like border and blue faced leicester. I love the relative consistency of the fiber and it’s nice to always have at least one plain white fleece to play with. But buying rare breed fiber keeps us who raise them around and keeps genetic diversity in the wool world.
    BTW, the Lisa yarn is just lovely.

  117. PS. Oh yeah, there are folks out there who figure that if you put the “rare breed” label on your yarn/fiber, you should be able to overcharge for it. But what folks should know is that while the initial investment for the animals is more, once you get set up breeding, it’s no different than any other breed. Plus, primitives tend to be much easier (read cheaper) keepers than the bigger standard breeds. While Rhinebeck and Maryland are Mecca, vendors do have to make back higher booth fees than they do elsewhere. Check out smaller fiber festivals or farmer’s markets and folks may find better prices. And while I’d like to say that all folks who deal in wool are wholesome and wonderful folks, most of us are, I have met a handful over the years who look at fancy terms like primitive or rare breed as a reason to jack up prices.

  118. I started spinning in the 70s in NZ where ‘hair’ fleece for carpetmaking was normally grown, a bit of Perendale, and merino was mostly ‘an out of reach’ yarn, so merino still seems special to me. Merino likes a dry climate and NZ doesn’t do ‘dry’ very well, hence not much here, Australia does merino a whole lot better.
    My mother was interested in spinning different species for interest’s sake.

  119. I know about them, have a few rare breed fleece in my stash, spin them when I can, talk about them when I can (I have friends who likes sheep too) and plan on having a flock which includes them “some day”. Never heard of these, tho… I have some Jacobs (and love it) and a little Karakul (that I pet once in a while, but haven’t spun much of yet) and several shetland fleece (as I have a friend who raises them and I LOVE LOVE the range of colors). Also a Navajo-churro that I didn’t know was in the bin… hum… have to finish the Thrums before starting anything else…

  120. I’m very lucky, in that I have a local fiber shop that specializes in rare breeds. I love to spin with rare breeds. It’s so interesting to see how different breeds spin and then knit up.
    For my birthday, I received a copy of In Sheep’s Clothing, and it talks about many rare breeds. I would love to try and spin all the breeds mentioned in the book.

  121. a “learn to spin” kit sold by an enterprising 4-h kid at our state fair in ’10 got me started. it held a spindle made with a dowel and a cd, and about 50 grams of lincoln dyed with kool-aid.
    since then, i’ve bought a wheel and spun jacob, corriedale, bfl, “generic” wool, a wee bit of shetland, a tiny sample of cormo and currently am working on some romney. the jacob was nearly the same color as some gray alpaca i’d been spinning, so i spun singles from each, plied them into a heavy aran and knitted the warmest, coziest sweater i own.
    i’m lucky because my knitting group includes a woman who sells wool from her own sheep and her neighbors’. we also have several good fiber fairs in indiana, which offer a variety of local/regional wool and alpaca along with “imported” fibers.
    i also tend to buy roving samples in the wool room of the state fair sheep barn, but haven’t bought any of the lovely fleeces for sale there. i’d rather use my time to knit and spin.
    now i’m wondering if our living history museum has any heritage breeds.

  122. I’m a poor college student, so I typically buy (brace yourself) acrylic.
    When I can get my hands on the nice stuff (my boyfriend bought me alpaca sock yarn when I visited him last weekend, I’m so excited), then I jump on it. So if I could, I would probably use the rare stuff. (Now I’m really interested in it…)

  123. As a knitter I love to try a variety of wools, and I love to buy as directly as possible. I’m lucky to have a shop nearby which focuses on local fiber/yarns, as well as a shepherdess who sells me her Cormo yarn. (I love knitting with yarn from sheep I’ve met!) I’m not sure what counts as ‘rare’, but I’ve seen/used Jacob, corriedale, cormo, and lincoln from this shop, and gotten Coopworth (a lovely natural brown) and Shetland (gorgeous natural charcoal color) online.
    I was also glad to support Jared Flood’s yarns, for similar reasons.
    I regularly buy BFL yarns, not even realizing they count as a rare breed. (Love them.)
    Safe travels, and thanks for starting such an interesting topic – I love reading the comments! 🙂
    @Vicki, 3/17 2:17pm thanks for sharing – I love the image of sheep listening to bedtime stories, and turning out the light when they get bored. 😀

  124. Back in 2010, Clara Parkes started a monthly breed-specific woolalong to accompany her book, Knitter’s Book of Wool. I started with the the first breed, Cormo, and 2 years later the group is still going. For me, learning that wool is not just “wool” was an eye-opener. I’ve knit everything from fine wools to longwools, Cormo to Gotland. Keep the diversity alive is so important to me as a knitter. These fibers have their nuances and characteristics that allow them to fill a niche whether it is a fine lace shawl, warm boot socks or those cozy morning cardigans.
    The small farms, farmers, and shepherds should be applauded for keeping these breeds alive and bringing them to the forefront. I have my fair share of mass-produced yarns but my stash and knowledge of these great breeds is growing too.

  125. I’m still a very new spinner but I feel like I’m adventurous about my fibers. Of course, I’ve only been spinning for about a year, so pretty much everything except merino still feels like an adventure to me.
    That said, I think that there should be a market for rare breeds and that farmers should be encouraged to continue breeding them. It’s sad when ANYTHING disappears into history.

  126. I have worked around rare breed animals at historic museums and fell in love long before I was “Eco minded” or even a knitter. I can’t say I am much o a spinner, past the few yards on my drop spindle, but I do have some special skeins of rare breed yarn in my stash. I find I am very cautious about which projects I choose to knit with them because I tend to spend much more time thinking about the fiber characteristics we often take for granted with commercially produced yarns.
    Genetic diversity is crucial to the health of any species. we don’t want our sheep to end up like our over breasted turkeys! My favorite sheep? Leicester Longwool. which is my favorite to knit with? The jury is still out, too many to choose!

  127. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if spinners and knitters played a part in helping to restore some of the more rare sheep breeds? I think it’s possible especially as more spinners and knitters get to know the different qualities of the fiber.
    I would love to see finished pictures of the Manx Loughton. And of course, I’d love to know what you think of its qualities and what you have planned for the finished yarn. It’s one of the fibers I’d really like to try but it is really hard to find.
    Have fun down in the bayou!

  128. I do spin rare breeds, for variety and to support the genetic diversity cause. However the real rare breed I feel it’s important to support is the local sheep farmer. As a hand spinner on the US east coast, I can pay a farmer what it costs to create a fleece, rather than the pennies per pound that they’ll get from selling to a wool pac. If it costs me a few more dollars, it’s well worth it not to see another housing development on farm land. That these local farmers are usually not raising common breeds is a happy bonus.

  129. As a spinner and knitter, I love working with the rare breeds. Luckily for me, my favorite LYS has several rare breeds of fiber in stock. They also look for local fiber and they are committed to keeping rare breeds available. I try to pick up a couple different types every few months to spin.

  130. I was just talking about rare breeds with my husband the other day. He bought me a membership to a yarn club a few years ago (Yes, I know; I married extremely well), and while I loved the colors, I think I’d like to try one next time that focuses on rare breeds. I love many of the colors indie dyers put out, but I’d love to try things beyond merino, and don’t get me started on how much I hate spinning superwash. I bought some Jacob recently, but I’d love to try some CVM, Cotswold, and others I haven’t even heard of!

  131. Thanks for the rare breeds topic!As a sheep raiser and spinner for thirty years I have twisted anyting that flowed through my hands, with wonderful results. Lambing out twenty or so shetland X over the past five years, have produced many unusual “throw back” type sheep I didn’t recognise. Using your link I have additional clues to the background of the stock I have. After reading the comments from your readers I also know marketing or lack there of is the problem. I am so work loaded in Spring, advertising is a challenge. Knowing there are excited spinners wanting to try interesting natural colored fleece in many texture ranges, encourages me to push on to the Harvest and spinning part of my work load! Thanks! You are always an inspiration. Keep fiber educating, for those of us ankle deep in hay, mud and wet sheep noses!

  132. I’m a knitter and I’ve become increasingly interested in kniting win rare or less common breeds. So far, besides the usual wool, merino, cashmere, alpaca, silk, and vaious blends, I’ve tried bison, bfl, and Shetland. I want try so much more, but since I don’t have a wheel (or spare time for spinning) I’m having a hard time finding yarn available in the less common fibers. The fibers I’ve tried so far have been purchased via the Internet (which does not allow for tactile appreciation prior to purchase) since my local LYS does not carry them. I wish more shops would carry rare/unusual/non mass-produced options for knitters.

  133. Besides offering a spinner variety in texture and color, genetic biodiversity in sheep is important for our future. Look what’s happened to a supermarket tomato. What if wool became the same thing. I cherish heirloom tomatoes, with real variation in flavors, colors and textures, as I long for the difference in Lincolns, Merinos, North Ronaldsays, Manx Loaghtans, Cotswolds (add your favorites here). Imagine how devastating a blow to handcrafts if all we had to spin and knit with was Corriedale (not bashing Corriedale, here, as any one wool could be substituted, with the same damaging effect). Vive les differences!

  134. I’ve been spending the last two years blogging about every kind of spinning fiber i could get my hands on and I’ve only scratched the surface. Nothing makes my day more fun than a delivery of fleecy or fibery bits of something. I have played with tried to dye and/or card/comb and finally spin. I try to share the full experience with my readers.

  135. I tend start with an idea for a project and then consider what characteristics the fibre should have. This sometimes has a way of leading into seldom-trodden paths. I’m currently working on an idea to make project and courier bags for our guild sale, next fall, or maybe the one after that, given the scope of the ambition. A guildmate let me feel some Lincoln she had spun– “that’s what I need for my bags!” Now all I have to do is find some natural dark roving. (She said with a manic tinge to her ldaughter).

  136. Yes, yes, and yes! Every year at MDS&W I look for a breed I haven’t spun before. If there’s not one in the fleece auction, I know I can find excellent rovings at Spirit Trail. It’s fun to see the differences between different breed fleeces. I made a list of all the fibers I have spun, and it’s probably close to 30 (list is at home and I’m at work, or I’d count!) My kids are on the bandwagon too–they give me sample packs of different breeds for my birthday and Christmas! Yay for the internet!

  137. Thanks so much for pointing this out (about rare breeds). Like some of the earlier commentors, this never occured to me. Sounds like a good thing. I don’t spin and can barely knit, but I’ll be more thoughtful with my wool purchase for my next project. Your blog posts are always a pleasure to read.

  138. Good morning, Stephanie. Welcome to rare breeds! I’m a spinner and a knitter, and I routinely count rare breeds among my very favorite fibers. Fibers from rare breeds tend to behave like nothing else (in some cases, that’s why they’re hard to find – they don’t suit industry standards). They can be spongier, loftier, shorter, longer, stronger, more lustrous, dual-coated, or any other variety of characteristics that make them unique. For some of these fibers, our hands will do them more justice than industrial processes and machines ever can. Read up on Deb Robson’s work and teaching (you probably already have), and see her DVD from Interweave.
    In her DVD on spinning rare breeds, Deb says she was amazed to find Lincoln on the rare breeds list, but it is. Your own lovely lilac Jacob fleece is also a rare breed. It is important to support the animals and the shepherds who raise them. It’s all too easy for domestictaed breeds to be lost because they aren’t profitable (or even break-even-able) for farmers. Since our hands are better able to assess and use the unusual characteristics in these fleeces, we are, to some extent, responsible for making them valuable. I wonder how many people went looking for Jacob fleeces after your lovely series on processing,spinning, and knitting that yarn? I’ll bet lots did, so even if my purchase of a fleece or two (or mumble-teen) doesn’t make a difference to the farmer, the people who see the projects made from those fleeces and decide to try them can multiply, and then WE, collectively, can make a difference to the breed, and to the farmers.
    Speaking scientifically (words I thought would *never* come out of my mouth or keyboard), genetic diversity is vital. Rare breeds often have other characteristics that make them important, such as disease or parasite resistance, or adaptation to very harsh environments. How many breeds have been spawned from those now-rare Lincolns? At least a dozen. Remember that Gutefar fleece you and Judith McKenzie talked about in the SOAR conversation Amanda Berka recorded and posted on the Interweave website? There’s another perfect example of what an ancient and rare breed can bring forward through time to us. How many items, from garments to ropes to bags to sails, were made from Gutefar fleece, and helped humans expand their migration?
    So keep up the good work. This is a good time of year to keep an eye out for rare breed fleeces, freshly shorn. Spirit Trail and Beth Smith of The Spinning Loft in Michigan both do a brilliant job of making these fibers available (didn’t you get your lilac Jacob fleece from Beth? It was waiting in her garage, if I remember correctly). I hope every spinner will give a rare breed a try.

  139. I’m afraid my love of (or, as my friends might say, obsession with) rare breed fleeces has led to me owning an entire flock of Cotswold sheep, who are my absolute pride and joy. It is hugely satisfying to create something with the fleece of an animal who you helped to deliver, or first saw when it was an hour or so old. I do spin with other sorts of fibre as well, but I try to keep it from the sheep – it feels a little like being unfaithful!

  140. I think supporting those who nurture/raise rare breeds creates sustainability. I do not buy “ordinary” fleece.
    For me the best part of spinning and knitting is knowing precisely who the wool came from as well as the beauty of those creatures being on earth.
    I believe demand for rare breed fleece sustains the breed.

  141. Absolutely. I go for rare breeds whenever I can find them. I love being part of the continuity of these breeds, even in my own limited way.

  142. At the risk of seeming extemely shallow my first thought when buying wool is: “OMG, this is expensive!” and “How can I hide this from my husband?”

  143. I spin, don’t knit. Mostly I buy my yarn from my LYS so there isn’t much chance for the rare breeds. But if I were at a fiber festival, etc., I would assume it would help preserve the breed and I would definitely be interested in buying rare breed – but it would also depend on what I planned to make with it whether I actually bought it.

  144. I’m not a spinner, but a knitter. I’ve been enjoying discovering rare breeds. A couple of years ago at Marlyand Sheep & Wool I bought some skeins of undyed leicester longwool and started making a traditional lace shawl, and I was hooked.
    The color choices in rare breed yarn can be limited, which I think is another reason for the slow uptake with knitters. Another is the push for softness above all else, instead of matching the yarn to the use. (While I love “soft,” I hate pilling, so it’s a tradeoff). I’ve been learning to like “crunchier” yarns that I can appreciate for their different qualities. I pick up interesting yarn where I can, and enjoy the different textures and characteristics.
    I support rare breeds, and buy the yarn where I can. Just please, enough with the colors straight out of the box. At least give us some undyed so we can do it ourselves.

  145. A number of rare and uncommon breed yarns, commercially but sensitively prepared and spun, are available from http://www.blackeryarns.co.uk. Independently of her business, Sue Blacker is also doing fantastic work in the UK promoting these breeds and supporting the Campaign for Wool (www.campaignforwool.org).
    There are also some fantastic groups on Ravelry for people with an interest in knitting and spinning these really rather fun wools.

  146. I support spinning with rare breeds and have created a “bucket list” of them for myself. I, too, got a sampler from The Spinning Loft and have, so far, spun, Clun Forest, Jacob, Karakul and Gulf Coast. I am spinning them all to roughly a fingering weight and plan to weave a shawl with them when done (12 or 13 rare breeds in the sampler box)! I feel it would be a tragedy to have any of the sheep breeds disappear simply because they are not desirable to industry.

  147. I’m always curious about rare breeds. I have purchased (or swapped for) samplers of some various rare breeds.
    I enjoyed the Manx Loaghtan that I spun. But so far my all time favorite is Jacob. I haven’t quite dared to go for the other rares I have. I have some Hog Island, and Zwartble, and Racka, and Dorset, and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.
    So far, Jacob is the one I go back to frequently. I love its sproing and colors and softness. I will go out of my way to find someone who raises Jacobs or buy my fleeces from someone who got it directly from the shepherd. Because I do think that it’s something we should do to show how much we want this breed to continue.
    I am currently fiber rich and money poor. But of all the fibers I have, the ones that are staying with ME will be my 2 Jacob fleeces and my Targhee fleece. The others could be given away and while I would be sad, I wouldn’t be heartbroken.

  148. I learned to drop spindle not too long ago, maybe about the time “Book of Yarn” came out and BFL started popping up all over. Have found it to be the perfect tool for tasting fiber so now I have a bag of exotic 2 oz samples (mostly camelid and bovid); now I’m moving into sheep breeds, both rare and common and am finding it a most fascinating self education. Also, I dream to own a flock and call this “research” in addition to supporting small farmers/shepherds and genetic diversity.

  149. I have my favorites that I like to spin but I feel it’s important to encourage rare breed shepherds to have the variety of stock breeds available. It’s such a treat to be able to see all the different ways wool can appear and behave.
    My find at this weekend’s fiber sale? Polypay from a local producer!

  150. To Vicki at March 17, 2012 2:17 PM
    I’m not surprised that sheep have such excellent test in books. Stephanie is the best writer and it must be quite reassuring for the sheep to know of the joy they bring to those who take their wooly coats off their backs.
    I wonder if they would enjoy reading Elizabeth Zimmerman. They are animals of distinction.,

  151. Sorry, this is a bit off topic: I like reading about the sheep breeds; but really I’m just wondering what’s up with all the pics of brooms on your Twitter?

  152. Lovely, springy, spongy and creamy Tunis is on the wheel right now and the softest lilac and lavender Jacob is waiting in the wings. I can’t think of anything more delightful than finding a new (to me) rare breed and discovering what I like or don’t about handling it, spinning it, and knitting it. My faves in the last several months have been Gulf Coast and California Red, though I really enjoyed Black Welsh Mountain as well. Your Manx Loaghtan is an exquisite color and looks like it would feel lovely slipping through your hands. I’m going on the hunt for some. Thanks for the inspiration and three cheers for biodiversity, whether it’s sheep, roses or tomatoes!

  153. Late to the party question & comment:
    Question – how did you get the extra yarn for the baby blanket? from the lady in Toronto who commented that she had some? did I miss a tale of yarn foraging?
    Comment – I love George and wish I was Lisa…:(

  154. I’m neither a knitter nor spinner, but I am a knitter-enabler; and to that end I like to pick up interesting fibers for my darling to knit with. She’s much more up on the different fibers than I am, so I like venues like Sheep & Wool events that allow me to spot newly available fibers and buy locally.

  155. Just bought my first wheel – an Ashford Kiwi. I will spin anythng I can get my hands on.

  156. “Rare breeds. As a spinner or a knitter, do you try to use them? Do you think that helps sustain the breed? Is that something that interests you, or that you think about why you buy wool? ”
    Absolutely. Definitely. Yes and often. :o)

  157. Blue Faced Leistecer isn’t a rare breed, but breed-specific *yarn* is hard to find in yarn stores. (I suspect that a lot of people don’t realize that “Merino” is a specific breed of sheep.) So when I was searching for a small reward splurge recently and I found some BLF worsted in a new-to-me yarn store, I jumped on it. Don’t yet know what it will become, but that’s okay.

  158. I’ve been on the road teaching, so I’m arriving here after a flock of spam-commenters. Thanks, Stephanie, for the questions and to everyone else for the interesting thoughts and responses.
    Yes, I spin rare-breed wools. And breed-specific, non-rare wools. I’ve been watching, and studying, sheep and wool for enough decades to KNOW that each person who uses a bit of rare-breed wool (as fleece or yarn) makes a substantial contribution to the continuation of the breeds. (Rare means, “Yes, they could become extinct, even though they are domesticated animals.”)
    There are so many reasons to support local shepherds and small flocks and the alternatives to industrial production: genetic diversity; variety of materials for us to work with; stories and histories. Plus, it’s FUN!

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