The Merino originated in Spain and is the basis of southern hemisphere fine wool production.
The breed grows well in arid conditions as found in Australia, South Africa and parts of New Zealand. The Merino of Australia is the backbone of the largest wool producing country in the world and this breed is the only one grown purely for its wool.
The Merino ranges in micron from superfine, 12-13 microns to coarse, 25-26 microns, the finest grown in Australia. The bulk of Merino wool production is 20-23 microns. Staple length varies from 30 90mm.
The Shetland is the smallest of the British breeds found mainly on the Shetland Islands. Believed to be of Scandinavian origin, the breed produces wool in several shades, including white, brown (moorit), grey and black. The wool is fine, soft and silky to the touch with a good, bulky down characteristic. Production is fairly small and much of the clip is consumed by the islanders themselves. The wool varies in quality from approximately 28-33 microns and fibre length from 50-120mm.
The name ‘Shetland’ has become generic, but much of the knitwear available today is not Shetland wool at all, but from wools with a similar quality and appearance.
Blue-faced Leicester wool is classed as long-wool with lustre. The breed evolved during the 19th Century and originally came from the Tyne and Wear valleys, and hills of east Cumbria. It was sometimes referred to as ‘Hexham Leicester’.
The wool is fine and dense with a good lustre and is long. Therefore, it is well suited to combing. The sheep produces a fairly small weight of fleece for its size and the fleece has been highly prized in recent years for its likeness to mohair, for production of attractive lustrous yarns with good resilience.
The fleece is available in white and natural brown hue.
There is more than one breed of sheep in Norway. The main breed in Norway is now a crossbred sheep, produced by crossing the Cheviot, which was imported from the UK in the 1800’s, and the Dala and Steigar breeds, native to Norway.
The wool produced from the first clip is shorn in summer. It is approx. 29-36microns and 80-120mm long, which makes it suitable for combing.
This wool is suitable for felting, hand knitting yarns and woven garments, where good resilience is required.
The origin of the Jacob or Spanish sheep is not known with any certainty. The first flocks in the UK were based on stock imported from the former Cape Colony, having been established there by settlers from Spain & Portugal.
The fleece is mottled/patchy in appearance with the dark patches becoming lighter as the sheep matures. This breed is in demand for handmade textiles as the range of colours produced are more varied than other breeds. The quality of the fibre ranges from approx. 32-40 microns and length, 80-150mm.
The Masham, pronounced massam, is a cross of Teeswater or Wensleydale ram with Dalesbred or Swaledale ewes. The fleece is very long and lustrous and the breed is found mainly in the north of England. The fleece is suited to combing due to its length and is used in specialty products due to its limited availability.
The fineness varies from approx. 38-44 microns and length approx. 150-380 mm.
This UK breed is classified as short-wool and down. It is the most widely distributed breed of all the British breeds. Its dense fleece is suited to knitwear and any other application where a good bulk is required.
It is a cross-breed of Norfolk and Southdown and has become a breed in its own right.
The wool of the Norfolk was used in the original East Anglian cloths, which were made in the medieval times, which is where many of the cloths were produced at that time.
This is the only purely black breed of sheep to be found in the UK. Its fleece is fine enough to be used in specialty products and is long enough to be combed.
The breed is classified as mountain and hill and is found throughout the whole of the UK but originated in the Welsh mountains and uplands.
The fibre fineness is approx. 30-40 microns and the length, 80-100mm. It is quite bulky but carries more dead hairs (kemps) than other breeds. There is sufficient quantity of this wool to be used commercially.
The Gotland is one of the oldest breeds, predominantly grey and native to Sweden.
The breed has been exported in small flocks to Norway, Denmark, the UK and USA. It is native to the province of Gotland and is a sheep from open pasture. It is commonly known as the Swedish Pelt Sheep.
Lambs-wool of this breed is in demand for its softness and lustre, being long enough to be combed. The older sheep-wool is a little too coarse. The fleece is also quite curly and similar in some ways to mohair. The fibre fineness ranges from 30- 44 microns with the lambs-wool at the finer end. The length is approx. 80-150mm.
This UK breed is classified as a longwool and lustre.
Found mainly in the north of England. It is a hornless sheep with a blue face.
It has a fairly curly and very long fleece. It is often used for blending with finer but
shorter stapled wools, where a strong yarn is required.
The wool is approx. 40-50 microns and 200- 300mm long.
This UK breed is classified as longwool and lustre and is found in Northern England.
When crossed with other hill breeds, such as the Swaledale, it produces a halfbred sheep called Teeswater halfbred, more commonly known as the Masham.
The sheep produces a long curly and lustrous fleece, a characteristic which is passed onto the Masham. The wool is approx. 40-60 microns with a staple length approx. 150 300mm.
This is a New Zealand sheep breed, produced by crossing merino sheep with Lincoln and Leicester to produce a sheep with sound, long staple in the crossbreed range. The breed is now farmed internationally, including Australia and the
The fleece is a bright white with good crimp and soft handle and is very even. The wool produced is approx. 25-30microns and staple length, 80-120mm.
This UK breed is classified as mountain and hill. It is found in the uplands of the Scottish borders, Northumberland, South Wales, Canada, Scandinavia, USA, South Africa and New Zealand.
The fleece varies in quality from fine to coarse, making this wool very versatile. It is of a good, white colour overall making it suitable for filling purposes where a good white background is required. The wool found its popularity in the Cheviot suitings/fabrics, typical of Scottish border town production and is found in blankets, rugs and hosiery articles. The fineness is approx.30-40 microns and length, 80-100mm.
The term, Falkland wool, refers to wool grown only on the Falkland Islands. The wool clip from these islands is a very good white and is grown from Merino and Polwarth breeds. The majority of the wool produced emanates from the Polwarth. The clip is relatively small compared to other world clips and was, until recently sold predominantly through the UK.
Fineness ranges from 18/19 microns to 32/33 microns with the bulk of the wool being in the 27- 30 microns category. The length is 80- 100mm with the fleece showing good bulkiness and soft handle. It can be considered better than Australian grown wool, especially for knitting yarn where good bulk is required.
This UK breed is classified as mountain and hill and is found predominantly in the northern counties of England and the Pennine hills. The fleece varies in colour from white to grey, being a similar breed in
appearance to the Blackface sheep. So, the overall appearance is light grey.
The wool is predominantly used in carpet yarns and rug yarns due to its excellent resilience and hard wearing properties.
Some wool finds its use in hand-knitting
yarns. The fineness is approx. 40-60 microns
and length, 100-200mm.
Huddersfield Cloth: A History of Cloth