I love spinning all fibre, all the glorious blends, dyed batts and funky rolags but there's something very satisfying about sitting down with a big cloud of washed and combed natural fibre...
You can almost hear the bleating of the sheep on the hills and picture them in their thick woolly coats munching away in perfect contentment. As I am lucky enough to work in a shop bursting to the brim with fibre, I get to touch and stroke it’s silky or downy softness every day!
In this blog it is my aim to introduce you to the less common but no less worthy fibres and encourage you to sample them for yourselves to experience their delights, uniqueness and lovely sheepy goodness! For this first post I am going to talk about Whitefaced Woodland.
- Micron: 32-33
- Fleece weight: 2- 3kg
- Breed: Hill
- Handle: medium/soft
- Staple length: 10 – 15cm
Here at Fibrehut we think that Whitefaced Woodlands has slipped through the net of popular fibres and deserves more attention. It is surprisingly soft and easy to spin resulting in a versatile yarn for knitting and crochet and because it’s not quite as soft as Merino it has a bit of character making it ideal for needle-felting. We like it so much that we’ve combined it with Ramie (nettle fibre) to create one of our new Fusion Blends, “Woodland Walk” - a lovely soft fibre with a gentle sheen from the nettles which is a dream to spin and produces a yarn full of delicacy if spun thinly and full of vibrancy and character when spun to an aran or bulky weight.
The picture above shows plying in progress of a bobbin of natural Whitefaced Woodland top without the addition of Ramie.
Whether you spin this fibre worsted or woolen you are sure to get a lovely result as the swatch above shows.
Short History of the Breed
Getting to know the heritage of the sheep breeds we work with can only add to the enjoyment as well as help to understand particular characteristics of the fibre and where they come from. The Whitefaced Woodland is a rare sheep breed that was once very popular in the Pennines but it is now among the threatened breeds. In 1699 the village of Penistone gained a royal charter for a livestock market and became particularly well known for its sheep. Known as Penistone sheep their wool had a wide range of fineness, they were hardy and their meat was good. When King George III acquired his first Spanish Merino rams in the 18th Century he had the Duke of Devonshire of Chatsworth put them to some of the Penistone ewes on his estates. Dual breed sheep that could produce good meat and wool were all the rage during this period and improvement programmes were commonplace. By the early 1800s these improved Penistones began to be referred to as the Whitefaced Woodland and became a significant source of wool in England. The wool was used for hand yarn clothing, blankets, carpets and more due to its range of fineness. The fibre today still retains the softness from the Merino blood making it the finest of all the hill breeds and making the good fleeces much sought after by spinners.
Unfortunately, like many breeds of traditional British sheep the Whitefaced Woodlands was not suitable for industrial farming and the population began to seriously decline by the mid 1900s. By 1980 there were only 14 flocks left and faced with the possible disappearance of the breed, the remaining farmers established the first ever Whitefaced Woodland Sheep Breeders Group in 1986. Since then the breed has come back from the edge. However, there were still only around 900 breeding ewes in 2016 so there is still a long way to go before the breed is considered safe.
Try it for yourself!
As well as Whitefaced Woodland combed top (ready to spin and/or felt) we have a unique fusion of Whitefaced Woodland wool with Ramie, “Woodland Walk” and it is also included in our Best of British Selection boxes - “Even More Best of British”