Category: Sheep


First I want to thank everybody for your kind get well wishes! I’m getting stronger with each day. I’ve even started spinning again!

So, let’s start with a post I had intended before I collapsed in Stockholm at the beginning of December: Boreray yarn. I was able to buy a fleece last spring. The fleece is rooed, as Boreray sheep loose their fleece naturally. Rooed wool is longer than it would be if sheared. The fleece I bought is very white with a few darker fibres. I still haven’t been able to spin the darker bits that I picked out, but I have stored them in my spinning room and not in the attic so there’s hope for spring!



The fleece was very clean, so I gently scoured the fleece only to remove some of the lanolin. The fibers have a lot of crimp, which makes it difficult to card if you leave all the lanolin and card without warming  the fleece first. I find that a bit difficult, as you must also warm the rolags/batts before spinning, so I prefer scouring.


I split the batts lengthwise, predrafted, and spun with a woollen draw and very little twist. There was quite a lot of kemp, but most of it fell out during carding and spinning, even more in the finishing bath, and what’s left can either be left in the yarn or be picked out while knitting. I’m so pleased with this yarn!



A soft yarn for warm hats and mittens! I think I’ll try nalbinding also, even it’s a knitting yarn.

Shetland Wool Week 2016: Shetland Flock Book, and my only class

This is my last post about Shetland Wool Week 2016.

You may have noticed: no classes for me during Wool Week! It’s partly a choice, and partly because I couldn’t manage to book the classes I wanted to. Shetland Wool Week is booked through a system called Box Office. While I was learning how to use it, all my classes went into a black hole called “sold out”! Kerstin got the same result, so for a moment both of us where a bit dumbstruck.

So what to do? Take tours, go to free events, have fun. That’s what Kerstin and I did, and wow what a week we had! Afterwards, while writing these blog posts, I was wondering how on earth we had time to do all we did.

This last post will take you to the Shetland Flock Book Show and Sale, and to the one class I succeeded to book.

The Flock Book first:

Kerstin and I wanted to go with our friend Sarah Jane to see more of Shetland sheep, and in the end everyone from our self catering ended up at Shetland Rural Centre just outside Lerwick. We went there on Saturday when the rams were shown and later sold at the auktion. Sarah has Shetland sheep at home in the US. and she was able to go behind the scene to follow an expert, while Kerstin and I were led to the show ring by Oliver Henry himself! I think he wanted to get us out from behind the scene where we had accidentally gone in the wake of Sarah.

I took this photo before we were led out by Oliver. He’s having a first glance at the rams before they go into the ring. He’s accompanied by Jen, his successor as wool sorter and classifier at Jamieson and Smith:


From the ring:


It was very quiet, neither the men or women in the ring nor the rams had much to say. There was some pointing with sticks and slow walking to move the rams, but everything was very calm and silent. The man in a blue jumpsuit to the right is Jim Nicolson, who just a few minutes earlier had gotten 40 pounds from me, and a good deal of money from Kerstin also 🙂

After all the pointing at and moving the rams, some of them were let out to the left, and some back through the door in the middle where they had been let in. The latter group had then been decorated with rosettes in different colours, which tells me they had won a prize of some sort. I suppose they were sold at the auktion later. These rams will be used in breeding programs. The photo shows the typical tails of a breed belonging to the group Short Tailed Northern Sheep.


The rams came into the ring in groups: young white, young coloured, older white, older coloured etc. Kerstin and I left after a couple of hours, because the show went on until late in the afternoon.

Below you see three of Jim Nicolson’s coloured fleece. One of them had won the Premium prize: the light grey in the middle. Luckily for me Kerstin wanted the black and darker grey fleeces! I payed 40 pounds for the Premium fleece. I don’t remember what Kerstin payed for her two fleeces. Whatever it was, all three are fully worth their prices. You’ll hear more about mine in due time. It’s washed and now completely dry, and will be stored until I have time to prepare and spin it. Jim said he wouldn’t ask too high a price for the fleeces, but instead be kind to us, so I have no idea what you may be asked for a premium coloured fleece. Or then he was only joking and skinning us old ladies from abroad… 😀



The only class I could get a ticket for was a woodworking class for Cecil Tait from Paparwark Furniture. He makes beautiful furniture and household items. I’ve looked at photos on his site for a few years now, and wished I was rich. So taking a class for him in how to make my own threading hook and nalbinding needle felt like a real temptation.


I was a bit afraid I’d have to use an electric saw, and so it happened. First my father and later my husband both forbid me to use their saws because I break the blades. I told Cecil about it when he wanted me to make my piece of mahogany a bit smaller before I started working on it with a knife. He didn’t believe me, so I breathed in some courage and went to the saw – and broke the blade. You can see the scary saw to the right behind Cecil. He looked a bit confused, but changed to a new blade (which the others in the class used without any flying pieces of blade), and then handed me the biggest knife he had taken to the class, a beautiful Norwegian Brusletto. Oh how right it felt in my small hand! Yes, I’m serious! I love to work with knives. And I didn’t have to go near the scary saw anymore.


I wasn’t able to finish my hook shaft and needle during the class, but finished them after I came home. Cecil drilled a hole in my needle, and a much smaller hole in the shaft for the hook.



I already want to go back to Shetland. It mustn’t be during Wool Week, it could well be one of the textile tours the islands offers, or I could go with hubby and some friends. There’s so much I didn’t see during my two trips to Shetland! I’d like to sit down in the library and look through their textile books, go to Sumburgh and see the nature centre, and to Ninian’s Island, do some beech combing, go to Eshaness again, take a sea tour and see the bird cliffs again, take a croft tour, see the museums I haven’t had time to see yet, go to Fair Isle and Foula. And much more, like eating at some of the nice restaurants, which Kerstin and I didn’t have time to do during our busy week. Believe it or not, but I lived mostly on boiled eggs and good English ham and cheese and Swedish yoghurt the whole week. Only one evening did Kerstin, Veronica and I have time to go the Chinese restaurant just round the corner: lovely fish!

Sheep and stone in Orkney

My trip to Orkney and Shetland is over. I feel a bit sad, but because it was an amazing trip I think I can survive. Both those places take a firm hold on you: you don’t want to leave them.

Orkney first, and Shetland in following posts.

Some years ago an internet friend of mine invited me to Orkney, but I didn’t think at that time that it would ever be possible. Thanks to a decisive Swedish friend I was able to make the trip this year. I don’t regret it! Thanks to my friend I was able to see not only her Boreray sheep, but also places I’ve wanted to see for many years. So thanks to Jane I can now show a few of the hundreds of photos I took of stone and sheep. As you may know, Orkney is a paradise for people who love archeology, history, and sheep.

The Standing Stones of Stenness are impressive. I don’t know why they effected me so strongly. Here they are from some distance:


A close up of one of the stones. It’s been here for quite a while, at least 5000 years. The wind, rain and sun have been working on it:


The next stop that day was the Ring of Brodgar. There may have been as many as 60 megaliths, 27 remain. The stones are smaller than the ones at Stenness, but just as impressive. Like so many others, I also wonder what purpose these rings had when they were constructed.


As it was such a beautiful day, I also had the opportunity to see Skara Brae. The museum has a reconstruction of one of the neolithic buildings. The settlement is 5000 years old.


My photo of the hearth isn’t very good, so follow the link above if you want to see a better one.


After the museum I walked down to the settlement, which was a joy on this beautiful day. I sat down by the beach to look at the cliffs and the sea, and the stones that still show where the people have been collecting building material for thousands of years.


For a second I was tempted to take a stone with me…


A view from the settlement:


I have lots of photos from Skara Brae, but I think going to Orkneyjar and reading about the settlement there will give you much better information than I can.

Because I want to show you some sheep. Hold on to your hats, here are the Borerays running for some treats!


Jane Cooper is doing a necessary and admirable work by farming these very rare sheep. There is some information about them on internet. I think you should start here: Mrs Woolsack’s Blog.

Jane’s sheep are adorable! They are quite small, and they are very cute, at least when you don’t have to do all the work with farming them. They live in a beautiful landscape, but the weather isn’t always as nice as it was when I was in Orkney. For me who comes from a rather calm part of the world with storms that seem like a summer gale compared to the winds in Orkney, it’s difficult to fully understand what the farmers are up to during the winter storms. We have the cold winters, and need to keep the sheep and cattle indoors from the middle of September or beginning of October until the end of May, while the sheep are outdoors the year around in Orkney. So animal farming here in Finland is quite different than in Orkney, and on the whole it seems Orkney is a better place for sheep and cattle.



Some of the boys:


I also saw the St. Magnus Cathedral and the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall. The cathedral was – not what you’d expect in a small society like Orkney. Impressive. I could’ve stayed all day in there.

I also met Liz Lovick, our guide on my first trip to Shetland in 2010. More about her CPW in another post!

Gold in my stash

I have gold in my stash! Superior quality Finn – best I’ve ever seen.

I think it’s the ewe on the left that presented me her fleece earlier this week:


She has soft, fine, and nicely crimped wool with almost no vegetable matter at all, and no felting whatsoever. There’s Finn and Åland sheep in the herd, the Ålands are horned, the Finns polled. You can see more photos on my old blog.

I was able to choose the fleece myself while it still was on the sheep, for which I’m very very grateful. Thank you Sari! I have started scouring the fleece, being careful not to wash out all of the lanolin as the fibers are so fine. The waxes and fat will protect them while I prepare and spin the fleece. The locks aren’t completely clean. I fear washing Finn fleece as it felts so easily. It’s better to wash the yarn, and I’m sure this will be sparkling white when finished.

Scoured locks waiting to be combed

Scoured locks waiting to be combed

These sheep love their shepherdess. Look at the ewe in the photo below! She came as close to Sari as she could, closed her eyes and just stood there, leaning against her mistress who went on shearing without being disturbed at all, she only gave the ewe a short pat on her cheek to tell she’d noticed her. It was already dark, and the light was bad, but I think you can see how happy she was.


The Open Door

The Open Door. Please read, and contemplate. How many of us handspinners buy raw fleece from other countries than our own? And for how long will we be able to do that? And do we really have to buy raw fleece even if we like to work through the whole process from fleece to yarn?

I don’t have the answers. But I’m contemplating.

Kainuun harmas, Kainuu Grey

Kainuu Grey. Photo used with permission from Aholan Lammastila

Kainuu Grey. Photo used with permission from Aholan Lammastila

Kainuu Grey, Kainuun harmas in Finnish, is one of the very sparse Finnish sheep breeds. It was considered to be a variety of Finnsheep until quite recently, but is now a recognized breed. It’s originally a dual purpose sheep that produced pelt for clothing, and meat. Nowadays it’s mostly a wool and meat sheep, as furs are not used to the same extension as before. The lambs are born black, and turn into various shades of grey when they grow older. The legs are black. I think the breed will develop into a more defined wool producer over time, as clothes made from sheep fur are seldom used any more. Some of the Kainuu Grey fleece’s I’ve spun have the tight curls that are wanted in fur sheep, whereas some are clearly more like the wools we want in spun yarns.

But as with most breeds nowadays, meat is the main product. How that will effect the breed is difficult for me to say. Many of the farmers that breed Kainuu Grey want to preserve the breed, which means bringing in big meat breads in the breeding program is not an option. A spinning friend in Wales said that moving a breed from lands with meager food to a region with better feedstuff will make the animals bigger and they produce bigger carcases, which of course sounds very plausible. The landscape in Kainuu is pretty well suited for livestock, but too far north for growing grains. In Scandinavia cattle was traditionally kept on better grounds, sheep could take what was left. Nowadays most of the sheep farms are farther south, and they are often on good lands. All sheep breeds in Finland have become bigger during the last 100 years. My guess is that over time Kainuu Grey with soft, Finnsheep-like wool will be used in breeding rather than the fur types. Right now the farmers mostly try to make the breed survive. There were not so many left when Kainuu Grey was saved at the last moment.

The first time I came in contact with Kainuu Grey it was in the form of a skin. I fell in love with the beauty of it: silvery grey at the sides with darker, tight curls at the back. It felt lovely, my hands loved it also! At that time I had no thoughts of spinning Kainuu Grey. Later, when I heard yarn was being made from the wool, I thought it wouldn’t be very nice, that it would be prickly. But something has happened, and I believe it’s a result of the furs not being used, and because all animals that are of any value for the breed have to be kept alive and in the breeding program so they are not slaughtered if not necessary. The Kainuu Grey I now come in contact with is often soft and nice, a joy to work with for a spinner who likes short wools.

Dark grey Kainuu Grey

Dark grey Kainuu Grey

I bought the fleeces from Aholan lammastila, one of the few that breed this sheep. It was good wool, no VM, but it was very dirty (it had been a rainy autumn). I had dark and light grey fleece, that I combed and rolled into faux rolags.

Wool combs: Valkyrie fine

Wool combs: Valkyrie fine

Louet extra fine carders

Louet extra fine carders

Faux rolags

Faux rolags

Now why on earth did I do that? The wool is short, and could easily have been carded into real rolags for soft woolen yarns. Because I almost destroyed the fleece when scouring! It felted, and carding was a pest. For several months I attempted thorough teasing by hand, flickring, beating, but nothing made me happy. So one day I took my Valkyrie combs designed for short, fine wool and made a test: it worked! I lost pretty much valuable fleece in the combing process, but on the other hand I saved some for really nice semi-woollen yarns.

The rolags drafted like a dream. Spinning woolen was was a joy, so I chose a long against twist / double draw. I’m quite happy with the result.

Kainuu Grey. 2- and 3-ply, light and dark grey

Kainuu Grey. 2- and 3-ply, light and dark grey

Light grey:

90 grams, 214 meters: 2-ply
160 grams, 470 meters: 3-ply
Dark grey:
130 grams, 360 meters: 3-ply
40 grams, 117 meters: 2-ply
Kainuu Grey is suitable for everything. Sweaters, hats, mittens, knitted and woven scarves and shawls, and socks if you blend with silk for strength, and woven cloth. When combed and spun worsted it makes a very strong yarn. The darker shades can be a bit prickly, which is typical to natural colored wools. The black lamb’s wool is soft and not suitable for socks, but makes lovely yarn for hats and scarves.
When browsing today I found two shops on Etsy where you can buy Kainuu Grey: Woolgrey and Mielitty, but there may occasionally be a few more. As it’s a rare breed and almost unknown everywhere else except in Finland, it’s not easy to find fleece and yarns if you don’t speak Finnish. There are a few farmers that sell fleece and yarns: Villa LaurilaHerrakunnan Lammas, Noittaan Tila, and Aholan Lammastila (link above). The wool and yarns take dyes beautifully. If you’re looking for fleece you should do it the next few weeks, as they usually sell out pretty fast after the autumn shearing.

Estonian Native Sheep

My fiber studies 26

There has been a pause in my public fiber studies. I think my last one was number 25, and that’s more than two years ago (you will have to go to my old blog Hillevis Trådar in May 2011 to find the last study). Since then I’ve spun lots of different breeds, but I haven’t documented them otherwise than I did in the portfolio for my Certificate of Achievement, or in my Handspun projects on Ravelry.

It feels good to start a new series of studies with a rare breed from Estonia. Estonia is Finland’s neighbor in the south, with a textile tradition that few countries can compete with. Information about sheep and livestock in Estonia: here and here.

Last summer I met a lady who’s originally from Estonia.  She now lives in Finland, and is a member of my guild. We came to talk about wool – surprised, anybody? She said she could get wool samples from the rare Estonian Native Sheep. A couple of weeks ago hubby and I went to town to fetch the wool.

Kadri, who is one of the farmers that run the farm Muhu Maalammas, gave some information about the wool in a letter. Later I also learned from her that all samples are winter wool, i.e. from the spring shearing. Winter wool is always of lower quality than summer wool in our parts of the world, which makes me wonder how the summer wool from these sheep is…

Eesti maalammas (Reet)

Because, let’s establish from start: this is gorgeous wool in many ways. It’s strong, soft, some of it also has a nice lustre. There’s wool for all kinds of garments, from soft baby clothes to outdoor clothes for rough weather.

Samples 6 and 7 were too brittle to card, but they were an exception. Both are extremely fine wools, very close to what we think of when we talk about the finer qualities of Merino. There was a severe attack of horseflies in the flock that provided the samples, and especially the young ones suffered from it. The farmer and her partners used the wool for felting.

The flock is primarily used for landscape conservation grazing in the Muhu island off the western coast of Estonia.

The wool had been washed in the sea, which in this case means it’s been washed in slightly salty water. The water in the Baltic Sea is brackish with less than 34 promille salinity. I’ll return to the interesting matter of wool and sea water in another post.

Kadri later told me something interesting in an e-mail: “Actually about sea minerals – back in soviet times Saaremaa wool was known to be more soft than mainland wool because sheep grazed on seashore meadows with more minerals. I’m not sure these minerals work when applied outwardly, but when taken inside they are only a benefit for the wool :)”

Let’s move on to my sampling. I carded all samples except the two brittle ones, that I didn’t process any further than to see if the wool could be used. I spun a meter or so on a drop spindle. I spun all other samples on my Hansen Minispinner, and made 2-ply yarns. I did not wash the wool, as I wanted to work with it as it was because of the very special way it felt when touching it.

I use a gauge for measuring crimp that I’ve copied from Dansk Fåreservice (I sincerely hope I don’t bread any copyright rules by showing it). It measures the amount of curves per 3 cm.


Sample 1. Black wool with bleached tips. This wool had enough lanolin left to make it difficult to card and spin. I took off most of the tips. I tried to spin woolen, but had to modify into a semi-woolen/double draw. Staple length: 9 cm. Crimp: 5.

Sample 2. Black wool with bleached tips. This wool had almost no lanolin and was much easier to work with than sample 1. I left the bleached tips for a tweedy effect. The wool was long enough to be combed, but I wanted to prepare all the samples in the same way, so I carded it and spun woolen/longdraw/double draw. That worked well too. Staple length: 10 cm. crimp: 6.

Sample 3. Tri colored fleece. Soft wool of good quality. I carded it without trying to blend the colors, or sepataring them, only picked them randomly from the fleece. I spun two bobbins woolen/double draw, starting with the lightest color and ending with the darkest. Staple length: 14 cm. Crimp: 4.

Eesti maalammas, tricolor

Eesti maalammas, tricolor

Sample 4. White, strong wool, that most of all resembled some of the longwools, like a sturdier Cotswold or finer Leicester. I carded it, but it could have been combed. I spun against twist. Staple length: 10 cm. Crimp: 3.

Sample 5. White wool with low crimp. Soft! It opened up well, but – there was scurf.  I decided to leave it and see what eventually falls out, which proved to be almost all. There was three types of fleece: wool, hair and kemp. It’s lovely wool, suitable for sweaters, socks, hats, mittens and woven fabric. Staple length: 8 cm. Crimp: 4.


Sample 6. Very fine white wool. It’s fragile and can’t be carded without breaking, so I only spun a short thread on a drop spindle and doubled it. The wool is very soft and could be used next to skin, lace, and in baby clothing. Staple length: 9 cm. Crimp: 5.

Sample 7. Very fine white wool. I think this could be neck wool from the same sheep as sample 6. It broke when I carded it, so I chose not to work with it more than in four tiny rolags that I spun on a drop spindle. The wool could be used in the finest of lace yarns and in baby clothing. Staple length: 8 cm. Crimp: 6.

Sample 8. Very fine wool with a high percentage of lanolin. It’s soft and merino-like, and can be spun into super fine yarn. Next to skin, shawls, scarves, baby. Staple length: 5 cm. Crimp: 5.

Estonian Native Sheep. Samples 1-8

Estonian Native Sheep. Samples 1-8

I was at once thrilled by how the wool felt. We call it “hand” or “handle”, the way wool feels when you touch it and work with it. It’s impossible to describe in words the information your hands give. I knew I hadn’t felt anything like this wool during my 30 years of spinning. All finished yarns are soft in way I haven’t experienced before. The yarns are also strong, so even the winter wool was of excellent quality.

I was naive enough to ask what people know about wool and sea water in two groups of spinners in Ravelry and Facebook, and also in Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers’ discussion group on Yahoo, hoping to have a few answers. I now sit here with 30 printed A-4 pages of discussion! I will make a summary in another post. What an amazing community spinners are!

The textiles in Estonia are colorful and made with great skill. Muhu is known for it’s rich tradition in knitting, embroidery, band weaving and braiding, and there’s amazing crochet also. This photo shows a page from the book “Meite Muhu mustrid” by Anu Kabur, Anu Pink, and Mai Meriste. My Estonian guild friend Reet was kind enough to lend it to me. It’s a luxurious book like so many others that have been published in Estonia the last few years. It has wonderful photos, and the charts are so clear that even if you don’t know Estonian, but have basic skills in knitting, embroidery or braiding, you manage without the text if you want to make some of the socks, mittens, or clothes.

From "Meite Muhu mustrid" by Anu Kabur, Anu Pink, Mai Meriste

From “Meite Muhu mustrid” by Anu Kabur, Anu Pink, Mai Meriste