Wooo hoo for wool and Wo-vember

single breed Jacob wool

I’m all for naked knitting….no, not naked like that but naked and natural, beautiful un-dyed yarn….last year on the excellent Knit British site Louise started a knit a long in the Knit British group on Ravelry which focused on all the different Britsh Breeds of sheep…there are over 60 in the UK alone and they range from tiny almost goat like primitive breeds to ones with elaborate horns and others that have permanent expressions of thoughtfulness on their long elegant faces……the yarn obtained from the diffrent breeds really varies and Louise was encouraging people (and still is) to try knititng up a swatch using a single breed yarn and writing down your observations…..she felt that too often just give a ball a squishy grab and make their mind up about it form that alone rather than with any long term conseiderations, how will it wear, does it soften up in time, will it grow after it’s been blocked, how soon will it pill…….

I loved the idea of this, and it all tied in with last year’s Wovember which is truly such an amazing celebraton of the wonders of wool, and by wool, team Wovember mean WOOL, the gorgeous nothing else like it stuff that comes from sheep, not squeeky acryllic (so many times the shops on the high street refer to anything having been knitted as wool, rather than it being the actual yarn the item has been knitted from) or cotton or alpaca or angora…but beautiful warm and fragrant smelling wool.

blue faced leicester swatch

I hadn’t had any experience of working with a single breed yarn before and the first one I tried was a Blue Faced Leicester for no other reason than that is what my local knitting shop had…it didn’t mean anything much to me but knitters all over know it to be a soft, not tickly yarn…..it really was beautiful to handle (and we’re talking tiny little kitten soft) and if you want to knit something for a friend who finds wool scratchy then let them have a feel of some Blue Face Leicester….it’s really beautiful and is very soft and gentle.

blocked Norfolk Horn

I was really keen to try out some local to me breeds and was able to buy some Norfolk Horn from Kentwell Hall which is just across the border in my home county of Suffolk……the yarn was very different to the Blue Faced Leicester, more porridgey coloured and slightly crisp…when I knitted with it there was a light shuffle like dry autumn leaves…..the stitch definition was nice but it didn’t feel initially like something I’d want right next to my skin….however, after washing it and pinning it out to shape it up nicely, the yarn had taken on a less crunchy feel…I pinned the swatch under my clothing and after a few minutes of light tickle I pretty much forgot it was even there…. I washed the swatch a few more times and with each wash noticed the fabric getting softer and more comfy to wear…..unlike cheap (and more often than not even rather pricey high street knits) this doesn’t all pill up after a few days wear….and it’s certainly a yarn I plan to use at some point in a garment.

flecks of darker grey and wispy fibres

The other breed I was interested in trying out was the Suffolk…growing up in a small rather rural Suffolk village, these black faced beauties were a regular sight in the surrounding fields, I think it’s because the Suffolk was used as a meat breed rather than kept for it’s fleece…anyway it was a bit of a devil to track down a single breed yarn, most of what I was finding seemed to have just a pinch of seely Suffolk in the blend rather being being wholly the single breed…but finally (and thank you to the lovely knitters of Instagram who passed on the details of this supplier) I was able to find some…..I had to contact her directly as there wasn’t any listed on her site but she was very helpful and quick to answer all my very excited and newbie questions.

blocked Suffolk swatch

The skein of Suffolk was really beautiful, and it smelt lovely…however when I gave it a hand squeeze it felt like it was going to squeeze me right back, definitely a bit of a briuser…it’s a right sturdy old yarn and is the only one I’ve found so far that was too rustic to have against my skin for more than a few seconds…pinned under my thermals it felt like a hedgehog was trying to do the tango…however pinned overtop just one layer of clothes it was lovely, all warm and cosiness, no pilling and the colour…the softest grey like early morning fog, or the silvery muzzles of elderly donkeys…..this would be smashing for a low necked tank top all worked in fat cables…..

wensleydale wool

Another local to me skein I was able to buy was this golden and glossy Wensleydale…it’s from The Ilketshal Wensleydales and they now have an on-line shop where you can buy it……I’ve not yet knitted it up as a swatch but when I made my Tamar shawls in the Summer, Wensleydale is one of the breeds that the Tamar blend is made up of so I know it’s a yarn that is going to be really drapey, a little bit tickley for the first few wears, but floaty and warm….undyed and naked the Wensleydale is just glorious and while I’m not normally one for wearing cream or white (I’m like a small child and can get ridiculously grubby just sitting by myself doing nothing) I’d certainly consider knitting a shawl or wrap made from this…it’s so much like dandelion seed or thistle down…..

To properly test and see what the yarns were like takes me a good few weeks and by the time I’d happily tested these breeds out and bought more yarn it was then a bit warm to wear any new swatches, however I knitted up a few more swatches on warm days and just put them away for when the weather would get chilly and will be reporting back on some of those over the next couple of days/or weeks……

I’ve found Blacker Yarns to be an excellent source for single breed yarns, they don’t have them all but they have created a brilliant range and have thoughtfully spun the wool in a way that allows the qualities of that particular breed to shine…. and another on-line site I’ve used for buying single breeds is Brit Yarn, Isla’s customer service is great and she has suggested and recommended no end of different yarns for me to consider using.

Wovember has already started and there is a photo competition running over on Instagram, I learnt so much about the wonders of wool last year and hope you’ll sign up and follow along too.

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