Shopping the Stash

If you’ve seen my stash entires on my Ravelry profile, it becomes very apparent that I have a not in-substantial quantity of yarn and fibre currently residing in my spare room.

So… 2014 is the year of the stash!

The aim is to knit  (and spin, crochet or weave… or just remove by donation or sale) as much as possible from said stash.* Occasional exceptions are permitted**(for instance there is no way I am giving up my HilltopCloud Best of British fibre club spot – sorry!)

I’m now a semi-active member of the Stash Knit Down group on Ravelry, and am starting to (albeit) slowly work my way through things.

So far, so good and as of April 30th, I’ve reduced my stash by 7.38 miles!


* Destashing will be fairly limited, I rather like what I have in my stash. No novelty yarn lurks in the deepest reaches of my storage boxes!

** Apparently occasional exceptions have resulted in copious amounts of yarn from Iceland, a pile of Jamieson & Smith’s Jumper Weight (both purchased and won as a prize) and a wee heap of cotton yarn since I didn’t have any… I may have to rethink the definition of ‘occasional’. 

Spin: HilltopCloud Handblended Club Yarn January 2013

This was one of my Christmas gifts, a 3-month subscription to the HilltopCloud Handblended Fibre club – 200g of handblended yarn delivered to your door.

This was the first month’s fibre – a scrumptious blend of Merino, Bluefaced Leicester and Cotton.

DSCN8285I opted to spin this at my usual weight, aiming for a heavy fingering / light sportweight 2 ply. And I suceeded. 514m of fresh green yarny goodness. It was this fibre which got me thinking about the fibre:yield ratio blogged about previously (see here for the original post, and the related page on yields from the Fibre & Spinning section). Now I jsut need to decide what to knit with it.


Spin: HilltopCloud Whitefaced Woodland

This was the December 2012 Best of British club yarn. 150g of Whitefaced Woodland. A breed I’d never heard of before, and apparently it is on the Conservation list of British Breeds.

It is an interesting fibre, it doesn’t felt, which has obvious benefits when knitting up hardwearing items such as mittens. It also had an extremely spongy texture. When it came to spinning it up, I decided to let the fibre decide how it wanted to be spun. I didn’t want to loose the bounce and springy feel to it, so I tried to keep that.

What I ended up with was 180 yds (165m) of a lovely springy Aran weight.

DSCN8283_medium2I’m currently planning out what to knit with it.

Fibre: Cheviot

CheviotCheviot Ewe and Lamb (From here)


The earliest reference to sheep from the Cheviot Hills dates to 1372 which refers to ‘a small, but very hard race’.[i] During later centuries it appears that both Merino and Lincoln bloodlines were added to the original Cheviot stock, records state that there were 3000 Merinos brought to England in 1480, a similar number were introduced in 1560.[ii] In the eighteenth century, further improvements were made to the breed  which increased both the meat and fleece production.[iii]

The breed has subsequently introduced to the United States (1838) and Australia (1938) – although it appears the breed is in decline in Australia.[iv]

The Fibre

  • Staple length can vary from 4-5 inches, some Australian examples see staple lengths reach 6 inches.
  • Diameter of the fiber tends to fall between approximately 27-33 microns, though 24 are know.
  • The fibre should spin up well, and works well in blends.

My Cheviot Spinning

Cheviot was my first spinning experience, and I used a drop spindle to create about 40m of super-bulky/art yarn. This is certainly a breed I would spin again.

[ii] The Cheviot Sheep Society – History; D.Robson & C. Ekarius (2011). The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.54.

[iv] Oklahoma State University, Breeds of Livestock (Sheep: Cheviot); Rare Breeds Trust of Australia – Cheviot 

Useful Links

The Cheviot Sheep Society 

Oklahoma State University Breeds of Livestock, Sheep, Cheviot

Cheviot Sheepbreeders’ Association Australia 

Rare Breeds Trust of Australia – Cheviot 

Not all Fibres are Created Equal

This was something that struck me the other night. I got a handblended fibre club subscription for Christmas (200g of handblended loveliness for 3 months – bliss!) and had decided that 200g of fibre (a primarily Merino blend) would be plenty to knit up a project which required 800-1000m. What was my thinking for this? Well, I’d spun up some other fibre I had in my stash and got 500m out of 100g so surely that seemed reasonable?

Apparently it isn’t. I got a third spun up and plied, wound it all up into a skein and got 146m. Hmm. Not quite what I was expecting. And this got me thinking – do different fibre types impact on the yardage you spin? Google didn’t help. Despite phrasing the question in different ways I couldn’t locate anything specific to this query. So I asked Ravelry – where else?

Is it just me or do you get less yardage from Merino when spinning? I’m spinning up a batch of a primarily Merino blend (over 2/3rds) in my normal fashion – aiming for a fingering/sport weight. I have a third done and plyed – it is coming out at the desired weight but my yardage compared to say, BFL, is dramatically lower. Does anyone know if this the norm? And secondly, are there any resources out there which discuss different fibres and their yield rates?

The response I got indicated that this was normal (phew – not just me!) but that they weren’t aware of resources on this either. However, the discussion focused in fibre length and thickness. The thicker the fibre, the less you need to get the desired weight; the longer the fibre, the less you need to get the desired length.

So how do Merino and BFL compare? For sake of ease I’m focusing in on the finest ~ coarsest / shortest ~ longest figures for the ranges normally found for these fibres.



Bluefaced Leicester (BFL)

Microns (Finest)



Microns (Coarsest)



Staple Length (Shortest)

2” / 5cm

3” / 7.5cm

Staple Length (Longest)

5” / 12.5cm

6” / 15cm

So if we apply these figures to real life; a batch of very fine, short stapled Merino would require significantly more to provide the same weight and yardage as the BFL. If the Merino was of similar micron / staple length to the BFL – say 24 microns and 5″ – yardage could theoretically be similar.

This is an aspect which intrigues me, so I’ve added a new section to Fibres & Spinning concerning yield rates on the fibres I’ve spun (as well as archiving a copy of this post there).

Fibre: Shetland

Sheep, Wester Quarff, Shetland IslesDascha the Shetland Sheep, photograph (C) Mark Sinclair 2009.


The Shetland sheep belongs to the Northern European short-tailed family, a group which appears to have been present in the area for some considerable time. Romano-sheep breeds began to spread their influence through Britain from approximately 2000 years ago, moving steadily northwards and it seems likely that these sheep impacted on the northern and island stocks.[i] Earliest indications suggest that short-tailed sheep were brought to the islands by Vikings around c.500 AD at the earliest.[ii] It is possible that this Nordic stock interbred with native wild sheep already present on the islands, though this cannot be proven. What is evident is that Shetland Sheep maintain several ‘wild’ characteristics.[iii]

The breeding of these animals continued through the middle ages, with their geographic location encouraging the development of a distinct ‘Shetland’ type.[iv]

The popularity of the Shetland Sheep and its fleece increased in the earlier part of the twentieth century, when Fair Isle and knitwear reached fashionable heights. By 1927 standards had been agreed and the Shetland Flock Book Society was established, which also created the Breed Standard.

The breed was for a time listed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s lists; as a Category 3 (Vulnerable) in 1977, then Category 5 (Minority) by 1985/1990s. The breed was removed from the list in 2002.

The Fibre[v]

  • Staple length can vary from 2-4.5 inches up to 10.
  • Diameter of the fiber tends to fall between approximately 20-30 microns, although it can be both finer and coarser depending on the quality of the fleece.
  • The fibre should spin up relatively smoothly.
  • Finished product will reflect the coarsest elements of the original fibre. The fleeces are double coated; with an inner and outer coat.[vi] The longer guard hairs tend to be coarser and for softer yarns – these require removal.[vii]
  • The Joy of Handspinning states that Shetland, along with other ‘down’ fibre types is not suited to the beginner.[viii] Interestingly, in a Knitty article from 2009, the author refers to the negative perception of many spinners concerning Shetland fibre.[ix]


According to the available resources, there are eleven ‘official’ Shetland sheep colours: Black, Shaela, Emsket, Gray, Light Gray, White, Musket, Mioget, Fawn, Moorit and Dark Brown[x]. These also have their own subtle variations – Shaela, for instance, can be applied to different shades depending on the Isle of origin.

The following table lists these colours, with their descriptors and the equivalent colours in fibre and yarn from the two major Shetland wool suppliers in the UK – Jamieson & Smith and Jamieson’s of Shetland.[xi] These equivalents are based on my own observations and on substitutions used on Ravelry for projects utilising the natural Shetland shades. These are therefore subject to my own biases concerning colour perception; others may view these colours very differently.

Official Name


Jamieson & Smith’s Natural Shetland Fibre

Jamieson & Smith’s Shetland Supreme (Formerly Natural Shetland)

Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift

Black Black Black Shetland Black [2005] Shetland Black [101]
Dark Brown Dark Brown Shetland Black [2005] Shetland Black [101]
Emsket Dusky Blue-Gray Gray Yuglet [2009] Shaela [102]
Fawn Fawn Fawn Sholmit [2007] Mogit [107]
Gray Gray Gray Shaela [2003] Sholmit [103]
Light Gray Light Gray Katmollet [2008] Eesit [105]
Mioget Lightest Brown, warm yellowish overtones Gaulmogot [2006] Eesit [105]
Moorit Reddish Brown, ranging from Fawn tones through to Dark Red-Browns Moorit Moorit [2004] Moorit [108]
Musket Pale Gray-Brown, from mixing both Gray and Brown fibres Mooskit [2002] Mooskit [106]
Shaela Dark Gray, two types the name has different meaning in different parts of the Isles Yuglet [2009] Shaela [102]
White White White White [2001] Natural White [104]

Some of these colours are rarer than others. Statistics from 1994 listed in Robson & Ekarius indicate that only two of the eleven colours are common, with the remaining nine shades only being registered for a total of 214 sheep.[xii] More recent statistics concerning the number of Shetland sheep on the islands indicate that there are just over 2000 registered pure bred examples of the breed.[xiii] The rarity of various colours appears to be continuing. Observations placed on a discussion thread on the Ravelry Jamieson & Smith forum provides a good indication behind the reasons for the decline:

The main problem stems back a few years to government legislation. It was thought at that point that certain genotypes were more likely to get scrapie – a sort of sheep brain disease that they thought might be able to pass to humans. So they gave farmers and crofters money to cull sheep with that genotype. At the same time, vast quantities of extra paperwork were put in place.

Now there has never been a case of scrapie in Shetland the place or Shetland the breed. But the extra hassle meant that quite a few people who had been keeping 20 or 30 sheep decided at that point to take the money and give up with their sheep. It was only at the end of the year, when the fleece started to arrive with Oliver, that he realised what was happening. It turned out that a big proportion of the coloured fleece was kept by these folk with small herds. The folk involved didn’t realise they held an important resource – no one knew it at the time.

By the time Oliver realised what was happening and got on to the media, it was too late. Those sheep had been culled. I well remember him saying that there was going to be a shortage for coloured fleece. And he was not wrong.

Now some people are realising that breeding coloured sheep is worthwhile, and with luck, the price increases will mean that more will be bred. But that will take time. And a good percentage of the gene pool has already been lost in Shetland itself. As Oliver has said many times, thank goodness for the hobby breeders down south – they have kept the colours.

From a forum post by Ravelry User NorthernLace[xiv]

In addition to the colours, there are also a significant number of markings associated with Shetland Sheep. These have no impact on the colours available for spinning but certainly demonstrate the variety associated with the breed.[xv]

My Shetland Spinning

  1. Ring-a-Rosie Shetland Top
  2. HilltopCloud Shetland & Kid Mohair

[i] D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p. 184

[ii] S. Adalsteinsson (2000) 1000 Years of Sheep in Shetland. A later date linked to Norwegian rule of Shetland has also been suggested.

[iv] The Shetland Sheep Society – History (2012).

[v] The technical information is derived from D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.192; The Shetland Sheep Society – Shetland Wool (2012).

[x] See D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.186-187; The Shetland Sheep Society – Colours & Markings (2012).

[xi] Derived from D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.186-187; The Shetland Sheep Society – Colours & Markings (2012); Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme & Natural Shetland Fibres (2013); Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift (2013).

[xii] D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.185.

[xiv] Ravelry profile for NorthernLace. For the forum thread (published 2012), see here, particularly pages 6 and 7 of the discussion. The post quoted above is #136 in the thread.

Changes Afoot

The eagle-eyed amongst you will probably have noticed the new button in the top menu bar. For those of you that haven’t, I’ve added a spinning section to the site.

This is very much under construction at the moment, so if you go and look at it now, you won’t find anything other than some lists and some *coming soon* notices. The plan is to add description pages for each fibre type – both natural and man-made – which is available commercially for the handspinner. I’m planning at the moment to include a few non-commercial fibres used historically as I personally find them interesting. Obviously, this will take a not-inconsiderable amount of time (and fibre) to generate so it is very much  long term project.

So where to start? The logical starting point is focusing on fibres that I have already spun, or have in my stash waiting to be spun. Some are blends – which obviously can be very different to spinning pure fibre types, but it seems appropriate to include them. I’m aiming to provide some information on the breeds – their history, information on the fibre itself, ease of spinning and my own observations. The plan is to include references and links wherever possible so that if more information is needed – it can be found.

Spin: HilltopCloud “Dark Rainbow”

More spinning – and the first bit of spinning finished in 2013. Even if it was started in 2012. The fibre was HilltopCloud’s Dark Rainbow, a blend of Black Welsh Mountain and Tussah Silk. I’d planned to use it for a Puffin Sweater from the Kate Davie’s Colours of Shetland book (see here), using the individual colours to stripe in place of the more ‘puffin-ny’ colours in the original.

I split the braid into the component colours and spun each one up individually. In the end it worked out at approximately 300 yards, split unevenly over the six colours, all at Fingering weight. I’m not sure how much I’ll need for the sweater so some careful planning, swatching and modifying may be in order.


Spin: HilltopCloud Shetland & Kid Mohair

More spinning! This time some Shetland and Mohair, from November issue of HilltopCloud’s Best of British Club. An unusual but extremely lovely combination of fibres in a gorgeous colourway, the very aptly-named (for December) Sitka Spruce.

Again I spun it up before I took a picture of the braid!


I tried something a little different to my normal spinning and opted to aim for a heavier-weight yarn. The colours look great all spun up and sitting in a row though. I got 91 yds of a 2-ply Aran / Bulky weight yarn. It looks and feels fabulous, especially since it was my first time spinning a thicker yarn on the wheel.