Shetland Wool: Fine, soft and lustrous.
Shetland wool can be spun to many purposes, from producing a feathery light lace-weight yarn for shawls, to a more robust yarn for warm outerwear.
Fleeces may be single or double coated, but should be soft handling, and have a characteristic staple which tapers to a fine tip. Crimp may be fine or bold, and many of the longer silky fleeces have a fine delicate crimp on close observation.
Many "improved" breeds have had these interesting characteristics bred out of them in order to achieve a homogeneous commercial product, but most North American Shetland shepherds value the diversity intrinsic in the breed, and spinners treasure the natural variation in wool types.
In our flock, we breed for a relatively single-coated fleece with a staple length of 4 to 8 inches. Our fleeces weigh from approximately 2 pounds (for a small lamb fleece) to 3 to 4 pounds for adults.
The fiber diameter of most Shetlands qualifies as fine to medium-fine (in the 20 -30 micron range ). We breed to the lower end of this spectrum; however, one cannot assume that fine micron measurements equal softness, and the handle of each fleece must be judged individually.
Each Shetland fleece is unique to the animal that bears it, and may be unique to the year in which it is grown. Depending on weather, diet, and many unknown factors, an individual sheep may change coloration from year to year. This is particularly true of Shetlands carrying the Agouti (Ag) gene (muskets and greys).
In lambs with the Agouti gene, each fiber exhibits color banding, which spins up into a lovely heathery yarn. Blacks may stay purely black or may develop varying degrees of greying. The fleeces of sheep belonging to the brown color family may remain dark brown, or take on a lovely taupish cast, or may become a soft honey-brown.
Shetland wool tends to have much less grease than many other wools and loses less weight in processing. It also stores well if protected from rapid changes in temperature and humidity. More information on this subject can be found on the page concerning Processing Shetland Wool (in development).
Shetlands tend to naturally shed their fleeces in the spring of each year, and at the appropriate time, the fiber can be removed from some sheep by gently tugging on the locks. This process was commonly used in the past, and is called "rooing". However, most Shetlands today are shorn with blades or electric trimmers, and the shearing is planned to correspond with the time the fleece loosens (this is called the "rise"). If the shearing is later than the rise, sometimes tiny tufts of wool can be seen on the cut end of the fibers. If the sheep are shorn before the rise, next year's fleece can show some matting of the tips. Both of these issues can be dealt with in hand processing.