The Field Guide to Fleece: Wool Characteristics

Learn about different wool characteristics — from fiber length and diameter to crimp.

| November 29, 2013

With this compact, portable reference in hand, crafters can quickly and easily look up any of 100 sheep breeds, the characteristics of their fleece, and the kinds of projects for which their fleece is best suited. Each breed profile includes a photo of the animal and information about its origin and conservation status, as well as the weight, staple length, fiber diameter, and natural colors of its fleece. The Field Guide to Fleece (Storey Publishing, 2013), by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius, is a great primer for beginners, and a handy guide for anyone who loves working with fleece! The excerpt below comes from the introduction, “A Love Affair with Wool.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Field Guide to Fleece.

We love wool. We love sheep. That’s why we wrote The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook. Many readers have asked for a smaller book that they could carry with them or give to friends who are new to fiber arts. We listened!

Why are we so fond of wool? Well, first, it is all natural. It’s also surprisingly diverse and exceptionally practical. It provides warmth in cold climates, while it also makes a great cool fabric for warm weather. Desert-living people — from Navajos to Bedouins — have long histories with sheep and wool.

Not all wools are created equal! There are more than a thousand breeds of sheep, each with its own intrinsic wool characteristics. Some grow negligible wool, while others have superlong fleeces. Some fine wools can be worn comfortably by babies, while strong wools can last for centuries in heavily used rugs. Some wools felt readily, while others won’t felt at all. Some are springy, while others are dense and supple. For us, learning about these diversities of sheep and experimenting with their wools is a great adventure.

Fiber characteristics vary widely not only between breeds but also within breeds, and sometimes even throughout an individual fleece. Wool changes with an animal’s age, health, and environmental circumstances. A lamb’s first fleece will be its finest and softest. A sheep that was sick or subjected to other stress may grow a fleece with weak spots. The next year that same animal could grow strong and beautiful fiber. Every fleece has distinct, individual qualities.

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