A very important characteristic of Shetland Sheep is their beautiful wool, upon which the world-renowned Shetland wool industry was built. It is one of the finest and softest of any UK breed.
This soft, yet strong and durable wool is a delight to spin and is ideal for knitting. Traditionally, the finest of the Shetland yarns, spun from selected neck wool, were knit into lace shawls so fine they could be drawn through a wedding ring!
However, one of the marvelous aspects of the Shetland is its variability within the breed. A small spinner’s flock can produce ultra-fine Shetland yarn for handknits as well as coarser, but equally gorgeous yarns suitable for sturdy socks and warm outer garments and remarkable tapestry yarns.
Shetland wool comes in one of the widest ranges of colors of any breed. Everything from the purest white to the deepest coal black. There are 11 main colors and 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names.
Unfortunately, many of these colors and markings have become rare as white wool is dominant and for the last two hundred years has been preferred by commercial mills.
Fleeces usually weigh between 2 to 4 pounds, but 5 and 6 pound fleeces are not uncommon. Typically, on the Shetland Islands, the fleece staple length is 2 to 4 1/2 inches. In some flocks, however, longer staple lengths of 6 inches are observed.
In some Shetlands, the wool will shed in late spring. For generations the Islanders “rooed” or pulled the wool off by hand during this period. This tendency toward molting, along with a double coat and a rich variety of natural colors is associated with primitive breeds.
A spinner’s dream, dramatically colored and patterned Shetland ram lambs on green pastures. These lambs may have their colors fade with age… or they may retain their dramatic coloring. Shetlands are one of the few breeds that can produce a true black fleece. This black is so dramatic it requires no overdying.
For more information about Shetland Wool
see our Shetland Fleece Types page.