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It's just another dream of Portland Sheep, Part 1

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

Unravel happened in Farnham, Surrey, the weekend of 11 11 February, a yarn & wool (and other things) trade show held at Farnham Maltings. The Maltings was originally a tannery and brewery converted into an arts centre by the local town council in 1969. Farnham itself has a rich history, including Roman sites; it's also home to a bishop's palace, a country gaffe of the bishop of nearby Winchester.

We had a good day out -- pillage was acquired on my part,

and then a stroll up to the hilltop bishop's palace (accessible along the Blind Bishop's Steps.

In addition, I met up with Justine Lee again, and received from her a Portland ewe fleece -- this is a new-to-me breed, a rare breed of sheep once very popular for its meat, especially in Georgian England.

As with the British milksheep, Justine is hoping to have spun and knitted Portland fleece as part of her project on developing quality knitwear from small British farmers, uniting these folks who breed and keep flocks of the rarer breeds and local mills, spinners, and crafters.

Portlands are named after the Isle of Portland, which is in the English Channel at Dorset (although no longer a proper island), and they're a fairly small sheep. They're a rare breed, with less than 2000 in the UK today, although at one point in the mid 20th century they were nearly extinct. Portlands are born with reddish fleece, but it turns white as they get older.

For more on Portlands, their characteristics, and lots of images, check out the Rare Breed page or the Portland Breeders page.

Portland is a down-type, usually described as having fine or medium or coarse wool -- not exactly helpful, is it. However, actually faffing around with a scoured fleece, you can easily separate it into all three categories. The leg wool on this fleece is pretty coarse, but I found fine locks with good crimp to comb and then scour to produce a soft and fluffy 2-ply yarn. The staple is around 3 inches (70-80mm) average -- so I was keen to try combing a sample of it as well as carding.

I'll be working on my fleece over the next few weeks, so this particular post is a work in progress and will be updated along the way.

At the moment (16 February), I've got a sample skein in hand already: Justine had done a first scour of the fleece, but not graded it. I spent an afternoon separating out the best and longest locks of the fleece to see how they would come up combed.

I'm not keen on working with fleece with any lanolin in it, and whilst the locks combed up well, the lanolin made the combing a bit more difficult, and the resulting roving, which I ran through my triple-carder to make top, gunked up my carder a bit. Forging on, though, I spun up a small skein and plied it; I scoured separately the skein to get the lanolin out, and what a heck of a difference to the skein! It's soft and fluffy, and has a really lovely hand to it.

I separated the rest of the fleece into what I want to card and what has ended up as a cat pillow. The stuff in Tiny Toast's decadent pillow is unscoured leg wool -- I probably will not do any more with this, as it's pretty coarse.

The remaining fleece has been scoured

and is now dry awaiting fluffing. I had thought about sending it through my picker, but this is a pretty light and airy fleece, and I think the picker will tear it up too much. Instead, I plan to open up the locks with a quick hand card, and then have a session with the triple carder. I'm guessing two passes should be enough to get light and airy batts.

Stay tuned as I will update with illustrations and that as I go.


Fournier, Nola and Jane Fournier. In Sheep's Clothing: A Handspinner's Guide to Wool. Loveland: CO: Interweave Press, 1995: 111.

Robson, Deborah and Carol Ekarius, The Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2009: 294-295

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