I thought, since I’ve spent the last few days talking about the joys of using a wide variety of yarn, I should make some recommendations. I don’t know if I can really say “I recommend” all of these since I haven’t even used some of them. But I can at least do a little leg work in case you’d like to try them. The tricky part here is that the breed distinctions are more often made in fiber then in wool, so many of these breeds I’ve used have been handspun. I’m trying to find actual yarns when possible, but I haven’t used them all. Also note I’m trying to link places that list skeins and prices online. But I’m not affiliated with any of these sites, and I have no information into availability, shipping, or anything else.
Yarn’s I’ve used:
Merino: Beaverslide Dry Goods
I was going to leave Merino off because there are so many merino yarns available. But I really love Beaverslide’s yarn because it’s not a highly processed merino. You may find a little veggie matter in this yarn, it has the same textured, farm-based look of many other favorites (like Bartlett) but it’s still buttery soft, because it is still merino. But this is a merino you can believe came off a sheep.
Targhee-Columbia: Shelter yarn
From what I understand the sheep are the cross, not the two fibers are blended to make the yarn. But I haven’t asked directly, so I could be wrong.
I’ve talked briefly about shelter before, but I’ll say it again. It’s very lofty and fluffy you can feel a crispness to this wool yarn. It’s good for trapping air and nice textured knits. I find it softer then basics like Cascade 220, but not nearly as soft as merino.
Shetland: Harrisville Designs
This one may not be unknown to knitters. Shetland is sold to knitters for fair isle projects because of it’s sticky properties. I’ve used Jamison’s from England as well as Harrisville’s yarns, I like this one because I’ve visited them mill. I describe shetland as sticky and woolly but not scratchy. It’ll probably depend on how sensitive you are.
Icelandic: Lopi Yarn or for a more local flavor Frelsi Farm
Another one that many knitters are probably familiar with. Icelandic sheep are a very old breed and even I’ll admit their fibers are a little scratchy. BUT it makes the best outer layers you can imagine. That Targhee fiber may be soft but there’s no way it’ll cut the wind. I can picture wearing a sweater of icelandic yarn INSTEAD of a coat. It’s warm and thick and protective. Sometimes you need that.
Coopworth: Ruit Farm North
I haven’t used yarn from THIS coopworth farm, but I’m linking them because they have skeins and prices online. My pink and brown hat and mitten set is done in 100% coopworth from a Vermont farm (that doesn’t have a website) and I absolutely LOVE them. The scratchy level is right around shetland yarn which doesn’t really bother me. The mittens are so dense they keep my hands toasty warm even when the temps drop below zero – and I’ve had several opportunities to test them this winter! Like the icelandic yarns they make nice, durable outer-wear but with less scratch.
Wensleydale: Highfield Textiles
Again, not the wensleydale I’ve used. But looks like a good one to link. Wensleydale has long staple length and is very high gloss. So while it’s not the softest fiber it works wonderfully anywhere you want drape and shine – I think it’d be perfect for a shawl.
Blue faced Leicester: Fleece Artist
Knitters may know this one too, it’s usually shortened to just BFL. Fleece Artist has a number of BFL yarns in different weights. Almost as soft as merino but with a much longer staple length and higher luster BFL knits up into a fabric with much more drape. It should also pill less due to the longer fibers.
Yarns I haven’t tried (but probably should)
Cormo: Little Brook Fiber Farm
Cormo is a finewool: crimpy and soft like merino or Targhee.
Navajo-Churro: Terrapin Gardens
Navajo-Churro sheep, like icelandics, are a primitive breed. They have a dual coat and there’s a big difference in softness between the under and outer coat fibers.
Romney: Romney Ridge Farm
Romney wool is a longwool breed. It’s fibers are incredibly crimpy, hold lots and lots of air, and add loft to any yarn they’re blended into.
If you want to try more unusual breeds of yarn I really recommend Local Harvest. This site allows farms to market straight to consumers, think of it like etsy but for farmers (and you can find lots of goods besides wool there). Ever heard of Clun Forest sheep? How about Perendale? Wondered what the straight mohair would be like in yarn? What do you suppose the fiber would be like if you crossed a shetland and lincoln sheep?
If you want really in depth reviews, Knitter’s Review has a great selection of yarns they’ve reviewed.
If you have used any of these. Or if you go out and find some, let me know what you think of them!
As for my Montadale fiber. I’ve spun up that little bit of washed fiber. It’s waiting to be plied with some purple fiber from a nearby sheep. Once finished it’ll be a single, marled, skein of truly vermont grown yarn.