Icelandic sheep are - to my eye- the most beautiful sheep in the world. The
sheep come in 17 colors and patterns and the fleeces' color-range is truly nature's
palette: blackest blacks, silvery black, blue to lavender greys, silvery grey, whites, tans,
beige, champagne, deep dark mahogany reds, rusty browns, strawberry blondes - all
words that can be used to describe the full range of colors of these sheep - add the
myriad patterns of spots and you could never grow tired of looking at these sheep. I
am privileged and honored to raise these intelligent and beautiful animals. Every fall,
the excitement of shearing the fleeces is somewhat tempered by sadness. For I love to
look at my shepherd's palette in their full glory - and shearing them leaves me always
with mixed emotions. But shear them we must, for a healthy Icelandic fleece needs to
be shorn every fall for its prime usefulness and cleanliness. These are the prized
handspinners fleeces, which we process into spinners rovings.
The fall fleeces yield 2-4 lbs. (lamb) and 4-7 lbs. (adult) and this of course will be
dependent upon the number of months growth, the size of the animal and also what
region of the country the sheep live in. Left on for a year, the fleeces cott and matt and
and can become un-useable. As long as the sheep have shelter from winds and
rains/sleet/snow, they will do fine sheared as late as October (here in the midwest). We
shear again sometime in March before lambs arrive. The winter growth is perfect for
felting and in Iceland this wool is called "snoth." Shearing in the spring is also
important because Icelandic sheep will naturally shed their wool at the end of winter.
The thel sheds out first and then the tog comes out. In order to have a new growth that
is uniform, shearing cleans off all of the winter growth and starts the sheep on their
way to again growing out the glorious wool that they are known for.
Please note: we no longer shear ram lambs in the fall, and only shear select adult rams.
We've discovered that the rams, during the rut season, spend most of their energy
pacing and don't have the fat reserves the ewes do, to maintain their weight after fall
shearing. The more severe the winter is, the harder it is on the rams.
As you can see in the top picture (top left) the locks of wool are quite dramatic. The
inner downy thel can easily be separated from the longer tog fiber. The thel alone is
soft enough for baby garments. It blends beautifully with angora. The tog spins up into
a strong yarn which can be enjoyed by weavers as a weft or even made into embroidery
thread. Or the two fibers can be blended to make a strong and soft wool. Icelandic wool
cries out to be spun in a soft bulky singles, but spinning it fine yields a gorgeous lace
weight yarn, strong and with a lovely halo.
Of course, nutrition and also genetics play a large role in the quality of individual
fleeces. Also, the care taken by the shepherd to feed so that there is minimal VM
(vegetable matter) and to keep burrs/thistles out of the fleeces is important to
producing clean, quality fleeces. There is a very wide range of quality from animal to
animal, from bloodline to bloodline, and from farm to farm.
Each of our fleeces is individually evaluated and meticulously hand-skirted and picked
through before it is shipped out for washing and processing. Only the best wool will be
made into spinners' rovings or yarns. The coarser fleeces are made into felting batts.
We specialize in unique blends of our best Icelandic fleeces, blending them with a
variety of fibers such as angora, mohair, silk, alpaca, llama and even yak or buffalo on
Icelandic Fleece and Fiber
wool is an art form in itself.
Since Icelandic sheep cannot be
"coated" like fine breeds are,
good shepherding practices can
contribute to cleaner fleeces.
Never bed your sheep in wood
shavings. Feed hay in feeders
that do not allow the hay to
get onto the necks and backs of
the sheep. Nutrition plays a
very important role in good
fleeces. Lambs in utero need to
have dams that are in prime
condition in early gestation, as
this is when the wool follicles
and cells of the lamb are being
developed. We started feeding
kelp as a 50/50 mix with our
sheep's minerals - free choice -
and the improvement in the
fleeces was dramatic. The
fleeces are shinier, silkier and
much softer and heavier than
before we added kelp to their
diet. Adding apple cider
vinegar to the drinking water
and monthly drenches with
equal parts of water and
vinegar also contributes to
softer, shinier fleeces, as well
as improved overall health.