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Cold Weather, Icelandic Sheep

Winnipeg Manitoba was colder than Mars with wind-chills below -37.8 degrees C, and Mars at only -31 C in the last few weeks. Just reading that makes me cold and longing to wrap myself up in something bright and warm, it also makes me think of Icelandic mittens.

By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Icelandic sheep are one of the purest livestock breeds. Developed over 1100 years ago in near total isolation from sheep brought to Iceland by Vikings, the sheep are a triple use breed for meat, milk and fiber.

This extraordinary breed of sheep have intelligent “Leadersheep,” always multicolored; they are bred for brains and not meat. The Leadersheep Society of Iceland was created due to the prized ability of Leadersheep to care of the care for the flock even alerting them of hazards like storm.

They’re sometimes known as primitive breed and like many primitive breeds they have unique qualities. They have two major colors; moorit and black, but also white, tan, brown, grey, and mixtures as well as five different major body patterns. The sheep’s

With many colors and patterns, no two sheep will ever look the same

colors are not dependent on the different hairs in their double coat.

Icelandic sheep shed or rue their fleece once a year, but are often shorn twice a year, what time of the year the shearing came from can change the handling and spinning of the fiber. The fleeces shorn in early winter are often the softest, cleanest, and most sought after.

The Fiber

The long coarser outer coat is called tog and has a 4-18 inch (10-45.7 cm) staple length, it is from the primary hair follicle and is a true wool, not kemp or guard hair so it fully accepts dye. To the touch tog is similar to mohair, with a lustrous sheen, wavy or corkscrewed, without crimp, it has a 27-31 Micron count. The fiber is strong, wear- and water-resistant, shedding water and weather. When working with the separated tog it works well with worsted spinning, but you can always try different things as you want.

The soft undercoat called thel has a 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) staple length. Thel creates warmth for the sheep like down for a duck, it is soft and downy, with an irregular crimp. The undercoat has a 19-22 Micron count grown out of the secondary hair follicle. Thel is often used for garments for babies and against the skin as well as in traditional wedding ring shawls.

Most commercially processed Icelandic roving or wool yarns are a blend of tog and thel, maximizing strength while allowing for softness against skin. The traditional Icelandic lopi is a lightly spun blend of tog and thel that is fragile before being knit, then becomes durable. PF Icelandic fiberIcelandic is now more commonly used for wet felting. Dying Icelandic whites gives clear clean colors while over-dying natural colors allows for subtle shades.

I know I could keep my hands warm with my someday Icelandic project: dying roving, spun to a worsted yarn that would be then knit into mittens, both soft and weather worthy. Interested in this idea? check out Norwegian Patterns for Knitting Book by Mette Handberg or The Best of Lopi Compiled by Susan Mills and Norah Gaughan

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Author: Morgan Garratt Google

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