This page is designed to be a quick reference of breeds that Gnomespun carries or has carried (and possibly a few I’m considering carrying). It is by no means exhaustive and neither is it unbiased. It is colored by my personal experiences with the fibers, and the purposes that I find these wools well suited for.
Mostly I classify breeds similarly to the way they are classed in “In Sheep’s Clothing” by Jane and Nola Fournier. When classified otherwise, I’ll try to note it. For now, they’ll be listed alphabetically. At another point I may group them by class.
Alpaca: A short stapled, sleek and soft fiber. Alpaca comes in two varieties, suri and huacaya. Huacaya is shorter, loftier, and has less luster. Suri is longer, sleeker, with more shine and is often compared to hair in appearance. Both are very soft.
Angora: Fiber from soft fuzzy bunnies. Short stapled and luxuriously soft. Pure angora isn’t very durable and has effectively no memory.
Bamboo (Rayon): Bamboo rayon/bamboo viscose is a regenerated cellulose fiber made by breaking down bamboo and repolymerizing the cellulose into polymeric fibers. It’s very soft with a good drape.
Black Welsh Mountain: This is a soft and lofty downs wool. Soft, short stapled, with a great loft, elasticity and memory. Similar in feel to a mid dorset or clun forest. Soft enough for hard wearing socks or gloves, but not for house socks.
Bluefaced Leicester: Often referred to simply as “BFL,” the finest of the longwools, with a delicate lustre and beautiful drape. Almost as soft as Merino and easily soft enough for any next-to-skin wear. Not as durable as some fibers, but a luxury to wear.
Bombyx Silk/Mulberry Silk: What more needs to be said? This is the standard of silk. Shiny, white, sleek, long stapled. This is silk silk.
Border Leicester: A lustrous longwool with a nice handle and soft rich sheen. This breed varies in softness from as soft as Corriedale or a good Shetland suitable for next-to-skin to much coarser suitable outerwear.
California Red: This breed arose in the U.S. from crossing Tunis and Barbados sheep. The Tunis parentage donates a lovely soft spring to the fleece. Lambs are born a rusty cinnamon then fade to a more standard color as they age, though their head maintains the coloration. Some of the hairs also retain the color, making an interesting heathered appearance to the fiber. Medium fineness but with an overall silky feel.
Cashmere: A super duper soft luxury fiber from goats. Short stapled, and not very durable when pure. One of the most luxurious of the luxury fibers.
Charollais: Originating in France, Charollais is a downs type breed. Not quite merino soft, beautifully dense and quite soft, similar in fineness to Finn. Soft enough for almost all next to skin wear. I consider this breed to border on fine-wool.
Cheviot: A downs wool, and thus almost unfeltable. Very similar to Dorset, with a spiral crimp and incredible bounce. Cheviot is a very old breed originally from Spain, and long established in the English Downs. Like many of the downs breeds, Cheviot can be variable. Soft Cheviot is soft enough for good socks and next-to-skin wear, while coarser Cheviot is better suited for hard wearing outerwear. My main source is largely on the softer, sock, end.
Coopworth: a lofty, all-purpose fiber with medium length and luster, good for any application. Coopworth comes from a cross between Romney and Border Leicester, producing a fiber with Romney loft and some nice BL crisp and luster. Shiny. Roving tends to halo somewhat.
Columbia: one of the first U.S. breeds! They have soft, lofty wool very reminiscent of their Rambouillet predecessors. This is an excellent wool for spinning up delicious squeezable next to skin wear! Often considered a “medium” wool, I would classify it as “fine!”
Corriedale: A soft yet durable fine wool. Still soft enough for next to the skin wear, but more resistant to wear than Merino. A good compromise between softness and durability if your skin is more sensitive.
Cotswold: A gorgeous longwool with amazing luster that makes the wool almost glow with warmth. Cotswold varies from next-to-skin soft to sweater soft, not Merino soft, but far more durable and lustrous, with a long staple and excellent drape.
Clun Forest: A downs wool, resistant to felting with good loft and memory. Lends itself to a yarn with good stitch definition. Not Merino soft, but more durable than the finewools, with less luster than Dorset, and a little sturdier drape. Good for some for socks and the like, depending how sensitive your feet.
Dorset: A downs breed, very difficult to felt, with great memory (it doesn’t crease or compress easily) with high loft and good stitch definition. Not merino soft, and can be variable, soft Dorset is comparable to a mid Corriedale, coarse Dorset to a heavy Border Leicester. Very durable. Not scratchy, low lustre. I consider a soft Dorset to be an excellent fiber for long wearing socks. Dorset is sometimes specified as “Horned Dorset.” This is to distinguish it from “Polled Dorset” which are hornless. Otherwise, the fibers are identical, but the horned version of the sheep is more rare.
Dorset Downs is a downs breed from England, very difficult to felt, with great memory (it doesn’t crease or compress easily) with high loft and good stitch definition. While similar in character, it is a different breed than Dorset, they simply come from a similar area. Dorset Downs is not merino soft, but still good for most purposes, around a midcoarse Corriedale. Very durable. Not scratchy, low lustre. I consider this one of my favorite fibers for socks. Long wearing, well cushioned, and comfortable without having to overspin the yarn.
East Friesian: is a milk breed of sheep with downs character. In feel it’s similar to a dorset wool. Difficult to felt, with good memory, high loft, and spring. Not merino soft, but still soft enough for most purposes, around a midcoarse Corriedale. Very durable. Not scratchy, moderate lustre. Good for durable outerwear or socks if you’re not super sensitive.
Exmoor Horn: A downs breed, from a very small area of England (12km radius!). The Exmoor Horn is a very rare, threatened British breed of sheep. Downs durability and spring. Not next-to-skin soft for most, but quite durable with a nice crisp crimp. Shinier than your average downs wool.
Exmoor Mule: This is a threatened English breed, crossed with BFL for the best of both. The entire population of this lovely sheep lives on one farm! It’s very lustrous and soft for a downs type wool. As sleek as a nice shetland and shinier. It would make a GREAT fiber for anything where you want both softness and the downs durability/spring. Socks, mittens, sweaters, etc.
Finn: Soft and lofty, finn is finewool and a luxury to spin with, it drafts easily and spins well at any weight. Great for next to skin wear, with a little more durability and luster than Merino.
Gotland: A longwool, similar in many respects to Wensleydale. Slightly shorter stapled, with a good luster, good wear, and gorgeous dark heathering. Good for laceweight. Note that though it is a longwool, Gotland tends to halo heavily with a shockingly soft halo.
Grey Norwegian: A truly an ancient breed, thought to be the origin of the famous Icelandic breed. Possibly the second most primitive sheep. With long medium coarse high luster fiber, similar in structure to Gotland and Wensleydale, a little coarser than some other breeds, but a good sturdy fiber with good handle.
Gulf Coast Native: These are an American sheep descend from the Spanish flocks brought to the New World by explorers and settlers beginning in the 1500s. The exact breed origin of the GCN sheep is lost in the blend of breeds brought at that time. Whatever the origin the fiber is now a springy not-quite-downs style fiber. This fiber is soft and lofty enough for next to skin wear, at least for me!
Hampshire: A true downs wool breed, originally from the Hampshire downs of England. Lofty and difficult to felt. Hampshire sheds water and has excellent memory. A good fiber for socks, warm sweaters, and mittens that will wear well.
Herdwick: a rare English breed from Cumbria. The wool itself is soft, with fairly abundant kemp. In the sheep, and in outerwear this kemp provides some protection in blizzards, likely on the shape as well. Similar to the Scottish Blackface, though slightly softer.
Jacob: One of the most ancient breeds around, often still retaining a double coat. With spots of color in the fleece, this breed makes a beautiful heathered fiber. Good mid durability, elasticity, and mid-high loft. Great for sweaters, some will find it soft enough for next-to-skin, others not.
Karakul is a very ancient breed, hailing from the area that is now Uzbekistan. There is evidence Karakul sheep have been there continuously since 1400 BC. Sometimes it is spelled with a “Q” as it’s named after “Qorako’l.” As a truly ancient breed, Karakul is double coated. Sometimes the two coats are separated as the undercoat can be quite soft while the outercoat is coarser. If the prep is blended together undercoat and guard hairs, it makes for a heathered mid-coarse feel.
Manx Loaghtan: a rare English breed of sheep, with 4 horns similar to a jacob. They are native to the Isle of Man. Soft enough for most next to skin wear. With a soft loftiness, very warm! My favorite pair of fingerless gloves are made with Manx!
Masham (also called Massam): a longwool, similar in many respects to Wensleydale. Masham has a very long staple, high luster, and very good wear. This particular batch is on the soft end of the breed, about a mid-wensleydale softeness, not suitable for most next-to-skin, but a quite pleasant handle if not overspun.
Merino: The standard of finewool. The softest generally available wool, but not very durable. Short stapled, can be more difficult to draft smoothly when unblended.
Montadale: an American downs-type wool. With a crisp spiral downs crimp, this batch fiber has a range between dorset and tunis, but with a bit more shine and less sponginess than tunis. Montadale has excellent loft and memory, while resisting felting (though like all wools it is not immune). Good for hard wearing items, soft enough for next to skin for me, but YMMV.
Old English Southdown: (also called Babydoll Southdown) Probably one of the softest downs breeds, while still maintaining the incredible loft of other downs breeds. Great loft, good memory, and soft enough for next-to-skin wear.
Perendale: A downs style breed from a cross between Cheviot and Romney. It combines the luster and halo of Romney with the spring and loft of Cheviot. It’s not super soft, about what non-specified “wool” sweaters usually are. So good for anything a mid-level Romney would be good for, sweaters, hats, mittens, heavy-duty socks, outerwear, etc.
Polwarth: A super soft fine wool, as fine as Merino, more luster, with a longer staple and more loft. One of my favorite fibers. Excellent for next-to-skin functions, with a little better wear than Merino. Not ideal for high wear purposes.
Polypay: An American breed sheep developed from a cross between Finn, Dorset, Targhee, and Rambouillet. As such it's fine, soft, and springy, a true pleasure to spin. This batch comes from a naturally colored polypay on a small East Coast farm. Spins up to a super springy yarn good for next-to-skin wear.
Ramboulliet: Also known as French Merino is a soft, lofty finewool. This is one of the foundation breeds for many of the soft curly breeds you’re familiar with. Springy, easy drafting, will make a puffy, warm, airfilled yarn.
Rideau Arcott: This breed was developed in Canada from Finn, Suffolk, East Friesian, Shropshire, and Dorset Horn. This batch has definitely preserved the softness of its Finn ancestors, while also maintaining much of the loft and crimp of the downs breeds. A lovely fiber, soft enough for any next-to-skin purpose!
Romanov: These sheep are from, surprisingly enough, Russia! the Volga valley, northwest of Moscow, specifically. They are named after the Romanov family of infamy. The wool is a blend of white wool and black “guard hair.” The guard hair in Romanov, however, isn’t thick and stiff like normal guard hair, but the same weight as the other wool! A neat fiber, soft enough for some next-to-skin, with medium loft.
Romeldale: An American breed derived from a cross between Romney and Rambouillet. It is soft and lofty, with a lovely spring and crimp. I find it more than soft enough for all next-to-skin functions, though it's not quite as soft as rambouillet it has a bit more pill resistance.
Romney: A longwool with good wear and a soft luster, great for things which need a mid level of softness and wear, like mittens, sweaters, and the like. More loft than the Border Leicester. Romney varies in softness but is almost always soft enough for hats/mittens and softer Romneys for next-to-skin for most wearers.
Scottish Blackface: This is an ancient breed originating from the English/Scottish border in the UK. Today it is the single most common sheep in the UK. I usually have what is known as “short type” Scottish Blackface, which means it is on the softer end of the breed. The wool itself is remarkably soft, though as an ancient breed there is a significant amount of kemp in the wool (adding to the heathered appearance) which reduces the softness somewhat. Non-scratchy. Good for outerwear, or next to skin if your criteria is more “not scratchy” than “soft.”
Shetland: This is an ancient sheep breed of much debated origins. They’re renowned for living in the Scottish Highlands on the steep hills. It’s a middle luster fiber, on the softer end of the spectrum (soft enough for next to skin wear). It has a good loft and respectable bounce and memory. A good all around fiber for just about any purpose. This is one of my favorite breeds. “In Sheeps Clothing” classifies this as a downs wool because of the lock structure, while I usually classify it as an ancient breed because some shetlands are still double (or even triple) coated and it felts more easily than most downs wools.
Suffolk: a downs wool derived from Southdown and Norfolk Horned sheep, resistant to felting with good loft and memory. Lends itself to a yarn with good stitch definition. A little “crisper” in its crimp than Dorset or Cheviot, more similar to Hampshire and Clun Forest. Good for durable hard wearing socks!
Targhee: An American finewool, almost as soft as Merino, with lots of loft from its Ramboulliet ancestors, and an almost downswool type elasticity. Excellent for fabric where you need softness, elasticity, and crease resistance.
Tencel: A regenerated cellulose fiber, also called Lyocell. Tencel is a fine, soft fiber made from wood pulp similar to bamboo viscose. The breakdown and polymerization process of tencel is considered more sustainable than that used for bamboo.
Texel: A Dutch downs wool, with great loft and memory. These sheep are big and boxy, bred mostly for meat and thus often looked over for their lovely springy wool! Also comes in a “Blue” variety, which is naturally near-black.
Tunis: A mid-soft to very soft downswool breed, with slighly less loft than some of the other down breeds like Clun or Dorset, but with a finer handle and drape. Little to no notable luster. Tunis still retains the good memory of other downs breeds.
Tussah Silk: What more needs to be said? Very long stapled, sleek, shining, strong, with an amazing delicate handle. Tussah silk is from the tussah moth, as opposed to mulberry silk which comes from bombyx moths. Note: tussah silk (often referred to as “wild silk”) is not “wild crafted” by default, despite popular belief, and is usually cultivated and processed similar to mulberry silk.
Wensleydale: A lovely longwool with an amazing luster. Wensleydale is not the finest of the longwools, but it is the longest stapled with the highest shine. Excellent for laceweight yarn.
Whitefaced Woodland: a rare british breed of sheep, related to but softer than the Swaledale. In fact, it’s a finer wool than most of the hill breeds. A lovely downs type wool, springy and soft enough for most next to skin wear.
That’s all for now, feel free to email or PM with more questions.