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Shetland Sheep are a heritage breed dating back a thousand years or more and are related to Soay sheep. They have primitive characteristics such as a naturally short fluke shaped tail, wool that 'roos' or sheds in the springtime, small size, and fine bone. They are famous first and foremost for their fine, soft, naturally colored wool that is very lightweight and warm. This wool was one of the two pillars of the Shetland Island economy for centuries.
Shetlands, the 'kindly' (soft) wooled native breed of sheep, were preserved because the Shetland wool industry was facing extinction with the the infiltration of coarse long wooled big sheep on the island. Steps were taken, such as the creation of the 1927 breed standard and paid ram incentives, to ensure the existence of this rare native breed and the continued existence of the woolen industry that employed so many of the women of Shetland.
Garments made from breed standard 'kindly' Shetland wool can be next-to-the-skin soft scarves to warm, soft outerwear sweaters. It is a fine wool with crimp (called 'wave' by the writers of the standard) and is normally used for knitted garments with good memory such as stockings/socks, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, shawls, under clothing, and the famous Shetland sweaters. It is a 'longish' wool, around 3-6", depending on crimp. It is sometimes good for felting and some fleeces are very silky. As it is a heritage breed, there is quite a bit of diverseness found within the breed, especially in the colors and patterns that run the gamut of browns, blacks, greys, and white as well as spots and patterns. All in all, it is one of the premier handspinning fleeces to be found.
Official Branding for FFSSA Products
In the recent past, the Shetland Islands were successful in acquiring a trademark, "Real
Shetland," for their wool and wool products. The purpose of this trademark is to promote,
protect, and insure the quality of their wool and wool products for the public. It also
insures the buyer that they are purchasing 100% Shetland wool raised on the islands
from purebred Shetland sheep and not a generic combination of wools.
Following that example, the Fine Fleece Shetland Sheep Association is pleased to
announce that a similar assurance in breed stock, fleece, and wool products has
been awarded in the form of a US/International Collective Mark (CM) known as
"Traditional 1927®." The use of this CM reflects and assures the quality of these items for the consumer.
When this CM is present, shepherds, spinners, knitters, and all other fiber artists can be confident that they are working with pure, fine Shetland wool. Traditional 1927® sheep and wool products are produced by a limited number of shepherds who are dedicated to bringing the consumer the finest Shetland wool available. This commitment includes annual fleece testing to provide hard data to support the CM. Look for the Traditional 1927® CM and know you have quality tested and assured products.
Review of a Traditional 1927® Wool Sample - AM from New York
"Just wanted to say thank you for your fine wool sample. I can't wait to take it to my next spinning meeting, and spread the word. I'm 73 and remember Shetland as being soft....but not around here. You could scrub a pot with them. I always wondered why they would make fine lace shawls. Now I know they were using a soft standard from the past. I have some wonderful sheep that are BFL x Finn for 15 years. They are getting old and so am I, but if I was younger I would get some fine wooled Shetlands....you never know."
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