Border Leicester, the (wonderful) fleece
Posted on April 20 2021
Border Leicester are handsome creatures. They have a curly fleece to frame the face, an arched nose, and neat black hooves. They’re longwool sheep, part of a family of sheep with origins in the UK. They produce a fleece of silky, wavy locks, 6-7” [15-17 cm] when unshorn.
Longwools have a relaxed but well-defined wave or crimp. The fiber itself is thicker, and therefore sturdier, than fine wools like merino, but the longer, regular scales on the outer surface of longwool fiber reflect light. The length of the staple and structure of the scales make for yarn that is sturdy and hard wearing, yet one with a soft pliable hand and a subtle sheen.
The elegant fleece of the Border Leicester is prized among its fans. If you raise Border Leicester and want to show them in agricultural fairs, the Border Leicester Association has a few tips: The animal should be brought to the fair with 3-5 months of wool growth, the better to capture the fiber’s curl for the judges’ evaluations. And although clean fleece is encouraged, never shampoo your animal, because this would remove the natural oil from the wool. (We knitters understand the importance of lanolin.) A spritz of lukewarm water will encourage the natural waves of the fleece, not unlike the way a drizzle will make our own hair curl a bit.
How you spin and structure the yarn is important. Semi-worsted spinning, a method that leaves the fibers a bit disorganized and at angles to each other is good for creating air pockets and preserving the gentle elasticity in the fiber. A gentle twist, too, helps to keep the yarn relaxed and caressable. Softer, shorter fibers need a tighter twist for durability, but the long fibers in Border Leicester have built-in strength, which makes this a great yarn for projects like socks and sweaters that you'll wear day in, day out.
Hold a skein in your hand and note the yarn’s sensuous drape and silky luster--direct from the fleece! And Border Leicester is a pleasure to knit with. The stitches bloom with handling, making a pretty halo over your piece. Wool. There's nothing like it.