Cheviot, the Sheep
Posted on March 16 2021
Cheviot are more a family of sheep than a specific breed. Three kinds of Cheviot, all related, grew up in the rugged Cheviot hills along the western edge of the UK near Wales and in the border lands between Scotland and England, producing English, Welsh, and Scottish versions respectively.
Winter snow is slow to leave these uplands, and long ago the sheep who live there learned to forage for vegetation hidden by rocks and snow. Stark conditions make for hardy, independent sheep who deliver lambs with little fanfare and are responsible mothers, traits that are a boon to shepherds.
You’ll recognize a Cheviot by its clean face (no wooly bangs or sideburns), stand-up ears, and arched Roman nose. They have tidy black muzzles and hooves. R Lydekker, writing in 1912, describes their wool as “a medium type, neither fine nor coarse, and attaining an average length of about four inches.” What he doesn’t mention is the Cheviot’s unique, 3-dimensional crimp, an attribute that gives Cheviot yarns lively bounce and cushiness. For years, in the border lands, this humble fleece was spun and woven into cloth, but later it was set aside in favor of merino, a softer wool.
Cheviot first arrived in the US in 1836, disembarking in New York. From there they followed the regular sheep trails west and are found in many areas of the US. They’re dependable sheep and, handy for farmers, they’re considered dual-purpose sheep, good for mutton as well as wool.
We think Cheviot should definitely have a place in the knitter's basket. The breed’s downy fleece makes excellent cold-weather knitwear. its twirling fibers trap air for good insulation and buoyancy, especially when spun on a woolen system. Use it for hats, socks, mittens and larger-than-need-be sweaters.