Wool is an amazing natural fibre. The global Campaign for Wool sings the praises of wool, saying it is natural, renewable, biodegradable, a natural insulator, breathable, resilient and elastic, multi-climatic, easy care, odour resistant, and naturally safe (including fire retardant).

As if wool wasn’t already amazing enough, every different sheep breed produces wool with different qualities. This represents an incredible opportunity for artists and crafters who are in the business of creating one-of-a-kind work. There are many sheep breeds produced in Nova Scotia, giving you lots of diversity to experiment with as you break free of the merino juggernaut.


As you experiment, it’s important to choose the right kind of fleece for your art or craft. Some wool felts and some doesn’t. Some spins up easily and some with more difficulty. Some wool is soft enough to be worn next to the skin; coarser fleeces are better for carpets and heavy sweaters. The breeds listed here are the most prevalent in Nova Scotia or are important for artists and crafters.

British Down Breeds (Suffolk, Hampshire, Dorset, Oxford, Shropshire)

These breeds are primarily raised for meat so their wool is sold on the commodity market. Down wool is springy, and the crimp gives great elasticity and strength. The wool lacks lustre and doesn’t felt very well so it may be able to be machine washed. The relatively short fleeces are only 2”-4” long, and can add resiliency to a blend with long wools. All Down breeds have similar characteristics.

British Down BreedsSuffolk

Bred from Southdown and old Norfolk Horn ewes. Suffolk wool takes dye easily but can have black fibres. Finer fleeces are soft yet durable. The yarn makes great socks, mittens, hats, and everyday sweaters.

  • Fleece weight: 5 – 6.5 lbs (2.5 – 3 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 28 – 26 microns
  • Staple length: 2 – 3” (75 – 100 mm).

British Down BreedsDorset

Dorset Horn is a very old British breed. Polled Dorset developed in Australia from genes added from Corriedale and Ryeland. The wool is short and very springy, lacks lustre, and has a crisp handle. It’s commercially used to make dress fabrics and fine tweeds. Dorset wool is very hard to felt, but is good to use in quilt batts where resiliency is needed.

  • Fleece weight: 4.5 – 6.5 lbs (2 – 3 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 29 – 26 microns
  • Staple length: 2 – 3” (50 – 75 mm)

British Down BreedsClun Forest

Originated in the Welsh border area, probably from a mix of Shropshire and Ryeland. The wool has the characteristics of Down fleeces (short staple, low lustre, fine elastic crimp) but it also very dense, fine and uniform throughout. Handspinners can use these fine, bouncy fibres for socks, mittens, and crush resistant woven fabrics.

  • Fleece weight: 4.5 – 6.5 lbs (2 – 3 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 28 – 25 microns
  • Staple length: 2.5 – 4”

British Down BreedsNorth Country Cheviot

The ancestors of this breed roamed the borders of Scotland and the Scottish hills for centuries. Cheviot wool is resilient and airy but not as spongy as a down fleece, and produces a lofty yarn. Harsh fleeces are used in the carpet industry. The wool is used by commercial manufacturers to make tweeds, blankets, knitwear, and yarns.

  • Fleece weight: 4.5 – 6.5 lbs (2 –3 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 33 – 28 microns
  • Staple length: 3 – 5” (75 – 125mm)

British Down BreedsArcott

There are 3 types of Arcott breeds developed in the 1970s and 80s by the Canadian Research Centre. Many breeds used in their development were raised primarily for meat production. The fleeces are variable because of the number of breeds used in their mix. It is therefore hard to have an exact valuation on their wool. It is mostly of medium length and fibre diameter with fleeces ranging in weight from 8 – 10 lbs (3.6 kg – 4.5 kg).

British Down BreedsSouthdown

Southdowns are the original down sheep from the southern UK. They are also the smallest down breed bred primarily for meat. They have the finest of down wools which is used commercially in knitwear blends and all clothing.

  • Fleece weight: 4.5 – 6.5 lbs (2 – 3 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 28-23 microns
  • Staple length: 2-3” (50-75 mm)

Primitive BreedsShetland

Very small, extremely hardy breed from the Shetland Islands. This breed has the finest wool amongst the British breeds with a silky, crisp hand, and a light, airy fleece. The sheep can be double coated. There is great variation in the natural colours. Shetland wool is traditionally used in Fair Isle knitwear and Shetland lace from yarn spun from the very fine neck wool.

  • Fleece weight: 2.25 – 3.5 lbs
  • Fibre diameter: 30 – 23 microns
  • Staple length: 2 – 5”

Primitive BreedsIcelandic

This traditional Icelandic breed was brought to the island by the Vikings. Icelandic sheep have short hairy tails and two coats, and come in a wide range of natural colours. The fleece is open and airy with little grease. The coarse outer coat is called the tog, while the inner coat (thel) is very fine and soft. The two coats are spun separately – the tog is used for rugs and woven fabrics while the thel is used for next to the skin fabrics.

  • Fleece weight: 5 – 6.5 lbs
  • Fibre diameter: tog – 31 -28 microns; thel– 22 – 19 microns
  • Fibre length: tog – 4 – 10”; thel – 2 –3”

Primitive BreedsRomanov

This breed originated near Moscow. They have multiple births – the record being 9 lambs! The lambs are born black but fade to grey. Romanovs have a strong double coat and a very fine undercoat. They will shed their wool if it is not shorn. Both coats are the same length so it is hard to separate the two coats. Therefore, Romanov wool has not been used for yarn spinning but for pelts or sheepskins. It is fast felting for rugs.

  • Fleece weight: 6-13 lbs (2.7 – 5.9 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: outer coat – 40-150 microns (mean=72 microns); under coat – 16 22 microns
  • Staple length: 4-5” (10-12.5 cm)

Primitive BreedsFinns

Finns are native to Finland and originate from an ancient Scandanavian short-tailed breed. They are a highly prolific breed with 3-4 lambs commonly born. The fleece is semi-lustrous, very open and with a long staple. It is suitable for a wide range of knitted and woven fabrics. The crimp adds shine to blends with mohair, alpaca or llama, while the silky handle keeps softness and lustre. Finns produce a good fleece for hand spinning as there is not a lot of grease and it is therefore easy to clean. Finer fleeces can be knitted to wear against the skin.

  • Fleece weight: 4-8 lbs (1.8 kg – 3.6 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 31-24 microns
  • Staple length: 3-6” (75 - 150 mm)

Longwools and their crossesBorder Leicester

This breed is thought to be developed from English Leicester and Cheviot crosses. The fleece is long, lustrous and curly with clearly defined staples. The wool is suitable for upholstery fabric, coatings, and for blending. It has a silky handle and is great for sweater yarn, dress fabrics, and handspinning.

  • Fleece weight: 10 – 13 lbs (4.5kg – 10 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 40 – 37 microns

Longwools and their crossesRomney

Romneys evolved on the Romney marshes in Kent, UK. Over the centuries, the sheep have developed resistance to foot rot and parasites. They have been used extensively to develop new breeds, especially in the New Zealand where the Romney has been the most important breed. They are medium-sized sheep with some lustre to the fleece. Coarser fleeces are used by the carpet industry and finer fleeces for blankets and knitted woven and outer garments. Romneys give an excellent all-around handspinning fleece.

  • Fleece weight: 6.5 – 10 lbs (3 –5 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 35 – 30 microns
  • Staple length: 4 – 8” (100 – 200mm)

Longwools and their crossesCotswold

This is an ancient breed from the Cotswold Hills in the UK. Over the years, they have been improved with the addition of Lincoln and English Leicester blood. Costwolds are a large breed with heavy fleece which is coarse and hangs in lustrous, wavy ringlets. The wool takes dye well because of its lustre. It is used for hard wearing rugs and carpet yarns. It is a great long-stapled fleece for handspinning.

  • Fleece weight: 9 – 15 lbs (4 – 7kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 40 – 34 microns
  • Staple length: 7 – 12” (175 – 300mm)

Longwools and their crossesLincoln

This old breed is considered the foundation of all British longwool breeds. It is a large sheep with wool that has very strong, lustrous staples. The wool is commercially used for upholstery and wig making, as well as to blend with mohair. Lincolns yield a long, lustrous handspinning fleece.

  • Fleece weight: 11 – 15 lbs (5 – 7kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 38 – 36 microns
  • Staple length: 7 – 10” (175 – 250mm)

Longwools and their crossesWensleydale

Large bodied sheep that has a distinctive blue-grey face with curly forelocks. Their principal use is to provide rams for crossing with Scottish Hill sheep to produce the Masham ewe. Wensleydale fleece is one of the finest of the lustre longwool breeds and falls in masses of curly ringlets. The staples are very long, lustrous and silky. It is commercially used to produce fabrics with a lustrous finish. Because of its fineness and softness, it is used in garment fabrics and special effect yarns in which lustre and long staple length are used to advantage, and is great for handspinning.

  • Fleece weight: 9 – 15 lbs (4 – 7kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 36 – 30 microns
  • Staple length: 8 – 12” (200 – 300mm)

Longwools and their crossesBlue Faced Leicester

This breed was established in the early 1900s to produce cross bred ewes from many of the hill breeds. It is now one of the most prolific British breeds. The fleece is relatively fine and semi-lustrous and silky. It is good for strong, smooth fabrics and yarns, and also great for handspinning.

  • Fleece weight: 2.5 – 4.5 lbs (1-2 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 28 – 24 microns
  • Staple length: 3 – 6” (80 – 150 mm)

Longwools and their crossesTexel

Texel are a Dutch breed of sheep developed by crossing local Old Texel with British longwools. The breed is valued for crossbred lambs and its fleece. The wool is medium to coarse with average loft and little lustre. Some fleeces are kempy and are used in rugs and carpets. Finer fleeces are used for knitted and woven garments.

  • Fleece weight: 8 – 12 lbs (3.6 –5.5 kg)
  • Fibre diameter: 34 – 26 microns
  • Staple length: 3 – 6” (80 – 150 mm)

Dairy SheepBritish Milk Sheep

Developed in 1970 from various breeds for use in sheep dairying and secondly for meat. The fleeces can be fine for next to skin garments. The wool is long and fairly lustrous and good to hand spin.

  • Fleece weight: 9 – 11 lbs (4.1 – 5 kg)
  • Staple length: 45 – 7” (11.5 – 18 cm)
  • Fibre diameter: 28-31 microns

Dairy SheepEast Frisian

This is a German dairy breed that was imported to Canada in 1992. They are an easy care, productive dual purpose breed with a nice fleece. The fleece is mostly coarse but it can be finer, therefore spinners have to select the fleece for a specific purpose.

  • Fleece weight: 9 – 13 lbs (4.1 – 5.9 kg)
  • Staple length: 3-6” (7.5 – 15 cm)
  • Fibre diameter: 33 – 26 microns