We only have one breed of sheep in Iceland, The Icelandic sheep. It belongs to the North Atlantic Native Short Tail Breed. So as the name indicates, it has a short tail. But it also has two kinds of hair. Long coarse one that is water repellent; it throws the water off, so the sheep is dry. That hair we call “TOG” which means “to pull” and it can get very long. Usually it is a bit curly and it has a lustrous shine to it. When you see an Icelandic sheep from a far, that is the hair you see, and that is the hair that gives our sheep this luxury look like they are a bouncing fur ball. The other hair we call “ÞEL” (pronounced thel). It is the inner hair, closest to the skin of the sheep and it is insulating, keeping the sheep warm. It is also very soft and when you want to make something soft and warm, you part these two hairs and use only the thel.
Working with the wool in my mill is always a pleasure and sometimes it is like working with art. The colours of the Icelandic sheep are so many and so beautiful and each and everyone of them give a different shade when I have made yarn from it. Sometimes I get such a beautiful fleeces that I just don’t want to mess it up or do anything but just watch it… so I take aside a tiny little peace of wool, just to remember how pretty it can be.
When we at Uppspuni work the Icelandic wool, we use a fibre separator that takes some of the coarser hair away. We don’t want to remove everything of it, because it gives strength to our yarn. We even do not use the fibre separator when we make our sock yarn, because then we get all the strength from the tog in the yarn. That way we can skip using plastic (nylon) to reinforce it for sock – knitting. We only use the natural Icelandic wool and the socks are strong and last much longer than we are used to with wool socks,- at least that is my experience. And when we have worn them out we can just put them in the compost pile, because there is no plastic in them.
We can take the wool more often through the fibre separator and get more thel for a softer kind of yarn, and we actually do it in our “HJÓNABAND” – hjónaband means marriage in Icelandic, or “the thread that ties the couple together” and we found it a good name for our soft thel yarn.
I want to tell you more about the Icelandic wool here in my blog, so I thought I would talk about the colours separately. So in the next few posts (which will appear over the next weeks) you can find information about different colours of the Icelandic sheep and what we at Uppspuni do with it.
Starting with the colour “WHITE”.