Different breeds produce wool that suits different end uses
There can be wide variations between fleeces even within a breed. However, knowing something about the breeds will give the craftsperson an idea of what to expect. Each fleece must still be selected on its merits.
In choosing a breed or breed type, some of the fleece characteristics to consider are:
- Fibre diameter (fineness): This is measured in microns (millionths of a metre). The average for a fine fleece can be as low as 14-15 micron, up to 40-45 micron for a strong (coarse) fleece. In general, the finer the fibres the softer the end product will be. Strong wool is more suited to outer garments and floor coverings.
- Staple length: 100-140mm is usually considered the easiest length for hand spinning. The lengths given below are for fleeces shorn once during the year.
- Crimp: Generally the finer the wool, the more crimps per centimetre. Pronounced, closely-packed crimps usually indicate that the resulting yarn will have some elasticity and a garment made from it should hold its shape well. The Down breeds, such as the Poll Dorset, show a confused fibre crimp and yarns made from these bulky fleeces are bouncy and light.
- Lustre (sheen): Strong (coarse) wools tend to be more lustrous than fine wools. Fleeces from Down breeds are chalky in appearance with little lustre.
Many naturally coloured sheep in New Zealand are a cross between two or more breeds, and their characteristics can range across the parent breeds. A hogget (first-year) fleece is often much finer and softer than a fleece from an adult sheep. Fleeces become coarser with a less clearly defined crimp as sheep age.
See also breed characteristics