The Romney has been the mainstay of the New Zealand wool industry for almost 100 years, mainly because of its ability to thrive in a wide variety of environments, in particular damp or humid lowland regions. It currently makes up about 40% of the national flock and is barely recognisable from the original Kent Romney Marsh stock, although our Romney is still categorised as a British Longwool.
As well it is a parent breed for a number of other breeds such as the Drysdale, Perendale and Coopworth.
For the spinner then, especially in the North Island, Romney is often the easiest fleece type to obtain and many of us began our spinning journey with Romney. It may or may not have been a pleasant experience!
Staples should have a well defined crimp and medium lustre, with a characteristic pointed tip and a rounded staple.
- Fibre diameter: 33 – 37 microns.
- Staple length: 125 – 175 mm (in a full year’s fleece).
- Fleece weight: 3.5 – 6.0 kg.
Heavyweight apparel, carpet, drapes, upholstery fabric, blankets. Romney lamb and fine hogget fleeces are suitable for medium weight apparel.
For the spinner, Romney is easy to get and easy to spin. However we must recognise that a mature Romney fleece is not suited to many apparel end uses. A heavy woven jacket maybe, or a knitted work jersey. Other finer fleece types are more suited to lighter apparel. Where Romney comes into its own is in furnishing fabric, carpets, mats and drapes, where its durability under hard working conditions makes it ideal.
Having said that, if one is able to find a fine and soft Romney lamb fleece, which would have a fibre diameter of less than 30 microns, it would give soft warmth to a light sweater and would be very special. A hogget fleece, that is the first fleece taken from the sheep after lamb shearing, is generally the best fleece to spin for other projects.
A two ply yarn is suited to most projects, but if a round handknitting yarn is required, three ply may be better as Romney has little inherent bounce or bulk.
It is appropriate when talking about Romney to mention staple length. The best, and most easily prepared, fleeces are not necessarily the longest. In the commercial situation (and also when we send fleeces away for carding) staples longer than 170 mm (say 7 inches) are difficult for machinery to process, with fibres catching or folding over in processing, resulting in fibre breakage. I have found personally that the same applies to hand spinning fleeces. Having been flick carded, over-long staples can tend to fold over in the hand. On the woolcombs the lashed on locks flop over awkwardly. Keep to the optimum – about 100 to 150 mm or 4 to 6 inches – for ease of processing.
It is interesting to note that due to market forces, Romney breeders are starting to scrutinise the fibre that their flocks are producing and are beginning to breed more for favourable fibre characteristics than for fleece weight. Some also are trying to increase wool bulk in an endeavour to get higher prices for their wools. Both factors will make Romney more useful as an apparel fibre in the future (and hopefully increase returns to farmers!).