One of a series of posts documenting samples from a class on rare breeds of wool sheep that I took in Stirling in 2010. Wonderful Deb Robson introduced us to a range of British breeds (and a couple of others!) and the diverse and sometimes unexpected applications for their fibre. Since then, I’ve been meaning to consolidate what I learned by putting it down here, as well as adding other notes from Debs fantastic book The fleece and fiber sourcebook and other resources. I hope you also find it interesting : )
The Black Welsh Mountain belongs to the Welsh Hill and Mountain family of sheep, a group mostly made up of small, hardy landrace breeds that have largely remained unchanged for centuries. The Black Welsh Mountain is the only true black British sheep and was developed a hundred or so years ago; shepherds in the Welsh mountains bred together the black sheep that occasionally appeared in the white Welsh Mountain breed (whose black fleeces had been highly prized for their colour since medieval times), leading to a new breed with a softer, more kemp-free fleece.
The Black Welsh Mountain is a small, hardy breed that developed on rough, mountainous terrain but adapts well to more fertile, lowland conditions, often producing heavier fleeces in response. It is currently listed as a”minority” breed by the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust and is the only member of the Welsh Hill and Mountain family found in North America.
Ewes usually lamb easily and make excellent mothers, having very few lambing problems and plenty of milk to feed the lambs, which are fast-growing. Males have horns, while females are naturally polled.
Unlike most other breeds that are actually very deep brown, the fleece of the Black Welsh Mountain is truly black (entire body), and does not grey with age, though fibre tips are often sun-bleached. Fleece is short-medium (5-10cm) and dense.
Fibres range from soft-to-medium (28-36 microns) and is largely kemp-and-hair-free. When the dense staples are opened out and spun, it forms a light, lofty yarn.
This sample is Blacker Yarns Black Welsh Mountain, a 3-ply, woollen-spun, aran-weight yarn. It was knitted on 4.5mm needles.
This yarn feels relatively springy and hairier and scratchier than Deb’s description would suggest! However, it feels like it would open out and soften with wearing and washing.
It looks rich in colour with lots of dark hairs and the odd white kemp fibre.
It seems well-suited to hard-wearing outerwear, such as jumpers and jackets, and woven tweeds, where the colour would combine well with other naturally coloured wools.
If I had enough of this, I’d use it to make one of the many wonderful yoked jumpers around at the moment… something like this be fun, using different naturally-coloured yarns! For me though- I don’t think this yarn would be kid-friendly ; )