As anyone who follows me on social media knows I am now not only a crazy weaver lady, but a crazy spinner lady! All this coupled with medieval re-enactment, a love of history and research means I've begun compiling a broader list of sheep breeds that were available in the Middle Ages. 10 years ago, when I first spun and dyed the yarn for a weaving project (which went so well it resulted in a 10 year hietous from spinning), all the re-enactors I knew were spinning Icelandic wool as the "most" medieval. I should note it was not the wool that resulted in the 10 year heitus, it was the lack of maintaining the wheel I used before undertaking such a task.I know so much more about spinning on a wheel, a spindle and about fleece. I am sure there are other spinners out there who have the same question I do. Do I spin this on the wheel for a modern weaving project, or do I spin this on the spindle for a re-enactment project? The following is by no means an exhaustive list, it comes from only one source, but one I consider to be a very good source; Deb Robson's Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, well the DVD which accompanies it, but the book is an invaluable resource, I highly recomment the pair. In the DVD Deb organizes the fleece she discusses and spins for you by region and goes into a fair bit of history for each. What follows comes from my notes and contains information on 7 breeds, which date back to the Middles Ages. I have also included links to the British Wool Board's description of each breed.North European short-tail sheep
- Soay- this breed comes from the St. Kilda archipelago and are names after the islands on which they reside. Robson states tehy have been on the isldand for at least 4,000 years.
- Herdwick- Norse textiles might have included Herdwich wool. Robson notes this breed might prove challenging for handspinners.
- North Ronaldsay (Orkney Isles)- Bone finds suggest North Ronaldsay like sheep have been on Orkney for about 5,000 years, bones similar to modern N. ronaldsay were found on the main island.
British breeds from Roman times Roman White wooled breeds from South
- Portland- from the Island off Dorset coast. Records from 1299 stat there were 500 sheep in Portland that year, but we don't actually know which breed it was.
- Dorset Horn- the Portland gave rise to Dorset Horn, which is the oldest of Dorset breeds.
- Norfolk Horn have been around since Middle Ages. Deb notes we don't know how closely it relates to the original Norfolk Horn. Wool appears close to that from the original surviving sheep was originally New Norfolk Horn, but now just Norfolk Horn again.
- Rough Fell is from the Pennines and hasl also been around since the Middle Age.s
- Cotswold- introduced to Britain by the Romans, important part of the wool insdustry in England by the 15th C. Modern 10-12" staple length 30 microns, long silky curly fleece. (Spin-Off March 1987)
- Merino! Deb shares that the Spanish began importing sheep from members of a Berber tribe This lead to Spain becoming a power house in the Medieval wool market. I would note this breed now seems mostly raised outside of Spain an I am unsure how much it has changed since the Middle Ages.
This is not an indepth look at these breeds, for this I direct you back to the source, or your own sources for such information. I hope this proves useful food for thought for some other spinners. Please feel free to share with me other information you come across or your own work influenced by this information. Now I better go look at my fleece fortress and do some sorting. :)