Often people ask me, "how much yarn can you get from one sheep?" My answer is always, "Well, it depends on the sheep." ;) So how does that work? Fleece is mostly sold by shepherds by the pound. Sometimes we ooooooo and ahhhhhh over the weight of the fleece that comes off our sheep but really it should be the size of the fleece we look at, and of course the breed has a lot to do with the yardage we achieve when hand-spin or have the beautiful fibers spun.
Romney sheep produce a long, lustrous fleece, sometimes heavy in lanolin, sometimes not. It can range from 4-6 inches and again, depending on the individual sheep, the amount of usable fleece varies, meaning if they have clean heathy fibers consistent in length all around the yield will be heavy. Weight is not the best determination of yarn yield because you will loose 40 -50% of the weight after washing. Remember the weight loss if from dirt and lanolin -not fiber.
I judged fleeces for several years at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival and I learned from many of the best shepherds and show judges. I touched and examined hundreds of fleeces and many breeds and I have spent years working with mills, but my answer remains the same ... it depends on the sheep. :)
Many years ago I began my sheep adventure with my first Romney sheep, Joe. I brought him home when my kids were little and he was the sweetest boy who grew a large, beautiful fleece each year. He started my love for the breed. I learned to hand-spin from his long silvery-gray fibers, and when he turned 12 I took his fleece to a mill and had it spun into a worsted weight yarn and put on cones. He was very special to me, and I wanted his yarn to wrap around me for years to come even when he was gone. His ~ 9 pound fleece yielded two ~ 2,000 yard cones of yarn.
The first sweater I had knit from this yarn, was a modified pattern knit by designer Bristol Ivy. It is much like a swing coat, long and cozy -as every sweater should be and I wear it with pride.
After using the first cone, I held on to the second and waited for it to tell me what it wanted to be. It sat and waited, and as time went by it changed. I didn't know until I met my friend Adam, who offered to put its strands into something special for me. After looking at many patterns and changing my mind many times, I chose the Waiting For Fall pattern by Isabell Kraemer after seeing it knit by my friend Hèléne as a test knit for the pattern in my Farm Blend.
As the strands became stitches, the shade changed. After the few years of waiting, even though it was safely packed and tucked away in my closet, the outer strands of the cone had lightened. Wow. I loved it. And because it was knit by someone so special to me it makes it all the more wonderful to wear.
Believe it or not there is yarn still left from Joe. It will tell me what it wants to be in time. I will always return to my beginnings when it comes to the yarn I create, even as I add different weights and types of yarn, Romney based yarns will always be the heart of my business. <3