Why breed-specific yarns?
Because genetic diversity is important
As I discussed in greater detail in the blog, genetic diversity is what allows a species (like, say, ovis aries, otherwise know as sheep) to adapt to changes in its environment. When something happens in the world of a given species that threatens its survival, its capacity to adapt depends on the presence of variable traits within its population, traits that can help it live under the new conditions. Genetic diversity is the raw material that produces those variations. In other words, we need the genetic diversity provided by as many breeds as possible to ensure that sheep as a species continue to thrive in the face of climate change, disease, and other threats. Breed specific yarns can provide another source of income to shepherds who raise unusual breeds of sheep.
Because different breeds are, well, different
The range of fiber that sheep produce is really quite astounding. There's wool that's strong enough to make rugs that will last for generations, there's wool that's soft enough to wrap newborns in, and there's pretty much everything in between. The Down breeds grow wool that is highly elastic, the long wool breeds grow wool that is sleek and shiny, the fine wool breeds grow wool to cuddle up in, and other breeds' wools combine some of the best characteristics of the other types. There are even multi-coated breeds who manage to grow both a soft downy undercoat and guard hairs that make great rope and twine. As Clara Parkes notes in The Knitter's Book of Wool (on which more below), "every kind of wool has a purpose and not every purpose can—or should—be met by the same wool."
Because different projects call for different yarns
Knitting by hand should mean that we can create a fabric that does exactly what we want it to. Socks call for elasticity and resistance to abrasion. Cowls should be soft against our necks. Lace should drape beautifully. We wear some sweaters against our skin; others over a layer or two. Each of these applications demands a different yarn, and while breed shouldn't be our only consideration when choosing a yarn—we should also be thinking about how the wool was spun, and how the yarn is constructed—using wool from as many breeds as we can gives us the greatest possible number of options to choose from as knitters.
Interested in learning more?
Sometimes, though, having lots of options can feel paralyzing, which is why I try to provide as much information as I can about each of the yarns I sell. I'm always happy to answer any questions you have about the yarns or about which might be best for the project you're planning. I'm just an email away!
If you're new to knitting with breed specific yarns, two invaluable resources will help you learn more: Clara Parkes' The Knitter's Book of Wool and Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius's The Fleece and Fiber Source Book. Both are beautifully illustrated and contain abundant information about different breeds of sheep and the characteristics of their wool.
You may also be interested in our free email course on choosing and using breed-specific yarns. The five-lesson course covers the broad general classes of wool and the specific breeds Sheepspot uses in its yarns, as well as how to take spinning methods (woolen vs. worsted) and yarn construction into account when choosing yarn for a project. Just sign up for the Sheepspot newsletter here, and you'll get your first lesson in a few days, with each subsequent lesson coming a week later.