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Sheep have always provided a major source of income for local farmers, mainly as food although the wool has offered an important by-product. Most Salt Spring Island (SSI) farmers breed Cheviots and Sothdowns(all white) and Suffolks (white with black legs and heads) although some hobbyists have introduced a range of alternative breeds to meet their needs for the spinning of finer yarns. Sheep bred for food do not usually offer fine fleece although yarn spun from meat stock is durable and produces excellent sock yarn and outer wear. However, Salt Spring Islanders are very resourceful and have found ways to breed variety into the flock that produce interesting fleece for a wider range of uses while maintaining meat production. Most commonly, the hardy little Romney breed has been introduced and the resulting fleece is softer and provides a range of lovely natural colours from black through brown to soft grays. These fleeces are ideal for spinning and offer other options for usage including dying, weaving, rug making and felting.
The natural coloured fleece is much saught after by the Cowichan Knitters who knit the famous Cowichan sweaters. Much of their fleece comes from Salt Spring Island from farms owned by family members.
SSI sheep are working sheep. They live naturally on the land and, unlike sheep bred only for fine fleece, their coats are unprotected and pick up grass, burrs and other debris as they go about their business. This debris is picked and carded out of the wool as it is processed for spinning. However, it is not possible to remove it all so you will find small pieces of our island still clinging to your yarn – one more souvenir from SSI.
If you are looking for fleece used by country folk the world over, you will find it here on Salt Spring Island. If you buy fleece from Cottonwood Farm, we will introduce you to the donor and tell you her name.
Three Romney/Suffolk cross yearling ewes with a Cheviot lamb.
Audrey, a Suffolk.