Breedswatches I – Manx Loaghtan, Shetland

I am participating at the Knitbritish Breedswatchalong, and it’s coming along great! Beautiful knitting, lots of learning, and possibly even a new craft at the horizon – what more could one want from a knitalong? A garment? Well, I have to admit that I am mostly a garment knitter. Even shawls are fairly new ground for me. Interestingly, I still hardly ever swatched properly for my sweaters – leading, of course, to surprises in the outcome. I KNOW! But still, a swatch? Something one keeps as small and unobtrusive as possible, right?

Now, in this knitalong the swatching is already the real thing. And what a difference that different mind set makes! Nothing can be as relaxing as swatch-knitting, and the prospect of nearly instant gratification is also not bad when you’re otherwise in the middle of finishing a sweater and a cardigan. But it wouldn’t be me, if I could leave the finished swatches alone – so I decided to join them in a breedspecific blanket. To highlight the specifics of the various yarns, I decided to not use any fancy stitch patterning but use plain ol’ garter stitch. Oh, that will be one beautiful blanket!

Anyway, back to the swatches! I am only giving an overview here, the details can be found on my Ravelry project pages.

Since I had two balls of Manx Loaghtan and Shetland already at home, I decided to start with these. I had brought them home with me from visiting beautiful Fibre East last year together with this cute little project bag.


The most beautiful project bag.

The wool comes from The Nude Ewe, a company that spins wool from sheep in british nature conservation projects. The sale proceeds go back to the flock owners and that’s another great thing, given the difficulties many farmers have to gain reasonable prices for their fleece, as Rachel Atkinson has recently pointed out in a very intersting blog post. I also ordered their Norfolk Horn, Hebredian and North Ronaldsay wool, they’ll be subject of the next post.

So, the first yarn I tried was the Manx.


A Manx Loaghtan living in Bedfordshire. (photography from the Nude Ewe)

The Manx Loaghtan originate from the Isle of Man, though “my” sheep live in the chalk grassland in Bedfordshire. The breed has reddish-brown fleece and both sexes have up to 6 horns! The yarn is very lofty and bouncy, and I could rather easily break it with my fingers. In the ball it felt a bit prickly at my neck, so I was associating rather slippers or outerwear. Knitting with it was quite a pleasure! I had feared that the wool would be hard on my left hand (I’m a continental knitter), but not at all – the wool is slightly lanoliny (if that’s a word…), so my fingers got rather smoother during the knitting 🙂 The finished swatch was already quite nice, but this one really gained a lot from bathing! There was some kemp hair sticking out from the swatch, but that settled nicely after the bath. I wore the swatch half a day at my hip and half a day tucked into my bra, and it seems to have gotten even softer with wear. The 2 times washed-and-worn swatch is lofty, very cozy and warm and has considerable drape. I could imagine this yarn knit up as a beautiful generous shawl, mittens, outerwear (though it might be not too wind-resistant, given its airiness). It would definitively be soft enough for a sweater, though I personally am no fan of 4,5mm-needle-sweaters. But I imagine it would be gorgeous for a kids’ coat or jacket.


Manx swatch in garter stitch after its first bath.


The next yarn I tried was the “Shel” (I also love the Nude Ewe’s naming of the yarns!) from Shetland sheep that live in a lowland meadow in north Bedfordshire.


Shetland sheep in the grasland in Bedfordshire. (photography from the Nude Ewe)

The yarn is very rounded and as soft and durable as one would Shetland wool expect to be. In the knitting it felt very smooth and malleable. After knitting with the Manx Loaghtan I was almost a little disappointed that there wasn’t more “character” – but of course that’s not true at all. The finished and washed swatch is really rather perfect – soft and smooth, but not in a floppy way: it has structure and holds it’s shape very well. After the bath the swatch still holds it’s shape, but it also falls nicely (though to say it has drape might be an overstatement). It has a perfect shade of grey and the garter ridges are just gorgeous – I could pat this swatch the whole time. I can imagine all kinds of garments from this yarn, from hats and mittens, to shawls and sweaters. Scarfs might be especially beautiful in this yarn, since it holds its structure quite well – as far as I can tell from the swatch. Footwear also would work great, since it seems to be rather durable.

It would be interesting to compare this yarn to shetland wool of a similar weight from sheep that actually live in Shetland!


Shel swatch in garter stitch after its first bath.