Following Dorset Down the Old Sheep Trail


I’ve been working in a semi-devoted sort of way on spinning up the Dorset Down sent by the good folks at Louet. Its lovely roving but it has had to share me with a rather large knitting project that I dug out of mothballs shortly before Christmas (more on that later). I have about half of the Dorset spun up and plied. Here is how its looking:

Its coming out to be mostly sport weight and that’s in a 2-ply. But this isn’t going to be a post on how I’m getting the spinning done. Its a post on all the things I’ve learned about Dorset Downs.

You see, instead of actually spinning the stuff, I’ve spent plenty of hours researching Dorsets on the internet. I’d never spun Dorset before and thought some research might be helpful. And by research I mean playing on google and clicking links and getting distracted and generally wasting many pleasant hours.

I’m quite sure ya’ll know exactly what I mean.

The Dorset Down Breed came about in the 1840’s in Dorset England. According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook (a wonderful resource, btw) the breeders began by crossing Southdown sheep with native ewes. Then they played around a bit for a few generations, introducing Hampshire bloodlines, and  strengthening the Southdown qualities. After this fussing around they found themselves with a sturdy little sheep that could mature on grass alone. Its was bred for both quality meat and quality wool making it quite a handy little animal to keep around. It has been suggested by one witty person that I include a recipe for cooking up Dorsets in this post. But I’m not doing that, lol. Look at how cute these buggers are!

2012 Dorset Down Breed Champion

The “down” part of the name is not a description of the fiber in any way. It reflects that the breed was derived in part from the Southdown breed (which was established on the South Downs of Sussex County in the 1600s). The fiber is not really down-y, its super puffy. That’s a highly technical term I’m using there… puffy. The Dorset wool grows naturally in a spiral with a high degree of crimp and this lends a high degree of loft to the fiber and a wonderful elasticity to the spun yarn. Which is a long was of saying the wool is super puffy.

Its supposedly a short fiber. In my research I kept coming across description of the fiber as short. Well, what I have isn’t all that short. Maybe the breed has been improved. Maybe Louet just knows how to get the good stuff. What I have is about 4 inches (10 cm) in length. To me that’s not short at all. That’s a nice length.

One last observation about the fiber… its remarkably even in color and quality. I’m about halfway through this 8 ounce bag and I haven’t seen a single dark-brown-stiff-guard-hair type strand. Not one. Maybe the breed doesn’t have any guard hair.  Maybe they were removed in the processing.

Speaking of how it was processed, Louet packages this fiber (and all their rare breed fibers) with a label informing you all about your sheep and where is came from.

This, of course, led to more wasted hours in research! Wingatui is a town on the south east coast of New Zealand that seems to be best known for its horse races. The area looks breathtakingly beautiful. I like to think of my Dorsets wandering around in a place like this:

The coast of New Zealand is a pretty far from Dorset England so I wandered back to the ancestral home of the Dorsets (via google images of course) and found that Dorset England is no slouch when it comes to proving breathtaking views either.

All of those meandering through the Dorset Down breed history has put me in a nostalgic mood. I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be making from the wool but it will, in all likelihood, be something dreamy and romantic and not at all functional. And it may be puffy, quite puffy.

I’ll have it figured out by the time I’m done spinning.


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5 Comments on "Following Dorset Down the Old Sheep Trail"

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This sounds like a very special fiber indeed. You are wish tio take your time before committing to a project for it.
as for the breed and the location of the farm this fiber came from…both sound like very chilly places to me. A nice fat sheep with soft white fleece must be wonderful.


I think the packaging should include the name of the sheep or even better a picture of said sheep. The sheep should get some credit for producing such lovely roving.


[…] #2: I’m not done spinning the Dorset Down. I’m getting close though! I have about an ounce and a half left to spin into singles and […]


[…] excited to try Dorset for no other reason than I never had before. Its a rare breed sheep with a long and colorful history. That alone was enough to peak my interest. But even putting aside my enthusiasm for all things of […]


New Zealand looks so lovely