Well not actually chocolate wool, sorry to disappoint you, that would be pretty amazing though wouldn’t it?!
I’m talking about the fleece that is the colour of chocolate and caramel and all the lovely shades in between. I’m talking about Zwartbles!!
Earlier this year on my market stall, Farmer Lucy came to see me and we had a chat about all things wool. Lucy keeps Zwartbles on her farm in Garstang, Lancashire. Her parents are farmers and although Lucy has a full time job she also keeps a little flock of sheep. So as we were talking, Lucy started rummaging in her pocket and produced a cute little ball of brown fluffy fleece and asked whether I might be interested in having some spun. At this point I had a few other breeds in mind and some that I was committed too.....but I was really drawn to Lucy and her beautiful Zwartbles.
I don’t know about you but my life seems to go by in flurries of rushed activities! Mostly enjoyable ones but there is always something to do by tomorrow. By the time shearing had finished I had a week to go and collect the fleeces from Lucy and from Emma (Lonk) and then drop them at the mill the next day! So I did it all in 24 hours. It was a lovely summers evening when I went to meet Lucy’s sheep. After getting a bit lost the sun was just setting on a gorgeous evening as I pulled in. Lucy took me straight to the sheep and as they saw her they all ran to the fence for love and attention! I fell in love with them, they’re the most adorable sheep. They were nervous of me at first but then let me feel their fleece (which was pretty short as they hadn’t long been sheared) and it was pure bounce! My hand sank in to the softest spongey wool and I told Lucy they were just like teddy bears. Lucy said she had found the same thing and it was one of the reasons she decided to keep them - I’m sure one of their names was Teddy!
Zwartbles aren’t a British Breed and were first imported from Holland in the early 1990’s. They have become popular in the UK, I found this on the Zwartble’s breed site:
'Zwartbles are an elegant sheep (Zwart-Black, Bles-Blaze) with outstanding maternal properties making them an excellent crossing variety as well as a pure breed.
Pedigree Zwartbles have enjoyed considerable success in the show ring due to their striking appearance, amenable nature and lively character.'
I love a sheep with a lively character!
I looked at the fleeces Lucy had put aside for me and they looked so beautiful, a rich chocolate brown with caramel tips. It’s funny because I had a conversation with a retired farmer in his 80’s a few weeks after and he couldn’t understand why I or anyone would be interested in dark wool. I suppose this comes from the wool industry wanting white wool so it can be dyed any colour but I am so excited to see the finished, woollen spun Zwartbles. I love wool that is in its natural, undyed state. (I also love dyed wool – hand dyed wool – ok ANY kind of wool!) But undyed is extra special because only the wool is doing to talking to your eyes – showing you its unique character, it’s colour, texture and nature.
Zwarbles wool isn’t known for being super soft, nor would I want it to be. But I do know that it will be perfect! This wool will be very small batch and I have been told by the mill that it is almost ready. It will be available in a 4 ply weight and I have hap plans already.