Beyond Merino and Blue Faced Leicester: Top Alternative Breed Choices and Blends in Hand Dyed Yarns

Here at WOVEMBER we have featured a great deal of wonderful yarns for your knitting and crafting delectation. As well as singing the praises of different breed yarns, we do like to celebrate the skilled people who bring that wondrous skein into our stash too. Today’s post does just that – looking beyond the confines of the go-to merinos and BFL, to celebrate British hand dyers and six beautiful breed yarns,

Blogger, podcaster and co-owner of a luxury yarn club outfit, Jo Milmine is here to wax woolly for WOVEMBER

I’m as much of an aficionado of a buttery soft merino as anyone else is. This ubiquitous breed of sheep produces yarns that vary as widely as its geographical distribution. Be it combined with nylon to make a sturdy sock yarn, spun with a high twist to give excellent stitch definition or mixed with silk for a touch of luxury and shimmer, there’s no denying it is the dominant breed you’ll come across when delving into the world of wool. Like my choice in wine, I’m rather partial to South African merino when it comes to knitting projects. It’s as good a place as any to start!

Coming in hot on the heels is the wonderful Blue Faced Leicester (BFL). Finding a recent soar in popularity, this versatile fibre spins into wonderful yarns, which are both hard wearing and lustrous. It’s the perfect all rounder. Couple this with the delight of hand dyeing techniques, and you’re onto a winner in terms of creating a beautiful and unique, one-off project.

But – and of course the title would have left you expecting this – what about if you fancy something a little bit different? No longer content with your Chicken Tikka Merino or your BFL Chow Mein, you want to explore something a little more exotic?

The good news is, there is a range of hand dyers working with different breeds and yarn bases, which can provide the kind of excitement you’re looking for. Many of these involve blends of other fibres too, and although Wovember is indeed all about our love for wool, I think it is only right and proper that we also celebrate those non-sheepy fibres that enhance and showcase the wonderful properties of wool.

So, in alphabetical order, as it would be impossible to choose a favourite, here are my top picks for yarns from breeds other than merino or BFL.

Image Copyright Coach House Yarns, reproduced here with kind permission.

Image Copyright Coach House Yarns, reproduced here with kind permission.

Coach House Yarns Corriedale

New to the dyeing scene in Linda of Coach House Yarns in Oldham, who has just introduced her Corriedale base to the line up. Shown here in the colour way ‘Cinders’, this versatile 2ply fingering weight is plump and bouncy, and is great for super warm accessories and other garments that need a bit of structure, which this sturdy yarn provides. If you want a yarn that can handle a bit of rough and tumble, takes up dye beautifully and still looks like the day you knit it, this is the one for you.

Use this for: accessories and garments where structure is needed.

Yarn Details: 100% Corriedale, fingering, 100g, 347m/380yds, RRP £16. Available at

Image Copyright Countess Ablaze, reproduced here with kind permission.

Image Copyright Countess Ablaze, reproduced here with kind permission.

Countess Ablaze Lord Longwool

Faux aristocrat Lyndsey hand dyes her yarn in Manchester, and amongst some other interesting blends, such as her BFL/Masham, she also has the rather fabulously titled Lord Longwool, a 100% British Wensleydale DK base. Shown here in the ‘Pistachio’ colourway, this yarn is great for hats and scarves, and can be used next to the skin for those who can handle a slightly more rustic and hairy yarn. Wensleydale is a longwool sheep and the yarns this produces are lustrous with a beautiful drapey quality when knitted up.

Use this for: slouchy hats and scarves, outer garments that need to wear well.

Yarn Details: 100% British Wensleydale wool, DK, 100g, 225m/246yds, RRP £13. Available from

Image Copyright Eden Cottage Yarns, reproduced here with kind permission.

Image Copyright Eden Cottage Yarns, reproduced here with kind permission.

Eden Cottage Yarns Oakworth DK

Hand dyed by Victoria Magnus in Yorkshire, Oakworth DK is 100% New Zealand Polwarth superwash yarn. Smooth and crisp, this yarn has excellent stitch definition and next to the skin softness. Polwarth sheep were developed in New Zealand by from crossing Lincoln and Merino, to create a breed that was a perfect all round animal. Capable of dealing with hash conditions, it is a great wool and meat producer. This yarn is also a super all rounder, that works equally well for garments and accessories.

Use this for: soft cosy accessories, textured garments and special baby knits.

Yarn Details:100% New Zealand Polwarth, superwash DK, 100g, 220m/240yds, RRP £15. Available at and selected retailers in the UK and Worldwide. See stockist list for details.

Image Copyright Old Maiden Aunt. Reproduced here with kind permission.

Image Copyright Old Maiden Aunt. Reproduced here with kind permission.

Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 2 ply

West Kilbride-based Lilith has seen enormous popularity of her Shetland custom spun yarns since they launched. Shown here in the “grellow” colourway, this 2 ply laceweight is also available in a 4 ply and is a 100% Shetland yarn. Blessed with the softness and silkiness of the Shetland fleece, this yarn is airy with a slight halo, which knits into fabric that is strong and wears well.

Use this for: shawls and light, warm garments.

Yarn Details: 100% Shetland wool, 2ply, 100g, 800m/874yds, RRP £18. Available at

Image Copyright Yarns From The Plain. Reproduced here with kind permission.

Image Copyright Yarns From The Plain. Reproduced here with kind permission.

Yarns From The Plain Mobberley

This is a sturdy sock yarn custom spun by John Arbon for Nic at Yarns From The Plain in Cheshire, shown here in the colourway “Bewitched”. This 4ply is a blend of 70% Exmoor Blueface and 30% Alpaca, which gives the yarn excellent hardwearing properties whilst enjoying a bit of fluffy halo and warmth from the alpaca. Exmoor Blueface is a cross between the Exmoor Horn and Blue Faced Leicester, which produces a very strong yarn that takes up colour well. Exmoor Horn is primarily a meat breed.

Use this for: boot and welly socks that need to stand up to plenty of wear

Yarn Details:
70% Exmoor Blueface, 30% Alpaca, 4ply, 100g, 333m/364yds, RRP £13. Available at

Image Copyright Yarn Garden, reproduced here with kind permission.

Image Copyright Yarn Garden, reproduced here with kind permission.

Yarn Garden Premium Teeswater

Sourced specially for Yarn Garden by Chrissie Day, from a single flock of pedigree Teeswater, this yarn is pretty much unique within the hand dyed offering in the UK at the moment. Provenance doesn’t come much better than this. This light fingering yarn knits up with excellent stitch definition, so is great for cabled and textured projects, where you really want the pattern to stand out. A lustrous longwool breed, this yarn would hold up well when used accessories or outerwear. Yarn Garden will be launching a new range of patterns to accompany this yarn when it becomes available in January.

Yarn Details:100% Premium Teeswater, light fingering, 100g, 323m/353yds. RRP £20. Available from from January 2015.


Thank you so much to Jo for compiling her top hand dyed yarns. 

Jo Milmine is a podcaster and blogger based in Scotland. She co-owns The Golden Skein, the company that brings meticulously curated luxury yarn clubs showcasing the finest hand dyed yarn the world has to offer. Jo uses her business and yarn expertise to support others to develop their independent businesses through her bespoke consultancy services. Passionate about crafting (and comedy knitting patterns), you’ll find her podcasting as Shinybees.

Content, unless state otherwise, is copyright Jo Milmine. Content used with kind permission

This entry was posted by louisescollay.

18 thoughts on “Beyond Merino and Blue Faced Leicester: Top Alternative Breed Choices and Blends in Hand Dyed Yarns

  1. It is great to read about yarns other than merino, particularly when you are Australian, sometimes it seems we are drowning in a sea of merino. Just a wee correction though, Polwarth was first bred in Australia not NZ, by the Dennis family. It is called the first Australian sheep.

  2. Your recommendations regarding uses for Corriedale, Shetland, and the lustrous longwools are going into my “remember this” file folder. Especially because I’ve just scoured a Teeswater/Corriedale lamb fleece (what a combination, eh?) I am so glad indie spinners and shepherds are producing wools beyond merino and bfl for us to enjoy. I like Zinfandel, but that doesn’t mean I want to drink it *all* the time!

    • Isn’t it great? I totally agree with you on the Zinfandel. People like Blacker have been paving the way for a while, and it is great to see offerings from hand dyers too. Would be great to hear what you think of the Teeswater/Corriedale!

  3. Thanks for this post- just the info I was looking for for my spinning! And great to see a dyer from my home town at the top of the list- I have a few names to check out now!

  4. A list of alternative breed choices for weaving floor weight cloth is what I am trying to source. The moment you mention rug weaving, you get offered “rug yarn”. I want to identify my wool breed to add provenance and experiment with the diverse character each brings to a woven rug. Do any wovemberists have any thoughts on this?

    • Laura’s loom has weaving wools in bfl, hebridean & black welsh mountain. Also jamiesons of Shetland. I am not a weaver though, so that it the height of my knowledge

  5. As a spinster from the U.S., I have tried to be mindful of where my wool is produced and processed. I have tried many varieties of English wools, and some others that have been found. I notice I return over and over to BFL and Polworth as my two top favorites. I have a tendency to blend Merino with Alpaca or silk. I did buy some Teeswater wool from a friend who raised the sheep. She milled the wool and yarn at her own mill. It wears like iron and never pills. After three years everyone thinks that sweater is still a new sweater.

    • I’m actually a huge fan of BFL and Polwarth has a lot of the same great properties in being hard wearing and lustrous. I guess you are getting some of that with the merino silk/alpaca blends. After making a cardigan in a beautifully soft merino, I’m definitely converted to the idea of trying different breeds to get the properties I need – harder wearing and minimal pilling!

  6. These were wonderful, I personally am a BIG fan of Corriedale and have spun pounds of it but am always up for trying new fleece. Aren’t we all?

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