Friday, August 7, 2009


Summer included a trip to Iceland in search of our family roots. We not only found a family tree, we also found cousins we didn't even know we had! The 'Quest' for this trip was to find a fleece from a 'Leader Sheep' to bring home. I didn't manage to find a complete fleece, not one that was guaranteed to be from a leader shepe but the shepherdess and weaver thought the fleece prpbably was made of fibres from regular Icelandic moorat (reddish brown - here's a picture) fleece and her leader sheep which is the same colour and she cards them together. Close enough I decided.

So what is a leader sheep?
According to a few web sites like this one:
The Icelandic leader sheep is a separate line within the Icelandic breed of sheep. As the name implies these sheep were leaders in their flocks. The leadership ability runs in bloodlines and is equally in males and females.

Sheep of this strain have the ability, or instinct, to run in front of the flock, when it is driven home from the mountain pastures in autumn, from the sheep sheds to the winter pasture in the morning and back home in the evening, through heavy snowdrifts, over ice covered ground, or across rivers. Sometimes the Leaders would take the whole flock of grazing sheep on winter pasture back to the farm, early in the day, if a blizzard was on its way.

The Icelandic sheep are a very interesting breed having evolved in isolation for over 1000 years. They are a triple purpose breed: excellent meat (some say the finest taste and texture), milk (for cheese), fibre and pelt. And the fibre is somewhat unique having two types of wool: the tog - the long fibre of the outer coat that helps shed the rain, and thel --a fine inner down wool for warmth. These can be spun together to make lopi or separated into two different fibres to produce different types of yarn.

Icelandic sheep were central to their economy for hundreds of years. This picture is a replica of the interior of a turf house. Note the spinning wheels and spinning tools.

Here are a few more pictures of very old spindles

A picture of an old style loom (apparently floor looms were developed sometime after the 16th Century (sorry I can't remember exactly when, it could be the 17thC).
and a replica of a viking boat. This one sailed from Iceland to Canada to prove that it could be done.
While they used handspun, handwoven sails in 800-900, they didn't in the 20th C as you can see.

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