When we went to Scotland this summer my goal was to get my hands on local wool. I didn't care what form it came it, skeins of yarn or unspun fiber. Turns out I got both. I was lucky to find a large bag of washed and combed North Ronaldsay wool which I then spun and knitted into a hat.
I was also luck to find three skeins of North Ronaldsay yarn in a shop in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.
A Yarn From North Ronaldsay began as a community based project and then became an actual company in 1996. The idea was to buy fleeces from the farmers at a higher price than the wool board was paying, send it south to a mill to spin into yarn and then sell it as yarns and as knitted garments locally.
It became harder and harder to find mills willing to do smaller runs and after many years of fundraising they opened their own mill on the island of North Ronaldsay in 2003. The result is a line of wool, batts, yarns and knitted garments that are 100% produced on North Ronaldsay Island.
The North Ronaldsay sheep are very unique. These sheep subsist on a diet of seaweed for most of year! The locals say that for generations the cattle were considered more important than the sheep. In 1832, the farmers on the island built a six foot high fence around the ENTIRE island keeping the cattle inside with the grass fodder and the sheep on the foreshore around the island limited to seaweed forage. They are a unique and rare breed with only 600 breeding females left as of 2014.
They produce a beautiful wool that comes in a variety of natural shades from fawn to dark brown, nearly black. The staple length is between 4 and 8 cm and it is easy to spin. There is a nice crimp to it and is great for items such as hats and garments that need not be next to skin.