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Beyond Soft: Long, Strong, Lustrous Wool

On the quest for the softest yarn you can find? You’re missing out.

Anne Merrow May 27, 2024 - 5 min read

Beyond Soft: Long, Strong, Lustrous Wool Primary Image

These Teeswater (left) and Wensleydale (right) lambs will grow up strong—and so will their wool. Roy & Myrtle Dow’s lambs, photographed at the Estes Park Wool Market by Christa Tippmann

Every knitter has picked up a skein of yarn and exclaimed over its softness. After you’ve brought home a few skeins of super-soft wool, though, you will likely find that it’s better for some uses than others. Fine fibers are generally shorter, and they don’t resist abrasion as well as other wool yarns.

Longer wools offer benefits that make them perfect for sweaters, shawls, and other uses. And don’t assume that any wool but ultrafine Merino is too rough to knit or even to wear next to the skin, either. Longwools can vary in fineness, and a smooth longwool yarn can be comfortable and durable.

Loving Longwools

When designer Norah Gaughan first visited Wing and a Prayer Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont, she fell in love with the sheep and the yarn produced from their wool. She selected a sweater’s worth of Taconic Twist yarn, naturally dyed with onion skin, marigold, and indigo in Farmer Tam’s dyepot to a sage green hue. The yarn blends longwools such as Wensleydale and Cotswold (plus mohair, which has many longwool properties—even if it does come from a goat!) with some Merino for softness. Wing and a Prayer sends the fiber from a few sheep to Battenkill Fibers, a nearby mill that processes yarns in small batches.

The Wee Cardi is worked in a blend of longwools Wensleydale and Cotswold, finewool Merino, and a touch of mohair. Photo by Gale Zucker

Inspired by the farm and yarn, Norah designed the Wee Cardi, a cropped cardigan with textures and cables. What made Norah choose this longwool blend instead of some of the farm’s softer (and also delightful) yarns? Here are some reasons to love longwool yarns and blends:


If you’ve ever seen wool from a Wensleydale, Romney, Cotswold, or Leicester sheep, you know how shiny the fiber is. The lustrous surface of longwools is even more apparent when the yarns are dyed, when the light reflecting off the fibers can glow like jewels.

It’s not just the surface of the fibers that makes the yarn lustrous. Because the wool has a longer staple (meaning that the individual fibers are longer), it can be spun with more relaxed twist, which brings out the shine even more and can make it feel silky. Taconic Twist has a surface that gleams.

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