Characteristics of Shetland wool


March 21, 2014 by Ville Raivio

Shetland wool is the harvested and treated wool grown by sheep of the same name. This tiny landrace creature has been bred within the distant, hardy Shetland Islands, where the locals have tended sheep for their meat, fine wool and use in grazing. Oceanic climate, understated British temperatures and meek Flora have edified Shetland sheep into a tough and heavily woollen race. While not golden, their fleece has been used in the making of Fair Isle knitwear, lace shawls, export goods and tweed cloths for many years. So many sources tout the local extra fine shawls that I must join in on the shout: after all, these can be pulled through a ring, whether that of the missus or mistress, with ease.


In 2011, Shetland wool became the first inedible Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) goods from The United Kingdom. Breeders keep proud check of the local wool’s production and quality. To be granted the approval and stamp of wool merchants, Shetland wool must be soft, longish, very fine and wavy. A wide range of colours and fleece shapes are part of the breed’s natural makeup. While they handle the home islands’ climate well, Shetland sheep have been exported to many locations around the world, and they thrive in calm climates.

Shetland wool is warm, strong, soft, durable and the finest any British sheep breed produces. Official colours number 11 and shades 30, of which pure white, black and reddish brown are the most common. The Isles’ knitters favour undyed wool. White was very common before for ease of dyeing, but interest in undyed Shetland wool has risen. If the buyer favours these eleven colours, the breeder will make higher sums from rarer natural fleece. Many of them have names of few syllables after the Shetlandic dialect, and run like a moss-covered stream through the ear — emsket, musket, shaela, moorit, mioget.


Among style aficionados, one Shetland item rules them all: the colourful crewneck jumper with saddle shoulders and more or less nubby surface interest, a product of brushing quite like that on flannel. This carefree icon of Ivy League style is a nice and warm, durable and sprightly addition to any wardrobe. An examplary piece is the Shaggy Dog model from J. Press, with an inflated price but a solid reputation. Another item is Shetland tweed, which can do no wrong in any piece of clothing. The small and gutsy sheep grows miracles.

Second photo: Ben Silver


  1. Peter Henriksen says:

    In the late 50s I purchased a Robert Bruce crew neck, shetland sweater. It was wore regularly into the early 90s. In retrospect, I’m not sure why it was discarded other than age. In the 70s I started putting it with the regular laundry and into the dryer with other clothing. It never shrunk or faded and was the longest wearing garment I’ve ever had.

  2. Kim says:

    I have a 100 percent Shetland wool sweater that is over 25 years old. It washes up well,looks great and shows very little wear. One of my favorites, that keeps me warm in the Minnesota and Colorado winters. Can’t go wrong having one of these sweaters in your closet!

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