Shetland Sheep are a heritage breed dating back a thousand years or more and are related to Soay sheep. They have primitive characteristics such as a naturally short fluke shaped tail, wool that 'roos' or sheds in the springtime, small size, and fine bone. They are famous first and foremost for their fine, soft, naturally colored wool that is very lightweight and warm. This wool was one of the two pillars of the Shetland Island economy for centuries.
Shetlands, the 'kindly' (soft) wooled native breed of sheep, were preserved because the Shetland wool industry was facing extinction with the the infiltration of coarse long wooled big sheep on the island. Steps were taken, such as the creation of the 1927 breed standard and paid ram incentives, to ensure the existence of this rare native breed and the continued existence of the woolen industry that employed so many of the women of Shetland.
Garments made from breed standard 'kindly' Shetland wool can be next-to-the-skin soft scarves to warm, soft outerwear sweaters. It is a fine wool with crimp (called 'wave' by the writers of the standard) and is normally used for knitted garments with good memory such as stockings/socks, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, shawls, under clothing, and the famous Shetland sweaters. It is a 'longish' wool, around 3-6", depending on crimp. It is sometimes good for felting and some fleeces are very silky. As it is a heritage breed, there is quite a bit of diverseness found within the breed, especially in the colors and patterns that run the gamut of browns, blacks, greys, and white as well as spots and patterns. All in all, it is one of the premier handspinning fleeces to be found.