I think a lot of knitters, crocheters, and even spinners have exploring to do in the fiber world. It seems like so many stores stock the same wools over and over—the ambiguous “100% wool,” followed closely by Merino and Superwash Merino. But the world is full of interesting fibers to encounter, and the wool breeds available to us seem more varied every year.
This year, in the Year of the Sheep, I’m happy to be able to share some really exciting sheep breeds with you, starting with one of my favorites—Targhee. As a spinner, I’ve become quite familiar with this lofty, pillowy fiber. Targhee has a softness similar to merino, but adds body and personality to knits due to the crimp.
Here are what some of my favorite fiber texts have to say about this breed’s history:
“One of the more recently established breeds, the Targhee was developed by the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, in 1926. The goal was to develop the ideal sheep based on ¾ fine wool and ¼ longwool blood.
“The resulting large animal grows a fine, dense, and uniform fleece whose magnificent high crimp gives any knitted fabric a plush, elastic quality reminiscent of well-yeasted bread dough.” The Knitter’s Book of Wool, page 49
The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook (an excellent resource for wool information), goes more in-depth about Targhee’s history and qualities:
“In 1926, researchers at the USDA Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, bred Rambouillet rams to Corriedale and Lincoln/Rambouillet ewes, then quickly backcrossed the offspring…. Their new, large-framed Targhee breed, named after the national forest where the station’s sheep grazed in summer, superbly produces both meat and fleece.
“Targhee wool has loft and good elasticity, of the sort that makes it lively and supple rather than springy. It produces fabrics you’ll want to wrap yourself in for both softness and a bit of elegance.” The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, page 307
It seems like Targhee has been getting a lot of attention lately as a great knitting wool. This could be in part to it’s versatility—Targhee does well as both a worsted or woolen-spun yarn.
A Targhee-Columbia wool blend is the base for Brooklyn Tweed’s woolen-spun yarns, Shelter and Loft. Targhee lends considerable body to each and every stitch in heavily cabled patterns (which we expect to see more of, now that Norah Gaughan has joined the BT design team). In contrast, Bannock, one of our favorite yarns from Sincere Sheep, is a worsted-spun Targhee wool. This three-ply does a great job of showing off Targhee’s durability and softness in a smoother yarn.
An additional bonus to Targhee is that most Targhee herds are located here in the US—meaning that the brands that feature them often have the yarn milled and dyed here too. It’s nice to know that a yarn can support your national economy from start to finish. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s incredibly fun to knit with, too! You can learn more about this interesting sheep on our Targhee Sheep Page.