I'm not terribly adept at identifying sheep breeds without a guide to help me, but Bluefaced Leicesters are unmistakable. They have that distinctive aristocratic nose, perky ears and a soft, bare, blue-grey face. The breed began as a 'crossing breed' in the mid 18th century. Landowner and breeder Robert Bakewell's method of selective breeding became the standard for creating breeds with specific traits. His Dishley or 'new' Leicesters mixed Teeswater, Old English Leicester Longwools and possibly Ryland breeds. From these sheep came the Border Leicester we know today, from which the Bluefaced Leicester and Wensleydale (among others) originate.
Bluefaced Leicester wool is my absolute favourite wool to work with. It's soft and durable with lovely lustre and bounce. It's classified as a longwool, with a staple length of between 3-6 inches, and has the softest fleece of any longwool. At the finer end, it rivals Merino for softness, with a micron count of between 24-28. The locks have a beautiful, tight crimp, which give it its characteristic springiness. Fleeces are most commonly white, although grey and brown fleeces can also be found (and are just as beautiful!)
What's it good for?
I love working with Bluefaced Leicester because it is just versatile. Its lustre creates an ideal dye base, the colours coming up bright and pure. Longwools lend themselves to combed preparations and Bluefaced Leicester is particularly easy to spin because the fibres tend towards openness rather than density. It works well carded, too, particularly if the staple is on the shorter side. Beginner spinners would find this a good wool to start with. The 100% Bluefaced Leicester fibre I stock is exceptionally good, coming from flocks local to John Arbon Textiles' mill in Devon, where double sort it so only the finest fleece is selected.
In yarn form it's just beautiful - characterful while retaining its lovely softness. A pure BFL yarn will have loads of elasticity and bounce, and it works really well with other fibres, such as silk, linen, mohair and other wools. I use BFL in my Oh! So Fine range, which includes Lace, Sock and DK, as well as Sweater Weather 4ply and DK, Eco-warrior sock and Superhero DK. I told you I love it!
So, BFL is a great all rounder, and works really well in all sorts of projects, from soft cowls to hard-wearing socks. It also felts beautifully. What's not to love? See below for some of the Bluefaced Leicester blends available at Cat & Sparrow.