I started using Shetland wool because I was so neurotic about our freezing living conditions when I was pregnant. Having spent time on the islands, I knew it was supposed to be superior (there is a reason why fashion brands such as Toast and Brora use it and Shetland has a massive wool ‘tourism’ industry). If you want to read more about its history, click here for an interesting account.
I didn’t want to use Merino because they are more suited to Argentina or Australia and are hard to grow here (I think there is one commercial flock in the UK but they aren’t suited to our wet climate and have to be kept inside more than native breeds). I didn’t want to use cashmere because I wanted the jumpers to be affordable but also because we don’t farm or grow cashmere in this country either and I wanted it to be grown and spun in the UK.
So the Shetland mills were my first port of call. We are outside for a lot of the day and have no central heating inside, so the density and warmth of the Shetland jumpers I was making were perfect. I did roll my eyes to begin with when I was told by the mill that the wool was waterproof, but having been using, wearing, making with this wool for a few years now – it’s true. It’s virtually waterproof and unbelievably strong. It will last and last. If you catch it on a barbed wire fence or a nail (for example) it will come out unscathed. The trade off for it not being as soft as merino (which is wonderful for next to the skin but does fall apart easily) or cashmere or lambswool is that you will have it forever and it really will keep the weather out, so perfect for being outside in.
I was conscious that softer yarn would be popular for smaller babies, or babies who weren’t outside as much as mine, so I tried out some world famous Supersoft Lambswool (roots in Shetland wool), some of which is imported, spun in Aberdeenshire and decided there was a place for both. The lady at the mill explained that you need extremes of temperature to make wool really really soft. The Lambswool jumpers feel luxurious to touch, the Shetland ones are not itchy or scratchy but they don’t feel luxuriously soft like the lambswool ones (although they do get softer with wear). The lambswool range is thinner and slightly lighter so suitable for warmer days or for underneath snug fitting coats or layering in the winter. If it’s really cold here, I put a lambswool jumper underneath a Shetland jumper.
We wear long sleeved tops most of the year round to stay warm and avoid sunburn in the summer. If you are worried about any sensitivity to wool, I would recommend long sleeved tops. I wear these jumpers next to my skin and never find the wool itchy but we are all different.
I hope that explains the difference between the two types of yarn I am using and why. If you are sensitive / allergic to wool in general, then my advice would be to not buy one of my jumpers!