A Rare Breed: Manx Loaghtan Boot Socks to Knit
Sock knitters rejoice in the endless variety of sock yarns available today. From hand-painted hanks to gradient cakes, it’s a good time to be a sock knitter, indeed! But I’m a handspinner, too. So I appreciate the yarn companies that also include unusual wool breeds in their yarn offerings. Have you heard of the Manx Loaghtan breed?
In the November/December 2011 issue of PieceWork, contributor and former Spin Off editor, Deborah Robson shared a bit about the history of this sheep breed from the Isle of Man:
- “In the Irish Sea, between the Welsh shore and Ireland, lies the 221-square-mile (572-sq-km), self-governed Isle of Man. Numerous northern peoples visited this island over the centuries, leaving there a sturdy population of sheep with general-purpose wool in colors, including white, gray, black, and brown. Manx sheep still exist today despite a close call with improvement-compelled eradication, but only brown ones have endured. It’s a lovely brown, in a variety of shades (loaghtan is Manx for ‘mouse brown’ or ‘burnt brown’), but the white, gray, and black wools of history have been lost.
- “Manx wool is a mid-range type, suitable for making warm and serviceable mittens, hats, sweaters, socks, and woven tweeds. Like some of the other Northern European Short-Tailed breeds, the sheep shed their wool naturally.”
As a companion project to Deborah Robson’s article, Ann Budd knitted a pair of boot socks with Manx Loaghtan yarn. Ann explains, “Worked with pure Manx Loaghtan yarn, these thick, cushy socks are designed to be worn in boots, but they can also be worn without boots as house slippers. A simple knit/purl pattern around the leg and along the instep adds textural interest. To prevent felting and shrinkage, handwash these special socks.”
Yarns featuring wool from rare breeds of sheep are usually only produced in small batches, so quantities are limited, but their production and the market it creates help to sustain the breeds and save them from extinction. “Why does that matter?” asks Deborah Robson. “If you have known only industrially processed wools and merino, it’s as if you have tasted only vanilla and chocolate ice cream and have never had a chance to try strawberry, rum custard, peppermint, or pistachio, or to learn perhaps that chocolate chocolate chip is your favorite flavor.”
To read more about Manx Loaghtan and make Ann Budd’s “Manx Loaghtan Boot Socks to Knit,” download a copy of the November/December 2011 issue of PieceWork. And for more on rare breeds, see our blog post “How a Handful of People Have Preserved Some Rare, Valuable Sheep and Their Wools.”