Today as part of my Wovember* series on local wool, I want to talk to you about the Tingola Fiemmese. Those who read my previous Wovember post will have had a brief introduction to this breed and may recall that it was at the stall of Lana Tingola Fiemmese di Pecore Stanziali, that I said I realised that I’d found ‘my people’.
It was not simply the strikingly beautiful colourful skeins of yarn and animated conversations across the tables that made me feel this, but when I picked up a skein and looked at the label, I felt a wave of comfort wash over me. I’d found the people who feel the same way that I do about sheep and wool, all laid out there for me on the label. It provided me with all the information I needed to know I was among like minded people (and their sheep). The skein label included the ‘identity card’ of the sheep, Here in Italy we all have out identity cards and have to carry them with us at all times, as do skeins of yarn it seems.
Tingola sheep has Italian citizenship and is resident in the flower meadows (prati fioriti) of the Alto Adige area, Trentino. This area is the Italian Tyrol bordering Switzerland and Austria where you find the Dolomite section of the Italian Alps.
Their profession is producing wool (lana) and meat (carne).
Height (stature) is recorded at 75 cm at the garese – which is the withers, i.e to the back of the neck between the shoulder blades.
Distinguishing features are a white fleece (Vello bianco) with black spots on the ears and around the eyes. This marking around the eyes means they are often referred to as wearing sunglasses.
Their “preferred food’ is sweet grass and mixed/assorted flowers.
The label also notes in red that ‘Buying this product contributes to saving a breed on the way to extinction’.
With this description and given how cute these ‘sunglass’ wearing sheep are I think it only fair to share a picture. Also please note the ‘droopy’ ears…
This picture is from the information leaflet that accompanied my purchase. Again it reflects a commitment to breed preservation and demonstrating provenance. The reverse side below explains some of the same information as above from the label but also elaborates further.
The Fiemmese in the name refers more specifically to one of the valleys, the Val di Fiemmese where the sheep were originally bred by crossing another local sheep breed, the Lamon, with local mixed breed sheep. The ‘Tingola’ part of the name comes from the last farmer, known as ‘el Tingola’, who took a group of Fiemmese sheep to pasture on Mount Mulat. El Tingola’s sheep were reputed to be so beautiful that other farmers and shepherds vied to be able to get some.
However, towards the middle of the 19th Century these sheep became extinct and the ‘modern’ Tingola Fiemmese are derived from sheep of the same lineage from the Alto Adige. These Vilnoesser Shaf sheep have very similar visual characteristics and colouring including the ‘sunglasses’.
The strong build, solid legs and maternal qualities of this sheep enable it to adapt to the environment in which it lives. You will note they are very fertile giving birth to lambs of approx 3.5 kg birthweight with ewes growing to 55-65 kg and rams 75-90 kg. Appreciated for it’s meat and fine wool you will find this sheep in the Val di Fiemmese and various parts of the Trentino region.
So this brings us to the wool, of course I bought some to be able to appreciate it at my leisure. I chose these fabulous greens dyed by Valentina Ferrarini of Officina dei Colore Naturale.
Now, the Tramando publication that accompanied the fair includes in its list of Italian sheep breeds, just 4 breeds deemed wool breeds, 3 merino types (Gentile di Puglia, Sopravissana and Merinizzata Italiana) and 1 non-merino type, the Brogna, with the rest being regarded as non-wool sheep bred for meat or milk. Now this may be the case at a commercial level, but we hand knitters know different.
I’ll admit that the Tingola wasn’t the softest wool I bought at the Fair but you can see how beautifully, in the expert hands of Valentina, it takes colour. There are a few coarser staples in there but the spin of this yarn which plies 4 singles together also works in its favour making a lovely plump rounded yarn. There is also a slight sheen to the yarn that reminds me of how longwools, like Teeswater takes the dye, but the yarn is much finer than a Teeswater.
I’d happily wear this next to skin and I think it will soften and bloom with washing and blocking. At 350 meters/100g, weight etc. I’d say it’s a sport or heavy 4ply. I struggled a bit to capture the colour, but as always outside is best and I think in these 2 pictures you can see the richness and depth of the colours and the nice tight spin of the yarn, and those few wispy staples.
Do I have a plan for this yarn? Not quite. I’m torn between keeping it for a design and knitting myself a sweater, although these two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I just need to be more mindful if I’m designing to keep notes and think ahead about grading etc. I chose 2 skeins of main and a contrasting green with a garment in mind but overcome by the ‘yarn fumes’ I probably underestimated and should have added an extra skein for a garment, although I was thinking sleeveless slightly cropped so I might be OK. Anyway, lots more thinking to do before this goes on the needles.
If you’d like to try this yarn, Valentina’s online shop at Officina dei Colore Naturale is the best place, and where you will also find Italian bred Border Leicester woolen spun yarn, and Gentile di Puglia Yarn. As well as dyed yarn Valentina has un-dyed yarn including a lovely natural chocolate brown un-dyed wool from Moretta sheep and undyed white and grey bases of Gentile di Puglia, along with her home grown weld and indigo should you want to dye it yourself.
I hope you have lots of yarn potential in your life, plans percolating and some time in the build up to, or during, the festive season to spend with your knitting.
Take care and happy knitting,
*Although Wovember is officially over I will be continuing this series on newly local to me Italian wool as planned and will continue as I discover more about sheep and wool culture locally.