Today I want to share my final Wovember inspired post on the local Italian wools I bought at La Fierucola in Florence last November. This yarn enables me to spotlight two more Italian sheep breeds, and a Spanish cousin.
Despite so many stunning naturally dyed shades on the stall, this time I was attracted to the beautiful natural greys of Verde Filo (Green Thread) Lab, it was a hard choice, but I think you’ll see why I was swayed.
VerdeFiloLab produce yarns from local wool with short supply chains, locally milled and dyed in their workshops powered by renewable energy. As well as wool, their project was also inspired by the founders grandmothers hemp fabrics which she had grown, treated, spun and woven in the 1930s as per tradition in this part of Italy between Abruzzo and the Marche. Now they grow their own hemp for both fibre and use the seeds and plant for dyeing wool. You can visit their shop to see their range of products, both wool and hemp, or follow them on Facebook to keep up to date.
My chosen wool yarns are a blend of Soppravissana from pedigree flocks registers in the Flock Book with Merinizzata Italiana and Moretta. Again these sheep are part of the traditional practice of vertical transhumance which I discussed in my last post, but this time in the Sibillini mountains which are part of the Apennine range that stretches down through the centre of much of the length of Italy. Here sheep grazing is an important aspect of managing the high grasslands and meadows.
The yarn is woollen spun locally giving it that wonderful round bounciness, and the mill uses local extra virgin olive oil in the spinning process.
The Sopravissana sheep is a much newer breed than the Gentile di Puglia (whichever origin story you favour), being developed at the end of the 18th century by the crossing of local sheep from the Visso province of the Macerata on the Adriatic coast, with French Rambouillet, a breed developed from Spanish merino stock.
The Sopravissana is one of the 17 native sheep breeds registered in the flock book drawn up by the Associazione Nazionale della Pastorizia, the Italian association of sheep breeders.
However, like the Gentile di Puglia and the Tingola, it is regarded as endangered with numbers dropping from 1,200,000 registered heads in 1960 to 8000 in 2021 across 57 flocks (as recorded by the UNFAO). This does however reflect an increase in numbers from a low point in 2019 suggesting that conservation efforts are having some success, but the numbers are still quite unstable.
The sheep produce a white wool of and information on micron count is very variable with some sources suggesting increased focus on meat at a time when the wool could not compete with Australian and New Zealand wool, led to a decline from 20 to 22-25 microns. However, other sources also speak of subsequent improvement efforts involving yet more merinos including coloured merinos in some programmes to reduce the micro count.
The Merinizzata Italiana is an even younger breed of sheep than the Sopravissana having been developed in the first half of the 20th century by cross-breeding of both Gentile di Puglia and Sopravissana stock with various Merino breeds including the Berrichon du Cher, Île-de-France and Merinolandschaf.
As with many other such improvement initiatives, the aim was to diversify within the animal, improving the meat without sacrificing wool quality. However, its milk is also regarded as good and is suitable or cheese making.
The fleece grows like the Gentile di Puglia over the forehead, cheeks and down the legs, is uniformly white with a fibre diameter of 18–26 microns.
The Merinizzata Italiana appears to be more numerous but different sources list vastly different numbers, largely it seems because some sources use flock book numbers (generally between 15-20,000) and others which include non registered flocks an estimate up to 600,000. These sheep are largely concentrated in Abruzzo and neighbouring regions.
The colour in these blends comes from the Moretta, a rare black sheep originating from Spain. Information on this sheep seems more sparse but it does seem to be used in commercial wooden cloth weaving and such sources suggest the wool is fine at approx 26.5 microns and gives fabric a certain ‘rusticity’.
This also brings me back to my first Wovember spotlight where I linked to Valentina’s shop at Officina Colore Naturale where she has a very tempting single breed moretta yarn. Again it is a very plump yarn…
Verde Filo have an online presence and you can check out what’s available in their online shop. If you are lucky enough to be travelling in Italy, and stumble into a market, farmers market, chilometro zero, craft market etc. do have a look for yarn. Many sellers will sell direct at these markets more than online, so you never know what gems you may discover.
If you have come across local Italian yarn, or artisan yarn from anywhere on your travels, I’d love to hear about it.
Until next time, Happy Knitting,