Silver Threads

a knitting blog with occasional side trips

Good breeding


A bit of history for us wool-lovers:

The new vitality was also reflected in breeding programs. Nearly all the great cattle breeds—Jersey, Guernsey, Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Ayrshire—were eighteenth-century creations. Sheep likewise were successfully manipulated to become the bundles of unnatural fleeciness we see today. A medieval sheep gave about a pound and a half of wool; re-engineered eighteenth-century sheep gave up to nine pounds. Underneath all that lovely fleece, sheep were gratifyingly plumper, too. Between 1700 and 1800, the average weight of sheep sold at Smithfield Market in London more than doubled, from thirty-eight pounds to eighty.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, p.138.

I may never be able to see another sheep without the phrase “bundles of unnatural fleeciness” flashing through my mind.


2 thoughts on “Good breeding

  1. I personally don’t care for his attitude regarding “unnatural fleeciness.” Makes me wonder how he feels about increased harvest of wheat and corn, not to mention Honeycrisp apples….



    • But then two sentences later he’s saying, “Underneath all that lovely fleece, sheep were gratifyingly plumper, too.” So I wasn’t interpreting the comment as serious criticism. (If what I’ve heard is true, that Merino sheep will collapse under the weight of their own fleece if not regularly shorn…okay, now that’s “unnatural fleeciness.”)


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