Bää! When the Finnish Sheep Shine Bright

Bää! Neulo ja virkkaa suomenlampaan villasta, Sanna Vatanen

In Finland most of the sheep farming is about meat production. However, the Finnish sheep breeds don’t need to hide their wools – the best wools from kainuunharmas liken silk. Sanna Vatanen wants to bring the Finnish wool back to the knitting needles with her book Bää! Neulo & virkkaa suomenlampaan villasta (Baa! Knit and Crochet with Finnsheep Wool).

Bää! Neulo ja virkkaa suomenlampaan villasta, Sanna Vatanen

Many knitters have an idea of the Finnsheep wool as rough. Sanna Vatanen’s Yarn Laboratory has surprised many, as they have been able to touch the finest wools of the Finnish sheep breeds and notice that at their best, the Finns can even beat Merino wool.

Sanna Vatanen is an artist and designer, who got to know the Finnish wool inside out while writing her third book Virkkaa ekolangasta (Crochet from Eco-Friendly Yarn) in 2011.

-I really got to know the wool of the domestic breeds and decided that they deserve a book of their own, Sanna says. Ecological and ethical values have always played a major role in Vatanen’s work. Baa! aims to promote the wool of the Finnish sheep breeds and to make the crafts people understand the value of this material.

There are three domestic breeds of sheep in Finland. The Finnsheep is the best known and has been exported all over the world to be cross bred with other breeds. The main reasons for Finnsheep’s popularity are the lean meat, fine quality wool and extraordinary fertility. Four or even five lambs at a time are not uncommon for this breed. But there are also two other Finnish breeds, kainuunharmas – a grey/black variety from the north-eastern Finland and Ahvenanmaanlammas – a smaller variety with very rough overcoat from the Åland archipelago.

-The wool of the Ahvenanmaanlammas has a very distinct character. This sheep has a very short undercoat. The overcoat, on the contrary, is long and rough – like a raincoat. The breed has a lively attitude and is happy to hop from one cliff to another in the archipelago nature, Sanna Vatanen says. The wool of the Ahvenanmaanlammas reminds that of the Gotland sheep or the Iceland sheep. It is durable and works fine on the outer layers of clothing. The wool of the Finnsheep and kainuunharmas is fine and suits even sensitive skin. It is popular in baby clothes.

Family farms

The Finnish sheep farms are small family farms. Currently there are around 1000 sheep farms, with approximately 70 ewes per farm.

-In Finland wool production is still small-scale production and in my opinion, this is a value to preserve. It should be considered a Finnish strength and the tourism industry should take advantage of it, Sanna says. The main product of the sheep farms is meat. Wool is an add on, but it should be used more. However, in wool production there might be other problems.

-Spinning is still a developing industry in Finland. Pirtin kehräämö has been professionally spinning wool for 70 years and is the main yarn manufacturer, but as such very busy, Sanna says.

When a meat producer turns into a wool producer as well, he needs to pay attention to the quality standards of the wool. Spinning mills request the wool to be clean and sorted. Pirtin kehräämö receives 40 – 45 000 kg of raw wool annually. Because most of the wool producers are very small, small scale spinning mills, which will take even small amounts of wool, are needed.

Do you know your wool?

The Finnish wool producers need promotion among the Finnish consumers. Producers can get visibility by visiting fairs and setting up their own online shop. But a new image of the Finnish wool has also been in demand.

-Wool producers are glad that the Baa! presents a traditional material – the Finnish wool – in a modern way. Now, as I’m making a new book again, I have a whole different rapport with the producers, Sanna Vatanen says. Her new book will deal with clothes.


Baa! Knit and Crochet with Finnsheep Wool

One hundred years od Finland can be proud of its own domestic sheep breeds, which have been conserved with rigorous work. The Finnsheep, kainuunharmas and ahvenanmaanlammas have wool, which warm, feel pleasant against the skin and repel moisture. They have a wide scale of natural colours and the Finnsheep wool is famous for its ability to felt.

This book has plenty of information on our own sheep breeds’ wool and how to use it, not forgetting the environmental aspects. With these modern patterns you can knit, crochet and felt something for the whole family and the home alike. Basic skills are enough.

Artist-designer Sanna Vatanen is known by her popular craft books and exhibition and workshop projects, which always go under the surface.