And while we’re on the subject of wool from Africa…

Today I needed to locate some stash wool for a quick project and while rooting through the undergrowth came across this:

That’s just the label. The actual wool is a really astonishing shade of pink. It was bought some time in 1994 in a dusty little shop in Harare, Zimbabwe – despite the colour – because it was the only yarn I’d seen in a couple of years that had been anywhere near a sheep.

Pregnant and facing a rather uncertain future, all I could do for the unplanned offspring-to-be was to knit small unisex garments. And the only yarn available was really dreadful acrylic imported from South Africa. So it’s probably no surprise that I fell on this real wool from real sheep all the way from Botswana like a starving wolf on a, er, lamb. I bought the entire stock. All four balls.

However not only the colour told against it. The source, as the label announces, is Karakul. This is not a sheep renowned for its fine silky fleece. Quite the reverse in fact.

Many adult Karakul are double-coated; in this case, people separate the coarse guard hair from the undercoat. Karakul is relatively coarse fiber used for outer garment, carpets and for felting.

The sheep are apparently very hardy in poor conditions being able to survive drought by drawing on fat reserves stored in their tails. But not hardy enough to survive the conditions of the Kalahari without human help, which came from a group of Norwegian relief workers…

They realised, on visiting the Kalahari area, that many of the sheep from that area were not being sheared, and that consequently they were being caught on the thorn trees and were pecked at by the vultures, leaving some animal skeletons clinging to the thorn bushes. The group organised for the sheep to be sheared and the Karakul wool, which was considered to be strong and hard-wearing, was adopted by the Oodi Weavers who decided to use it for their rugs and hangings; they are still making these beautiful items today.

So back to my prized balls of Karakul. Not only is the colour entirely not gender neutral (as well as being revolting), the texture can most accurately be compared to coconut matting. In addition the suggested needle size might lead one to believe it’s a lightweight DK. Oh no. This is a pretty hefty aran weight and I dread to think what the result would be if it was knitted on 3mm needles.

Despite all these seemingly negative factors these balls of wool have been lovingly carried from pillar to post, from Africa back to Europe, and found their home at the bottom of the “aran oddments” section of what, as you can probably imagine from this single example of extreme hoarding behaviour, is an enormous stash.

Now one or two of them at least are being unskeined, wound into balls and knitted into something useful. In this particular case – a case! or rather a sleeve, for the iPad to protect it during the journey to and from work. That’s a ball of even older Rowan magpie aran tweed, purple with flecks, which is being combined in a mosaic stitch to give quite a dense fabric with a faux houndstooth pattern.

The end result will probably be uniquely hideous but since it’ll spend most of its life unseen inside my satchel I don’t mind. It’s the protection that’s important. Oh, and the fact that it’s 100% wool which means it’s antistatic and won’t attract dust.


(Can I really produce a post a day related to wool, no matter how tangentially, for an entire month? It seems a bit of a tall order, but I shall persevere.)



5 Comments on “And while we’re on the subject of wool from Africa…”

  1. Ivy says:

    You’re going great! I’m enjoying your posts. 🙂

  2. Pica says:

    Actually I really like spinning karakul (the fiber I got had been de-haired, though, I think). I know someone here who has three of the sheep and they’re apparently really skittish, skeerdy sheep.

    If you’re needing more material for blog posts, please to look up a copy of the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook ( You will not be finding yourself short of things to say.

  3. rr says:

    Thank you, fellow wool enthusiasts! fans of the ovine! (there should be a word oviphile but there doesn’t appear to be, or at least not one that has anything to do with sheep).

  4. fresca says:

    I care little for wool but love the stories around it!
    I actually like this salmony pink too.

  5. […] finished the slip-case and a pair of slippers (still with 2.5 balls of the salmon pink Kalahari Karakul to spare – does anyone want something small but hard-wearing in this, cough, unique yarn?) […]

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