Ull er Føroya gull - Wool is the gold of the Faroe Islands
(old Faroese proverb)
Before fishing became the main industry of the Faroes at the beginning of the twentieth century, sheep farming, and trade in home-knitted goods were the main sources of income for most families.
The Faroese sheep has been selectively bred over the centuries as much for the quality of its wool as for its meat. It is a particularly hardy animal, able to survive on the bare slopes of the islands all year round. Its wool, when spun, is exceptionally warm and water-resistant - necessary qualities for a climate where it rains on the majority of days in the year.
One notable feature of the Faroese sheep is the variety of natural colours that can be spun from the fleeces. Although the majority of the sheep are white or cream, there are also sheep with black, brown and grey wool, as well as two-coloured sheep: white and black, and white and brown.
Even today there are no large sheep farms on the Faroes. The normal pattern is for families to tend a small flock on the mountain pastures around and above the villages. These sheep farmers - who might also be teachers, doctors or fishermen - join together for the seasonal rituals of caring for new-born lambs in the spring, rounding up the sheep for shearing in early summer, haymaking in late summer, and, in autumn, selecting the best rams for breeding and slaughtering some sheep for the family dinner table.
Most Faroese sheep are still sheared by hand clippers in the traditional way. The fleeces are then sold to the three main yarn manufacturers, who grade them according to colour. The wool is then carded and spun - and dyed for the coloured yarns - to produce yarn ready for knitting.