15 January, 2011
I have found a natural, untreated wash-and-wear wool: Shropshire.
Here is the ninety-second skein I've spun. All 20 grams of it have already been spun into a three-stranded yarn in Aran-ish weight, knit into a garter stitch swatch, and thrown into the washer and dryer. I showed you the wool before. The advertising blurb states that Shropshire wool resists felting. I agree, and I think the wool looks better now than it did unwashed. Not that I think it looks particularly exciting overall. My favourite, Blue Face, has nothing to worry about.
The wool is from a down breed, which lands it in the middle of the continuum from short, soft, and crimpy to long, shiny, and coarse. The wool feels passable when drawn across the skin, not really scratchy but not really soft either.
Remember yesterday when I referred to cheaper wool that fights you every step of the way when spinning? This is what I was thinking of. I had some difficulty maintaining consistency while spinning. The yarn would escape my control and get too thick in places. These thick parts expand because the wool is springy in texture and creates lumps in the yarn.
This Shropshire wool made fabric that reminds me of something I can't put my finger on, maybe venerable sweaters brought over long ago by British immigrants to Canada. I hear they like down breeds in the UK.
It's pretty funny that I wrote the other day urging you not to spin yarn out of wool from meat sheep, and here I am doing so myself.
The swatch was knit into a 9 x 4 inch rectangle, and came out of the dryer 9 inches at the widest point, and 3 1/4 inches high, so mostly it shrank row-wise. It drew in at either the bind off or the cast on edge. I can't tell.
I expected the swatch to come out stiff, like shrunken sweaters that have seen rough treatment in the washer, but no, the fabric is flexible and stretchy still.
I threw the sample in the wash to simulate what would happen if someone forgot to wash a wool item by hand separately and not with the rest of the laundry. Many people are strictly wash-and-wear sort of people. Sleep-deprived new parents, I'm sure, need to wash baby clothes quickly without fuss or pass off the chore to others who won't necessarily recognize wool and its special requirements. So I thought that if I found easy-care wool with no chemical treatment such as superwash has, I would have fibre suitable for making gifts.
I might possibly consider Shropshire for making a cuddly, fuzzy baby sweater but the wool doesn't have the sort of polish or luxuriousness I want for gift-giving to adults and teens. I would certainly do a bit of dyeing first to direct attention away from what I think is drab, dowdy wool. I'd try samples of thinner gauge too, since I think a fine gauge looks more refined and creates better fitting shapes when knit.