Washing Shropshire

December 1, 2017

This is a lovely variegated Shropshire fleece that comes from Shropshire Woollies, a sheep farm in the Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria. You can see there are three separate colours here, a dark brown, a light silver grey and a mid grey.

I purchased a kilo of this as part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project which explores alternatives to superwash merino and nylon blends for sock knitting. Like many downs fleeces, Shropshire resists felting so may be machine washable, making it a good candidate for sock spinning. I will talk more about Shropshire fleeces in a subsequent post but right now I want to chat about washing it.

Recently, I have become a lock washing convert but I wasn’t sure if that would be a useful method in the case of a downs fleece where the staples are blocky and sit firmly together in bricks. I tried washing the dark brown by the lock, row upon row laid out in a laundry bag and secured with safety pins. To compare, I packed another laundry bag loosely with fleece and then scoured both in the same way.

I use the hottest water I can get out of the hot tap and Handy Andy, an Australian and New Zealand floor cleaner (basically detergent with a little ammonia added). This is followed by a hot rinse and then a spin in washing machine.

Unlike, longer stapled locks like Merino, Corriedale and Gotland, I found there was no advantage in washing the Shropshire by lock. The lock structure of the loose fleece in the bags was perfectly preserved in big clumps with no fluffing or lock separation. In the photo above, the top locks were washed separately and the bottom locks were washed loose as in the laundry bag. You can see there is very little difference.

Like the complete nerd I am, I have begun recording fleece weight loss during scouring (just because it’s interesting). The Shropshire lost 30% of weight during scouring compared with 20% of a Border Leicester x Merino fleece I washed recently.

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  1. I can’t wait to see how your Shropshire turns out. I bought some Shropshire roving from Marilyn to make socks, but it’s still lurking in my stash.

  2. I’m fascinated by the local fleece you feature. It could be because I don’t go to sheep/wool shows, but I find it very difficult to source local yarn, despite the seeming plethora of sheep farms in western Victoria. I’ll be following along to see what interesting yarn you make with this!

  3. Recording weight loss post scouring doesn’t sound nerdy at all!
    I’m surprised that a merino fleece lost only 20%, here merino fleeces (in France I mean) often lose more than 30% I’d say, because they’re very greasy.

  4. Yow! Ammonia in the washing soap you used? That’s very hard on wool – it can dissolve it. In the future, I’d recommend two washes with hot water and an enzyme-less gentle dish soap, if you don’t have something like Power Scour in Tasmania.

    1. Thanks Sophy, you’ve got me a little anxious now! I believe it is a very tiny amount and doesn’t seem to affect the softness or strength of the wool. Power Scour is available in Australia but is extremely expensive due to postage costs and exchange rates. The product I use seems to be less harsh than some of the other detergents recommended and it works using small quantities. I will ask some chemists at the Guild about the ammonia.

    2. Dear Sophy, i just rechecked the Safety Data Sheet. The product has less than 1 per cent ammonia, so with a couple of squirts in a sink of water, the ammonia would be even more dilute. Thanks for raising the issue, it makes me cautious about using too much detergent which is always a wise place to scour from!?

  5. Now that is a very interesting way to wash as opposed to mine 🙂 That fleece looks exactly like my Sufflok/Romanov, blocky and I loved working with it, combed it on mini Louet’s. How will you process it? Worsted/woolen?

    1. It’s got a very short staple Susan, around 4cm after washing. I was going to try drum carding but rolling the bat parallel with the fibres for a worsted type prep.

      1. That should work. I tried spinning every way but that ! I went on the site and looked at that fleece………sigh, good thing I am not anywhere near it 🙂 I should be getting another Herdwick fleece, story later, and may try spinning in the grease although I really do not like it.

        1. Dear Susan, i too like the idea of spinning in the grease but the feel is unpleasant to me. Keen to hear how the Herdwick project develops.

  6. Hello, rather than fully scouring the fleece, have you tried leaving some of the natural grease in the fibre make the socks even nicer to wear by allowing your feet to absorb the lanolin (like hands do when spinning greasy wool). It may also make the socks last longer because wool yarn seems to be more durable when greasy. Greasy wool socks were really popular especially with bushwalkers “back in the days” 🙂

    1. Thanks Susan, that is an interesting idea. I don’t usually spin in the grease as i don’t like that sticky sensation. But the theory sounds intriguing so perhaps this might be one of my experiments in the Tuff Socks Naturally Project.

  7. Weighing before and after is definitely not nerdy – I love checking the weights of the Romany Finn fleeces. It changes from each sheep – the white fleece loses between 17-20% and the greys and browns lose 20-25%.
    Do you put the fleece straight into hot water or gradually bring the temperature up? I’ve read both but like the gradual increase in temperature the best – wool feels softer.
    Thanks for the informative posts.

    1. Thanks Sue, you and Sophie have put me in good company with my weighing! I have raised the temp slowly on fine fleeces in small quantities before and had good results but in larger quantities I gently immerse in hot water already at temp. What i really need to try is the fermented suint method, that would be the most gentle of all.

  8. Hi Rebecca, I just discovered how much weight is lost in scouring too. I generously calculated how much fleece I needed for a jumper, scoured it (power scour is my go to method now), dyed it, dried it, and was missing 25%! Luckily, I scoured & dyed another batch and mixed it before spinning…saved.
    Also, I was reading The spinners book of yarn design, by Sarah Anderson, and she does 3 sock experiments. First, to see if chain ply is as durable as 3 ply (is, but when it goes, it goes dramatically). Secondly, she spun a 3 ply with one ply opposing (eg. 2 x Z, 1 x S), which made the yarn more elastic, and lasted better than a 3ply sock. Lastly, she spun a 4ply cable (alternating the twist from S to Z at each plying stage), and compared to a plain 4 ply yarn sock. The cable won easily. Interesting experiments, and I thought of you and Mary’s experiment as I was reading it.

    1. Dear Pamela, Yes, your experience was exactly why I wanted to get my head around souring losses. We definitely need to know ahead of time, how much fleece to wash and prepare!

      It is very timely that you raise Sarah Anderson’s sock experiments, I have been wanting to try the opposing ply one for ages and my next set of socks will compare the normal ply with that one. The cable had dropped off my radar though so thanks for reminding me of that one. Perfect for the Tuff Socks Naturally Project.

  9. Interesting read.I am surprised that the scour yield was 30%
    Out of interest have you tested the Gotland.I have found a lot of variation. I will do some checking this year on my next project.I have a little surprise coming to you before Xmas a new product to critique

    1. Dear Cheryl, i was surprised it was so much. I haven’t recorded my losses on the Gotland, but will keep better records in my next Gotland fleece!

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