Have you ever received a hand knit item as a gift? How many times have you used or worn the item? C’mon, be honest. For knitters, nothing brings more joy to our hearts than seeing our loved ones wearing something we have made especially for them.
Hand knit items are actually quite sturdy and, with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Luckily for you, many knitters are savvy enough to include care instructions with their hand knit gifts. However, should you find yourself without a clue as to how to launder that gorgeous cashmere sweater, rest assured that help is available.
Use these tips to properly care for your beloved hand knits. If, at the end, you are too hesitant to proceed, give your knitter a call. I can almost 100% guarantee they would love to tell you all about the yarn they used for your garment, including fiber content, washing instructions, where they bought it, and why they thought it would be perfect for you.
Wools (fiber from sheep and other animals)
Wools are a particularly dangerous yarn to give to non-knitters as it has a tendency to felt when washed. Felting is the process by which agitation and/or heat cause the tiny fibers in the wool to latch onto each other tightly. This causes the fabric to shrink and become denser and stiff. Fortunately, washing wools is as simple as soaking the garment in lukewarm water with a small amount of detergent. It is OK to swish the item around a bit, but do not rub the fabric against each other.
After you are satisfied that the garment is clean enough, drain the water and fill the sink back up with cool water. Repeat this until you no longer see suds. Next, gently wring the water out as best you can and then lay the item flat out on a towel to dry. Once it is dry, inspect the item to see if it has “grown” at all. If it seems a bit stretched out, put it into the dryer on low heat and run it through part of a fluff cycle. Check it every few minutes to make sure there is no evidence of felting or shrinkage.
There is one type of wool that can be machine washed with no worry. It is called “superwash wool” and is God’s gift to knitters. The term “superwash” refers to a treatment that the wool is subjected to that prevents the tiny fibers from latching onto each other. The best way to care for superwash wool garments is to wash the item in the washer on the gentle cycle. Then lay it out flat to dry.
Cotton is a wonderful fiber to use for hand knits. It’s breathable, natural, comes in tons of colors, and is quite durable. Many cotton hand knits can be machine washed on the gentle cycle inside a lingerie bag. Be sure to use cool water as cotton does have the propensity to shrink. As such, the best method for drying the garment is to lay it out flat on a towel. Similar to wools, if the garment feels stretched out after washing, it is alright to put it in the dryer for 15 minutes on low heat to fluff it up.
Yarns are made in a huge variety of fiber content and design, and as such, there is no one-size-fits-all method for laundering. The best way to safely launder synthetics is to use the hand wash and lay flat to dry method as directed for wools. If you feel the fiber and garment are sturdy enough to be put in the washer, do so, but take care to wash it on gentle cycle with a mild detergent. As always, lay the garment out flat to dry.
Other Tips and Tricks for Preserving Your Hand Knits
– Don’t ever hang a hand knit sweater on a hanger as it will cause it to stretch
– Keep wool away from cats. Many cats are attracted to the wool and may try to eat it.
– If you are worried that your detergent is too harsh, consider giving Eucalan a try.
– Do not use bleach – EVER!