Can you really unshrink a sweater?
We’ve all done this. Your favourite wool sweater not only went through the hot water wash but hopped into the dryer as well. You pull it out to find it’s about four sizes smaller! ACK! Now what?
I had heard it is possible to unshrink a sweater and return it to its original size, so I thought I’d ask an expert for how-to advice.
This post will show you how to assess the damage, and (hopefully) get that sweater back to normal.
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I consulted with my friend Kristi Porter, author of four knitting books and a long time contributor to Knitty.com, including a column called Frankenknits about repurposing knits. Kristi definitely knows her fibers, so I knew she’d be able to help.
Here’s what you need to determine to know if unshrinking is possible.
Is It Shrunken or Shrunken and Felted?
The first step is to determine the extent of the damage.
Did the sweater just shrink down a bit or are the fibers actually felted?
- If the wool has just shrunken down a bit, there’s hope.
- If the fibers are felted (i.e. shrunken, and tightly schmooshed together), you’re out of luck for unshrinking. Though there’s plenty of other projects you can make with the felted material (see below).
There is no specific test to determine the degree of feltedness other than your own observations.
Examine the garment:
- Can you still see individual fibers? Or is it all fuzzy with no real distinction between fibers?
- When you gently pull a small 2″ square section in opposite directions, is there any give?
Tightly felted knits have no stretch left which means the fibers can break when pulled. At this point you have an unwearable sweater, so you can either experiment with unshrinking or proceed to fully felt those fibers and use the fabric to make something else. Or give it to someone with a tiny body and long arms. Or your cat.
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What if the sweater has several different fibers in it?
It’s impossible to give advice on all the possible variations (various natural and synthetic fibers in varying percentages). You’ll have to decide if you want to experiment with unshrinking or intentional felting.
Remember, this will only work if the sweater is made from wool and has not felted.
- Fill a basin with warm water.
- Add wool wash (like Soak or Eucalan) according to product instructions.
- Gently add garment and press it into the water. Do not stir or agitate at all.
- After 20 minutes, drain the water with the garment still in the basin.
- Gently press the water out of the knit, but do not squeeze or wring. When you pick it up, do so gently from the bottom.
- Remove excess water by rolling in a towel or spinning in the salad spinner (So effective! Your knits will dry twice as fast!).
- Gently stretch, paying attention to any seams because that’s where you’re going to hit your limit on how much you can stretch.
- Don’t overstretch the sleeve width, for instance, if the armhole insists on staying small.
- Keep flat until dry.
- Don’t put your knits outside to dry in direct sunlight! Drying knits outside on a picnic table is great for air circulation and really speeds up the process, however, some dyes used on yarns are enormously photosensitive and can fade or darken over a couple of hours! Cover your knits with a sheet or tablecloth to avoid damage.
- Almost any animal hair will felt. If you examine a strand of your hair you’ll notice that your fingers will glide smoothly down the strand but squeak or catch going “the wrong way”.
- This is because hairs are covered with little tiny scales.
- For a fabric to felt, the little scales on the hairs need to be opened up, then, as the hairs rub against each other, the little scales stick together and get the hairs all tangled and stuck like velcro, pulling the hairs closer and closer together.
- Felting happens best with moisture, temperature shifts, and agitation.
- A higher pH seems to help too, so that’s where soap comes in. You can see how a trip through the washer with a hot wash, cold rinse, lots of agitation, and detergent is sure to shrink your sweater!
Once something is really felted, you can treat it like fabric and cut and sew wherever you like.
You could make:
* pillows * hats * baby soakers * zippered pouches * soft toys * pouches * purse * iPad, tablet, or phone covers * scarf * mittens *
So, what did we do with our felted sweater?
Want to learn to knit or find some creative/lovely knitting projects? See Kristi Porter’s books on Amazon.com.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛