Winter and woolly sweaters just go together, like hot chocolate and cookies. But, sometimes caring for your winter woollens is a bit of a pain. Moths show up and create holes, nails or door handles catch and pull the knit, and sometimes the washer and dryer conspire together to reduce the sweater by several sizes. Sometimes, the wear and tear of daily life end up making the sleeves shorter than they started out which is why knitting the sleeve from the shoulder down is a good idea.
While wool, particularly locally produced small farm wool, can be a sustainable fiber. Having a sustainable wardrobe must necessarily include stretching the use of garments with proper care, repairs, adjustments, and sometimes fun additions.
Cleaning and Wear for Winter Sweaters:
With any wool sweater, particularly a hand knit wool sweater, you want to take good care of the garment. A hand knit sweater represents hours of knitting, and if it includes cables, that changes to hour of painstaking knitting, unknitting, and reknitting! The worst nightmare of a knitter is the “honey, I think I shrunk the new sweater” moments… So, making sure family and gift recipients know proper hand-knit care is essential.
Wool sweaters should be washed with a moderate frequency. If they are just worn for short lengths of time, and kept fairly clean, a once a month cleaning may be sufficient. But, if the sweater has a food stain, or other unfortunate happenstance, the soon it’s washed the better.
Most people recommend using a mild wool wash, with lukewarm water and no agitation for cleaning your woolens. I don’t.
Wool can handle a lot of things without felting. Angora, llama, and kid mohair are delicate, 90% of wool really isn’t. For something to felt it needs moisture, lots of agitation, and changing temperatures. So, drop the temperature change, keep the agitation minor, and you are good to go.
I like using a strong dish washing detergent to wash woolens, particularly heavy sweaters that pick up a lot of dust, dirt, and grime. Fill your wash basin, sink, tub, or whatever with hot water. As hot as you can safely stick your hands in. Add a small to medium squirt of dish detergent and mix it into the water. Then add your sweater, or sweaters depending on the size of your tub, and thoroughly press the wool under the water. Swish the garment around, and make sure it is thoroughly soaked. If there are any really bad dirt spots, do a bit of spot-rubbing until the dirt is worked out.
Take the sweater out after 5-10 minutes in the hot water. Don’t wring or twist the garment, just sort-of squeeze out the excess water. Empty the container and fill with fresh, same-temperature water, and rinse the garment. If your washing machine has a non-water spin cycle, you can use that to get most of the remaining water out of the garment. If not, squeeze out as much water as you can, and then roll the garment into a bath towel and stomp on it.
Dry the garment flat, or over a garment drying rack.
Fixing Moth Holes in Your Winter Sweater:
Okay, you just pulled your favorite, thick and heavy, winter sweater out of storage and are eager to wear it. But, there’s a moth hole smack in the middle of the front! Well, that means that the sweater is trash now, right? Nope, a needle, same color wool, and crochet hook are all you need to fix up that nasty moth hole. The only challenge might be if your sweater has a design, like a fair-isle pattern, that was disrupted by the moth hole.
Using the matching yarn and a needle, fasten the thread on the wrong side of the garment. Using the crochet hook, pick up stitches around the bottom edge of the hole. Using the yarn, and the crochet hook holding the stitches, you can now re-knit the hole. A double pointed knitting needle can be used to hold the non-active stitches when you’re reknitting with the crochet hook. Make sure to catch the edges of the hole as you are working and secure all loose ends.
Alternatively, if you like needle felting and feel like decorating your sweater, you can needle felt a design over the hole.
Worn Cuff Winter Sweater Fix:
A hand knit sweater knit in one piece will have a sleeve knit from the shoulder down. When the cuff on this sleeve becomes worn, you can simply pull back the cuff, pick up the stitches, and re-knit it with yarn of the same type and weight.
If the sweater is knit in pieces, and the sleeve was knit from the cuff up, it is a little harder to make an easy fix. In this case, you can do a small part re-knit, darn a binding around the sleeve to prevent further unravels, or needle felt it.
Needle felting, reknitting, and darning can fix nearly any knit-wear hole you may encounter. From woollen socks, to sweaters, to hats and scarfs. You can even use a needle and same, or similar color thread to darn small holes in standard knitted garments, like shirts, undershirts, T-shirts, and leggings.
Sustainable Woolen Clothing:
Not all wool can be classed as sustainable. Wool sourced in New Zealand or Australia and shipped around the world is less sustainable than the wool from your local farmer. Not to mention that the conventional wool processing includes several toxic chemicals. Getting wool from your local farmer means that you control the fiber preparation process, and can reduce distance travelled, and chemicals used, in your wool processing.
One person I met had a sever wool allergy, or so she thought. If she touched anything created with conventionally processed wool, she started having a respiratory related allergic reaction. But, when she touched wool that had NOT been conventionally processed, she had zero reaction. She was allergic to the chemicals in the wool processing, not to the wool itself.
Wool is also very versatile. After a sweater has finished its normal use as a garment, and is either too worn to repair, or it’s been grown out of, you can refashion it into other useful garments. Felting old wool sweaters is an awesome way to tighten the knit, and turn them into a fabric that is useful for up-cycled garments. Once the sweater is felted, you can cut out mittens from the fabric, a bit of sewing and a touch more felting will make those the warmest wool mittens ever.
Back To You:
How do you care for your winter woolly sweaters? Do you have any preferred up-cycling methods for sweaters?
Leave a comment, I like hearing from you!