Friends, we have all been there. You’ve made (or been gifted) a lovely crocheted or knitted sweater or other article of clothing. Naturally, it is not machine-washable. You figure you’ll just hand-wash it. After all, it’s just one item, it can’t be that difficult to manage, right?
And then maybe, like me, you never wear that sweater, because you can’t stand the thought of having to hand-wash something every time you wear it.
Or maybe, also like me, you decide to wear it once in a while and suck it up, hand-washing it as needed. Maybe you go a few wears in between washing, just to prolong the inevitable hand-washing experience (yikes!).
Well, I finally broke.
Yesterday, I put my hand-wash only, beautiful hand-knit sweater in the washing machine.
In my defense, it was a cold wash, gentle cycle, and I did place it in a washable garment bag. I had planned to pull it out of the washer before the spin cycle, but of course I forgot.
When I first pulled the sweater from the garment bag, I breathed a sigh of relief. The sweater was in one piece! That was something, right? And the fibers looked a bit matted, but nothing a little time drying could fix (it was, after all, sopping wet).
But after a closer inspection, I soon learned that my beloved knit sweater had shrunk. Horribly. I was absolutely devastated. My husband’s aunt made this sweater specifically for me just last year, and I’ve only worn it a dozen or so times. It was too young to die!!
I wish I had a photo to show you, because it was absolutely tragic. The sleeves had shrunk just a bit, but the bottom of the sweater had shrunk up so much that it looked like it might fit an eight-year-old…an eight-year-old with really, really long arms. If I had to guess, I’d say the main body of the sweater now measured about 12 inches from collar to hem.
I wanted to cry. Here is the beautiful sweater before I had so horribly ruined it:
After starting at it in misery for a solid twenty minutes, I remembered something I had read in some forum on some website somewhere probably two years ago…
Can you un-shrink a knit sweater?
According to this theory, you can! The original poster (whose name/handle/website of origin I honestly can’t remember) said that you could place the shrunken item in a bath of cold water and hair conditioner, let it soak, and then gently stretch the item out and letting it dry flat.
I had never tried this method before, but I figured hey – what do I have to lose? It’s already shrunken beyond recognition…why not give it a try?
So I tried to un-shrink my sweater.
And it worked, yo.
At least, it appears to have worked. It’s still drying as I type up this blog post, so I suppose only time will tell. But it’s looking so much better!
Here’s an after-pic taken this morning after letting it hang-dry (carefully) overnight:
Looks like a sweater, doesn’t it?
I’m very hopeful that this method works and my sweater will return to normal. So hopeful in fact that I’m 95% confident in saying that this method can help you un-shrink a shrunken knit or crochet sweater!
Note: My sweater was made from the beautiful yarn pictured below. It is a wool/acrylic blend. The label clearly says hand-wash only, but I of course I didn’t listen.
How to Un-Shrink Your Knit (or Crochet) Sweater**
STEP ONE: Wallow in your misery for approximately 15-20 minutes.
Shrinking your favorite sweater is a harrowing experience, and you deserve time to mourn – especially if you were the one who didn’t read the care instructions and thought it would be a good idea to machine-wash your hand-wash item. You’ve earned the right to have a mini freak-out moment.
STEP TWO: Snap out of it and realize that like most things in life, this can be fixable!
This is an important step. Life never goes the way we’ve planned, right? And everyone makes mistakes – especially when it comes to laundry (I’m looking at you, red sock in the white load)!
I am very picky about my laundry care, and yet I still made the stupid decision to machine-wash my beloved sweater. We’ve all been there. It’s okay. Forgive yourself!
STEP THREE: Fill a sink or small tub about half-way with cold or luke-warm water.
When in doubt, follow the care instructions for your sweater! My sweater’s yarn calls for warm water, so I went for a lukewarm sweater bath.
I pulled a clean plastic tub from my hall closet and then filled it up almost half-way with lukewarm water. You want to make sure you leave enough room for the sweater!
STEP FOUR: Pour about 1 tablespoon of good-for-your-hair conditioner into the tub/sink.
Now, I’ve only tried this once, but I would definitely recommend using a conditioner that is good for your hair. I’m talking dye-free, sulfate-free, paraben-free…something without all of the harsh chemicals. If it’s gentle on your hair, it will be gentle on your sweater, plain and simple.
Mix well. Honestly, you can use a kitchen spoon to stir the bath/conditioner mixture into a nice consistency. Just mix it in real well. You should be able to tell by touching the water that something was mixed in. It will feel like your hand is slightly coated. (Your hand won’t feel clean, I mean. It will kind of feel like when you don’t quite get all of the conditioner rinsed out of your hair. I can’t be the only one who misses that sometimes, right?)
STEP FIVE: Carefully place your sweater into the tub/sink.
Be careful not to displace the water and spill as you put the sweater into the tub. You don’t want to make more of a mess, now do you?
Give the sweater a gentle massage in the water. This helps mix the water/conditioner in through the fibers of the sweater, which will help them relax.
Make sure your sweater is fully submerged in the bath so that all of the fibers can soak.
STEP SIX: Let soak for about an hour.
You could probably do a half hour, but I wouldn’t go longer for an hour. Set a timer or an alarm on your iPhone if it helps you remember to check on it!
STEP SEVEN: Remove sweater from bath and rinse clean.
When rinsing your sweater, make sure you rinse all of the conditioner from the fibers. It takes a while, and it isn’t particularly fun.
Use this time to remember that hand-washing your sweater would have been much easier. (I know I’ll flashback to this moment whenever I bring that sweater into my laundry room!)
When you’ve fully rinsed the sweater (and you can no longer feel any conditioner on the sweater), VERY CAREFULLY squeeze the sweater, but do not wring! You want to get as much of the water out as you can without causing damage to the fibers.
STEP EIGHT: Gently stretch the sweater to its original shape.
You must be extremely careful when stretching your sweater back to its original shape. You don’t want to over-stretch the fabric (because then it won’t be the correct shape, of course), but you want to make sure it is stretched out far enough.
Start with the main “body” of the sweater, the part that covers your chest and torso. Very gently, take one hand and grab the collar of your sweater (making sure to grab at the front AND back, not just the back). Take your other hand and grab the hem (again, grab BOTH layers). Gently tug downwards, stretching the sweater vertically. Do the same sideways, stretching it horizontally.
Do the same with the sleeves. Be very careful not to stretch the sleeves too long!
I very carefully placed my sweater on a hanger to dry (hoping gravity would continue to stretch out the torso of my sweater for me), but I would highly recommend using a blocking board (see step nine).
STEP NINE: Lay flat to dry.
As I mentioned above, I hang-dried my sweater by placing a hanger on the shower rod in my bathroom. I used a very gently-sloped hanger (so that the shoulders didn’t stretch out) for several hours, and then before I went to bed I gently folded my sweater over the cross-bar of the hanger so that the ends could hang down over the tub (again, to keep the shoulders from stretching). Then I draped an old towel over the tub and onto the floor to catch any drips from the sweater (there were many).
In retrospect, I definitely would recommend using a blocking board. Here’s what I’d do differently:
Set up your blocking boards on a large, flat surface. Lay a couple of towels over the blocking boards. Stretch to shape and pin into place using T-pins. Let dry for 24-48 hours.
STEP TEN: Marvel at your sweater-saver powers!
Seriously, look at that witchcraft you just did! With some luck and a lot of patience, your sweater will have come back from the dead.
And while you’re doing your little happy dance, just remember: hand-wash items should be HAND-WASHED ONLY! Hopefully you won’t ever need this tutorial again! *fingers crossed*
**Disclaimer: This method may not work for all fibers. It may not work if you have already dried your sweater. It may not work because the planets are not aligned. I don’t know. Please don’t think this will work for every knit or crochet item, because we all know that different fibers in different environments react differently to these kinds of situations!
These photos show the sweater drying. Sorry, I don’t have a pic of me crying in relief!
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