Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to wash wool

This winter has been cold! I’ve worn my wool a lot – wool socks, t-shirts, pants, sweaters, mittens, hats and scarves. And the wool keeps me warm. But with such continuous wear, it gets dirty.

The washing instructions for most commercially produced wool items say “dry clean only.” I wash all my wool clothing by hand in my sink. It’s not hard at all; you just have to be careful. Wool fibers have scales like human hair. When the fibers get hot and wet, the scales open away from the fiber and if you rub or agitate the garment (like you would in your washing machine), the scales on one fiber get tangled with the scales on another fiber and the fibers can no longer slide along each other. This is felting.

Some wool manufacturers deal with the problem of felting by superwashing the wool. Superwash is a technique that dissolves the scales on the wool fibers before they are spun into yarn, so that they can’t felt, no matter what you do.

Hand spinners never use superwash wool, and a lot of commercial yarns for hand knitters and weavers are not superwash wool. You can successfully wash wool garments in your kitchen sink by remembering three basic rules:
1)Don’t change the water temperature. Use a cold wash and cold rinse, or warm wash and warm rinse or hot wash and hot rinse. Just don’t change the temperature.
2)Don’t agitate or stir the garment once it is wet. Smush it into soapy water (I usually use a short squirt of dish soap,) When you drain the water, just press the garment against the bottom of the sink. Repeat with clean water to rinse. If you still have soap bubbles, rerinse.
3)Don’t twist the garment. When you’ve pressed all the rinse water out, lay the garment on a dry towel and roll up the towel. Press the rest of the water out. Then unroll and lay garment out on a dry towel to dry.

If my garment seems a little misshapen at this point, I reblock it. I pin the edges of the garment every few inches into a mattress and allow it to dry. If your garment originally had creases, like on a pair of trousers, you can press those creases back in using a damp dishtowel between the wool and your steam iron on the wool setting.

Don’t be afraid to wash your wool; it’s better for you and for the garment than dry cleaning.

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