Caring for Handmade Yarn and Clothing
If you’ve purchased or made something with wool, you will want to make sure you care for it properly to keep it looking good for years to come.
The first step is to start with the right washing detergent. You can use a lanolin-enriched product like Eucalan, or you can use the Unicorn fibre wash. You can even use a dollop of baby shampoo in a pinch.
Fill a tub or basin with water, then add your soap and give it a gentle stir – you don’t want too many suds. For most garments, tepid water will do. For hand-dyed yarns, especially dark colours, I use cool. For particularly dirty items I use warm water.
Place your item in the water and hold it down until it’s saturated and will stay submerged on its own. Leave it for about 20 minutes, then you can give it a gentle swish.
Gently lift the item, being sure to support the entire garment with your hands – the weight of the waterlogged wool may cause it to stretch otherwise. If you’ve used a no-rinse product like Eucalan, then at this point you can gently squeeze out the water (don’t wring!), then lay it on a towel. Roll the item up in the towel and press with your hands to remove more water. Again, don’t wring it.
If you’ve used Unicorn or shampoo you’ll need to place the item somewhere while you fill your tub with clean water the same temperature that you used to wash (never run the water onto your garment; fill the tub then add the item). If you are nervous about felting, use slightly warmer water than you washed in. Submerge and gently swish to rinse, then proceed as above.
Next you will block your item and lay it flat to dry (hanging will cause it to sag). For an item like a hat you simply pat it into shape and lay it flat. Lace shawls may need aggressive blocking with wires and pins to hold the shape while it dries. For thicker items, flip them over after 24 hours to allow the bottom to dry. For things like hats and sweaters, after 48 hours flip them inside out and repeat. It can take up to several days to dry depending on your climate etc. Don’t be tempted to cheat with drying measures!
Your garment is dry when it no longer feels wet or cool to the touch (wool can feel dry but still be holding a significant amount of water).
Unless your item gets visibly soiled, wool doesn’t need to be washed often.
Remember that it is a combination of temperature change (hot to cold), detergent, and agitation that causes wool to felt. Avoid combining any of those elements and your garment will last for years, even decades.
All of my handspun and handdyed yarns should be cared for in the same way. Art yarns with complicated and delicate structures should be used in items that will receive minimal wear and washing.
Last but not least, remember that wool is naturally anti-bacterial, and unless odorous or visibly soiled woollen items often don’t need to be washed more than once a season!