Ten Smart Ways to Care for Your Knits

In This Chapter

► Washing your knits carefully
► Storing your knits the right way
► Giving away your knits
M Respite what many people think, handknits aren’t all that difficult to take care of. If you V^^don’t believe me, just take a look through this chapter, which explains how to tend to your handknits so they look their best and hold up for a long time. And because many knits are given as gifts, I tell you about some smart things to do before you wrap them up.

Read the Label

The following recommendation seems like it should almost go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: Read your yarn labels! Those little paper bands give you lots of useful information, including fiber content, yardage, dye lot, needle and gauge recommendations, and washing instructions. If, in your eagerness to get to the yarn, you tend to fling these labels aside like yesterday’s candy wrappers, break yourself of the habit.
If this caution comes too late, consult the Web site of your yarn’s manufacturer. Or ask the yarn shop where you purchased the yarn — they’ll be happy to clue you in.
Some yarn labels give instructions in plain English, such as “Hand wash in cool water.” Others instead offer inscrutable pictographs that tell you how to care for the knits that you make from the yarn (these symbols are actually the same ones used for clothing). Because yarns are marketed around the world, manufacturers want to be sure that the information can be understood without requiring you to speak Italian or Japanese. Figure 18-1 is a handy guide. Copy it and attach it to the laundry room door, and then you won’t be stuck staring at the washer muttering, “Circle in a box with two lines under it, what do I do?”
Common care icons on yarn labels.
Figure 18-1:
Common care icons on yarn labels.

Wash Wisely

There are some general washing guidelines for knit items, some of which may surprise you. Very few items must be dry cleaned, and more knits than you would expect can survive the washing machine on the gentle cycle. There are exceptions though!
Whatever washing technique you’re going to use, it’s a good idea to use your swatch as a pilot test (you did swatch, didn’t you?). Subject your swatch to a fairly thorough version of whatever washing technique you’re planning to use based on the label information and see how the swatch fares. Chances are you won’t weep over a felted or matted swatch. Measure your gauge before and after washing to see whether your swatch shrinks or grows. Honestly, you should really wash your swatch and wait for it to dry before you even knit your garment, because you want to account for any gauge change that comes about after you’ve washed it. It can be difficult to wait, but a day’s delay is well worth it in the end. (Chapter 2 has all the details on gauge and swatches.)
The least finicky pieces to wash are usually those that are made with synthetics or synthetic blends. And if your piece is a single color and it’s cotton, you can probably stick it in the washer. Likewise, superwash wools have been treated so they won’t felt, which means they’re safe for the washing machine. Yarns that are marketed particularly for children’s clothing usually are washing machine safe. However, you should always use the gentle cycle.
Don’t machine wash anything that’s 100 percent wool unless the label says it’s okay to do so (this warning also includes other animal fibers, such as alpaca, mohair, or cashmere). It’s better to err on the side of caution.
The only things that you must leave to the cleaners are pieces that are knit with the most novel of novelty fibers, such as those that contain bits of paper, metal, or other things that may not respond well to water. In addition, if you’ve used several colors, the colors sometimes can bleed with a wet washing technique (they shouldn’t, but they do!), so test your swatch if you’re unsure. Some people like to dry clean everything and that’s fine, but not necessarily better because dry-cleaning chemicals can actually be damaging to some fibers. Read the label and see if it specifies that your item must be dry-cleaned.
Most knits fall in the middle between machine washing and dry cleaning. You wash these knits by hand. To wash a knitted piece by hand, follow these steps:
1. Fill the sink with cool water and add some soap.
Any mild soap is fine. Some people use a specially-designed wool wash that requires no rinsing. Me, I usually use a lavender-scented shampoo. Wool is the hair of a sheep, right? And honestly, soap is soap. Just add a little squirt of whatever is handy.
Soap is soap, but detergent and bacteria-killing hand wash aren’t soap, so don’t use them!
2. Gently put your knitted object into the sink and push it down into the water so that the entire piece is wet.
You can swish gently, but for the most part you should just let it soak for 10 minutes.
3. Drain the water from the sink and then rinse with water of the same temperature.
Rinse until all the soap is out.
4. Let any excess water drain out of your knitting as you support it from underneath.
Don’t pick it up by one corner and let it stretch out! And don’t squeeze or wring it aggressively.
5. Place the garment on a towel and roll it up like sushi.
You can apply a bit of pressure to your roll to get some water out. Repeat with dry towels until the towels are no longer getting soaked.

Avoid Hot Water and Agitation

If you’ve ever done any felting (accidentally or on purpose), you know what happens: Your knitting shrinks substantially and turns into a dense, thick fabric. But do you know what makes something felt? Very hot water, shifting temperatures, and agitation. So, whether you’re washing by hand or by machine, avoid these things for all hand-knits, especially wool and other animal fibers. What should you do instead? Follow these guidelines:
‘ It’s fine to use cold, cool, or even warmish water, but do not change temperatures. So, if your washing machine always rinses with cold water, set the wash for cold water too. Likewise, if you’re hand-washing, don’t change temperatures as you wash and rinse.
Most machines offer a “gentle” or “delicate” wash cycle. In these cycles, the agitator should move slowly. A gentle stirring sort of action is fine, but whether in the machine or the sink, what your knit wants is a relaxing bath, not a trip through a water park. No wringing, shaking, or washboard-style rubbing, please!

Always Air-Dry

Unless you’re 100 percent sure it’s okay, don’t put any handknits in the dryer! Dryers are a pretty tough ride. In fact, they put more wear and tear on your clothes than the washer. Cottons may shrink, and wools may shrink or, worse, felt, so approach the dryer with extreme caution. If you must stick something in the dryer, use a cool or air-dry setting and keep your eye on it.
Your knits shouldn’t stay wet longer than they need to, so get as much water out of your knits as you can by wrapping them in dry towels before you lay them out on a towel or screen, particularly if you have damp weather. A handknit that stays damp or gets put away damp can mildew. After removing excess water, pat your knits gently into shape and allow them to dry completely. With bulkier things, you may want to flip them over, or turn them inside out to make sure that they’re dry all the way through before you put them away. How long a handknit will take to dry depends a lot on your climate (or your climate control), how thick the piece is, and what it’s made of. In warm, dry conditions, a piece may dry in less than a day. But it may be 48 hours before that piece is dry enough to fold and store.
By patting your sweater into shape while it’s damp, you’re actually blocking. Blocking is your chance to make your knits fit just right. You can make your ribbing relax, make a sleeve a bit wider, or line up something that seems a tad off. You won’t be able to work miracles, but blocking can make a big difference to the overall look of your piece. Break out a tape measure and keep things even so that, for example, one sleeve isn’t longer than the other. Refer to the measurements given in a pattern schematic and gently pull everything into line, and then let your piece dry thoroughly. You can find out more about blocking in the appendix.

Clean Your Knits Regularly

Each time you wear or use your knits, take a moment to inspect them before you put them away. If you’ve dipped your cuff into your dinner plate, it’s reasonable to spot clean that area in the sink or with a gentle sponging before you go to bed. Always blot things rather than rub them. Rubbing breaks down and weakens the fibers in the yarn, which can lead to pilling or felting. If you act on spills and stains promptly, you can prolong the life of your sweater or other knitted garment.
Regardless of how often you wear and wash your knits, be sure to give them a good cleaning at the end of the season. Stains will become more difficult to remove if they sit. And any traces of food or perspiration can lead to deterioration or mildew and can attract moths if your knits sit undisturbed for several months of warmer weather.

Store Your Knits Flat or Folded

Knits should always be stored flat or folded. Don’t hang them or they may stretch out of shape and put too much strain on the stitches that are resting on the hanger. Wetting and blocking your knits can undo the damage at first, but eventually you’ll ruin them. Fold and store them in a drawer or on a shelf. Tuck pieces of cedar or sachets of lavender in with your knits — they’ll smell nice and you’ll deter moths.
For longer-term storage, it’s okay to put your knits in sealed plastic bins, but really they do best where there’s some air circulation, so don’t store them in the dry cleaner’s plastic bags and don’t leave them in the garage forever. At the very least, take them out, check them for damage, and refold them on different lines at least once a year.

Save Some Yarn for Later (Just in Case)

Saving some extra yarn from a project is never a bad idea. To do so, simply tuck the yarn label into a baggie with some leftover yarn and any spare buttons or other tidbits and toss it in the bottom of your drawer. That way, if you ever need to make a repair to your knitted item, or if you need to remember whether you have to send the garment to the dry cleaner, you have what you need!
You also can tape your label and leftover yarn into a knitter’s notebook along with any notes that you took while making the item (like what needles you used or whether you made any changes to the pattern). Some knitters attach their swatch and a photo of the finished item and have a great resource to look back on (it’s a bit like a scrapbook). My aunt kept a knitter’s notebook, and it’s a wonderful memento of her life as a knitter.

Knit Like You Care

If you still act like a teenager whose clothes end up all over the floor, if you are a teenager with clothes all over the floor, or if you’re knitting for a teenager with clothes all over the floor, you’re wise to take care into account when choosing your yarn. Washing your knits by hand really isn’t a big deal, and it takes maybe 20 minutes of your time and a bit of your patience, but don’t knit something that requires more care than it will get. There are plenty of easy-care yarns available, and you should choose them when they’re appropriate. For instance, it’s a lovely idea to knit a new mother a baby sweater in cashmere, but perhaps the more generous gift is the one that she can heedlessly toss into the washing machine.

Give Care Instructions with a Gift

A hand-knit gift is always a special one. But before you tie on that ribbon, consider these few suggestions:
If you knit a lot of gifts, you might consider investing in some of those tags that say “Handknit by Ethel,” “Made with love by Grandma,” or whatever sentiment you hope to express. You can get these tags made to order for not very much money, and they’ll remind people, perhaps for generations, who made the gift.
Extra yards of yarn and spare buttons are smart things to include with a gift. (Or simply keep them on hand yourself if you’re prepared to make any necessary repairs in years to come.)
Make care tags for the knits that you give. I like to make tags from index or business cards. On them I write the care instructions. For example, I might write, “100% superwash wool. Machine wash, air dry.” Choose a tone and set of instructions that suits the mood of the gift. After the tag is completed, I punch a hole in the corner and tie it to the gift with a bit of yarn.

Remember that Not Everything You Knit Is an Heirloom

Some pieces that you knit are destined to become heirlooms. That beautiful lace layette, for instance, or that marvelously cabled aran that took you two years to complete. It’s good to treat these pieces with the reverence they deserve. That way they really can last for generations. However, not everything you knit needs to be handled with kid gloves.
If you knit things for people, expect them to get worn (and even worn out). Surely it’s a greater compliment that the sweater you knit for your granddaughter is stretched out and grayish on the cuffs and has a big splotch of blue paint on the elbow (because she simply won’t take it off) than if it’s lying there pristine on the shelf. Be honest with yourself, and if you mean for something to be treated as an heirloom, maybe keep it and care for it yourself and knit something less ambitious (or less delicate) to give away.

Next post:

Previous post: