Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Wash, Wear & Care for your Wool Sweaters

Here at Paper People, wool is a precious commodity.  Through years of working with upcycled or reclaimed materials, we've learned many tips and tricks for restoring sweaters that have seen better days and keeping them looking fresh.  Unlike cheaper materials that age quickly, with a little tender loving care, quality wool garments can stick around in your wardrobe for years rather than just one season.  Now if that's not eco, I don't know what is.

Eco Properties

Like all natural fibres that come from the Earth, wool is a completely renewable resource.  Sheep, goats, llamas and rabbits are raised and sheered for their coats.  Vegetarians should know that some animals are raised for sheering only and allowed to roam in pastures unlike the caged animals in factory farms.  Others are raised for their milk and meat and the wool is a by product of this industry, insuring nothing goes to waste.  At the end of its life, pure wool is completely biodegradable, releasing nutrients back into the soil.


Wool is kind of a wonder fibre.  It's warm and insulative yet breathable, unlike synthetics that make you sweat.  It is naturally water resistant which makes it ideal for cold, wet weather.  Merino wool, one of the softest, smoothest wools is now being used in sportswear for high performance base layer clothing because of its ability to wick moisture away from the body.  It is resistant to mould and mildew and staying fresh rather than collecting a build up of body odour.


Wool is naturally stain resistant.  Rather than absorbing, residue remains on the surface, and the fabric is not prone to water marks which makes for easy spot cleaning if you're in a pinch.

Now, I know it's all too common to see a fine wool garment ruined in the wash.  Wool fibres are covered in a shingle like structure.  When heat and agitation is applied, the shingles lift up and lock together, causing the fabric to shrink up and become stiff.

I find Soak Wash is the best way to care for knit garments.  Add a teaspoon full to a sink full of cool water, let your garment sit for 15 minutes, then gently squeeze the water out and let dry.  No need to rub, agitate or even rinse.  I chose the scentless version as it's free of artificial fragrances and easy on the skin.  I picked mine up at Fresh Collective.

Wringing out can cause some knits to become warped or misshapen, so I find the best way to remove excess water is to lay it flat on a towel, roll it up and then step on it.


Sadly, many goods have become disposable to our consumer driven society.  Clothes come cheap these days and the sight of a little hole or stain is enough to send an otherwise perfectly good garment to the curbside.  I know it's an archaic concept in this day and age, but we CAN mend our own clothes.  It's simple, it's easy and it can add a few years onto the life of some of your favourite pieces.


Pilling occurs when loose fibres find their way to the surface.  When abrasion occurs, the fibres clump into balls or "pills" which stay fixed to the surface by loose fibres that have not yet broken.  Hence pilling occurs in areas of increased abrasion like collars, cuffs, thighs and underarms.  Wool, polyester, nylon and acrylic have the most tendency to pill, however, wool pilling wears away over time as the pills have a tendency to break away.

If you're finding your sweater has developed pills and you'd like to give it a little love, I recommend the Sweater Stone.  The Sweater Stone is a pumice like block made from post consumer recycled materials.  When you rub the stone against the fabric, its abrasive surface collects pilling and loose fibres, leaving the surface looking clean and new again.


Looser knits are most prone to pulls but many knits can become caught, resulting in yarns pulling out from the fabric.  As a non knitter (believe it or not) I find pulling these stray yarns to the back side of the fabric is the easiest fix I find.  I usually take a standard flat head pin, stick it through the fabric a few millimetres away from the pull, letting the head of the pin surface at the base of the pull.  I then wrap the loose yarn around the pin and pull it to the under side of the sweater.


Usually when your favourite garment develops a hole, it's time for conspicuous patch work or the donation bin.  One of the many upsides to wool knits is they are super easy to mend and can look good as new with a few simple stitches.  Fluffier, bulkier knits are easier to mend than fine, thin knits like merino, but this concept can be applied to any sweater with varying results.  And my advice is don't let these go for too long.  Smaller holes are much easier to mend with more pleasing results.

Start out by choosing thread that is a few shades darker than the actual fabric.  Light colours come forward and dark colours recede, so the dark thread colour will be less noticeable if it shows on the surface.

Anchor your thread on the back of the fabric.  Now pull the thread to the front of the fabric.  For long, skinny holes I like to weave side to side across the hole, making sure the thread is hidden between the bulk of the yarn.  Pulling too tightly may cause puckering, but not pulling tightly enough may cause the thread to show, so it's important to apply just the right amount of tension.

For larger, rounder holes I will sometimes repeat this going up and down, again, making sure to be gentle while keeping the thread concealed.

Tie a knot on the back side.  And to finish it off, press the area with a hot, steamy iron.  Wool is easily moulded and shaped with a little heat and steam, so this last step should create a nice clean finish.  With a little practice in this technique, no one will know there was ever a hole to begin with!

So there you have it ladies and gents, your complete guide to sweater wear and care along with a little background information.  Now the question is, are you brave enough to try this at home?

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