Now you've done it. You didn't read the instructions in How to wash handknits. You threw the beautiful sweater / jumper that someone who loves you labored so hard and long to create into the ordinary wash, along with your nasty jeans and skanky t-shirts. You pulled out a matted shrunken mess.

What to do? Can this sweater be saved?

The answer is an unequivocal maybe.

Let's just say, we won't make it any worse. We might even restore it to a usable state. But no promises.

How to unfelt a felted sweater

  1. Get a really big pot. Put it on the stove. Yes, the stove.
  2. Pour in one pint (about 1/2 liter) of white vinegar. For pete's sake, do not use wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar. You won't be eating this.
  3. Fill the pot with water, leaving some room for the sweater.
  4. Put the sweater into the pot.
  5. Bring to a boil. Yes, a boil.
  6. Boil the sweater for 30 min to 2 hours. Yes, boil the sweater.
  7. Leave the sweater in the pot and allow to cool. You can speed this up a bit by rinsing the sweater in hot water, then successively cooler water, until it is cool enough to handle.
  8. Stretch the bejeezus out of it. A friend may be useful at this point.
  9. Keep stretching the bejeezus out of the sweater, always striving to restore it to its original dimension.

What you're doing is trying to relax the fibers, getting those little scales on the wool fibers to let go of their death hold on each other. If you're lucky, you'll end up with a sweater that is wearable, if very fulled. If not, consider giving it to someone smaller than you. Or the dog. Think of a good story when someone who loves you asks you about the sweater. Swear to never do that again (believe me, you won't). Commit to memory How to wash handknits.

Another method for unshrinking a sweater

  1. Fill a sink with cold water and a half cup of fabric softener.
  2. Soak your favorite sweater in the solution for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the sweater and wring out the excess water
  4. Place it in a dry place and stretch the sweater back to its original dimensions.
  5. Hang the sweater in a cool place until it dries.

This method has worked for me twice for my favorite obey sweater. It's now a tiny bit smaller and doesn't have the same stretchiness that it used to, but it's completely wearable and not noticeably small when I wear it.

How it works

Wool fibers are like giant columns of styrofoam coffee cups lying side-by-side. When the wool gets wet and warm simultaneously, the big columns slide past each other, locking tighter. Because of the shape of the fibers, the fibers can’t slide the other way to expand again because of the ratchet shape of the fibers. The solution is to first soften the fabric, allowing them to loosen and return to their original shape after physical stretching.

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