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Handle with Care...Caring for your Beloved Hand Knits

I don't know about you but I have one particular hand knit sweater and a cowl in my wardrobe that are both very well worn AND worn more than once a week. There is just something about the rustic wool, basic raglan, oversize fit that screams home and comfort - it just fits right.

This fabulous sweater gets put through everything throughout sweater season - it may be my jacket, wear it to football games, while snowmobiling, on motorcycle rides, bonfires, etc - I wear it everywhere. And that is just one of the many reasons I love wool and wool garments...they are resilient and have the potential for a long, hard-wearing, and useful life.

Here are a few tips to care for your beloved hand knits so they live on even longer and look as pristine as the new garments you knit or add to your wardrobe over the years.


Wool is known to have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and is also breathable, absorbing perspiration and moister while keeping the skin dry. It is not necessary to wash your wool hand knits after every wear! In fact, frequent washing may cause more damage and fading. I normally wash seasonally and start this in May and then store each garment away for the summer.

To keep them fresh in between wears and seasonal washes, simply let them air out. Either lay them flat on a chair overnight and give them a gentle shake from time to time. If you happen to pick-up some odors (such as a campfire scent), let is air-dry outside - BUT keep it away from direct sunlight. And give each piece a little rest time between wears - at least 24 hours. (I know, hard for those absolute favorite pieces...but they will thank you!)


There may be times when you need to do some spot cleaning...maybe a drop of salsa or a little wine spill...fortunately wool is naturally soil-resistant. So, while I can absorb moisture, it also readily repels it. In the event of a spill, you’ll have time to quickly blot before a stain sets. Simply pat the area with a paper towel or cloth, letting the moisture wick off before dabbing the rest of the area. Try not to rub or agitate the fabric, so as not to felt or weaken it. For food spills, brush off the food particles as best as you can, and gently clean the area with a sponge and soapy water.


Pills, or small balls of fluff, may develop on the surface of your garments over time. You'll likely see this in areas that receive frequent day-to-day abrasion, such as the sides of a sweater that rub against your arms when you move. Pilling is primarily due to short staple lengths in the fiber working their way out of the twist in the yarn. To remove them, simply brush off gently with a sweater stone or a sweater brush. Here is a favorite from my LYS.


Another great way to freshen up your woolens is to give them a quick steam. The warmth and moisture of the steam relaxes the fabric of your piece, flattening wrinkles and smoothing creases from folding.

A small handheld garment steamer will work great or use your iron. Lay your garment flat over an ironing board or another heat-resistant surface. If using an iron, hold the iron about an inch above it as you surge the steam (do not allow the iron to come in contact with the fabric). While the fabric is warm and damp, use your hands to smooth it out and reshape to your liking. Apply more steam as you see fit and then leave to air dry.

You can also place a damp pressing cloth over your knitted item and press your iron over it gently and briefly. Avoid ironing the fabric by dragging the soleplate over it. Simply press down with very light pressure and lift the iron off again. Repeat this lifting and pressing for any areas of the garment that need smoothing.


I encourage you to wash your wool garments before you put them away for storage - this will ensure that no residual dirt, makeup, perfume, and/or skin oils damage the garment or attract natural fiber lovers like moths.

Hand washing is the best way to clean your wool garments as it is a much gentler process than washing with a machine. In the words of June Hemmons Hiatt (No we're not least as far as I know!), author of The Principles of Knitting, hand washing your knits “is somewhat like baking bread; you deal with it lovingly every now and then for just a few minutes, and then you ignore it for a while.”

Step 1: Fill a clean sink or basin with water. For water temperature and soaking time, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the yarn used. I typically use cold water and soak for 15 minutes.

Step 2: Soak. Submerge the fabric, gently squeezing out any air bubbles so that the piece can remain under the water without being held there. Never place any wool item under running water as this motion may felt or full the wool. You can add a small amount of delicate dish soap, rinseless wool wash (My favorite is Soak Wash); if not rinseless, you will need to re-submerge the piece in clean water once or twice to remove the soap from your fabric.

Step 3: Once your garment has finished soaking, lift it out of the water, making sure to support its weight evenly so the wet fabric doesn’t sag and stretch the garment — wool can absorb a lot of water and become quite heavy!

Step 4: Gently squeeze (never wring) to remove excess water. Then roll the garment in a towel “burrito-style” to squeeze out more moisture.

Step 5: Lay the damp garment flat to air-dry over a layer of fresh towels or on top of blocking mats. After you initial blocking, wool garments rarely need another stretching and pinning. However, if you are concerned that certain areas of your garment have changed in size during wear, definitely pin them back to your desired measurements while it’s still damp. If using towels, after a couple of hours, flip the garment over and lay a new towel underneath.


Once your wool garments are completely dry, you can fold it and store it away. Be sure to fold your pieces and avoid putting larger garments like pullovers and cardigans on hangers as this will place stress on, and possibly stretch and misshape, the shoulders.

When your garments are all neatly folded, you can tuck them away in a drawer or on a shelf, knowing they will be ready for immediate wear when the time comes. As an added protection against fiber-loving critters, you can place blocks of aromatic cedar — a natural bug repellent — in among your knits or throw in a lavender sachet. If you are storing your wool garments for longer periods of time, consider placing them in a cotton or linen storage bag (as opposed to an airtight plastic bin) so they can breathe.

Now you are ready for when the seasons change and we're back to Fall and wearing all your gorgeous sweaters and accessories!



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