Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sheep get rained on, you know. On washing wool.

There's an article making the rounds of Twitter this week about superwash wools, and how they are made.

I read it, and learned a few interesting things about how a wool is made superwash. But it was the last line in the article that caught my attention...
What is the most eco-friendly yarn that also is able to be washed without shrinking? Things like slipper socks can get awfully dirty. (Or will I have to just soak them in cold water?)
And my first thought was "here we go again".

Sheep in the rain. Image from The Fairhope Farm blog. 

I hear this so very often: that wool can't be washed without great difficulty, that wool can't be washed without shrinking. That wool shouldn't get wet. That somehow water is bad for wool.

I get it, I do. We've all had a laundry disaster: a beautiful wool sweater, ruined. We've all been told by our mothers that wool things shouldn't go in the washing machine. And from that, so often, we extrapolate the fact that wool is difficult to wash, and it shouldn't get wet, that water is bad for wool.

This belief is leading people very far astray.

In fact, if you don't wash your wool you're asking for trouble. Moths - those pesky eaters of sweaters, ruiners of stashes, breakers of hearts - are attracted to dirty wool. Wool that has oils from your skin and hair on them. That's the stuff that the moths want to eat. If you're not washing your wool, you're asking it to get ruined.

But wool shrinks, you say! Mother told me!

Wool can felt - get denser - when it is washed. But it's not the water that's making that happen. It's agitation. The washing machine is bad for wool not because of the water, but because of the motion. It's motion - the friction, agitation, rubbing - that causes wool to felt.

A temperature shock - a rapid temperature change in water - can also cause felting. That's why a hot wash causes felting, too. You're shocking the wool. You'd be shocked, too, if you had hot water dumped on you.

In fact, water makes wool more beautiful: it evens out your knit fabrics, it causes the fibres to fluff up and bloom, it opens up your lace work and patterning, it gets any pesky overdye and coffee stains and dog hair off.

Just don't shock or agitate it. You can wash it to your heart's content. Just don't machine wash it.

(Some modern washing machines do have hand-wash cycles - they're basically movement-free and apparently very wonderful. My machine is not that clever, sadly.)

It's really not hard:

  • soak your pieces in a sink or tub of lukewarm water for about half an hour.
  • a wool-wash like SOAK is specially devised to not need rinsing out, so all you need to do is pour off the water, or drain the sink. (No rinsing! Really! This is actually true!) 
  • roll them in a towel to squeeze the excess water out
  • and lay them flat to dry

See! Easy! Stress-free! Not special equipment required!And so many benefits.

P.S. This is also the secret to Blocking.

And I have to say, although I love Kat's theory, it's sadly just not true.


JanetD said...

I know I'm popping in 2 months after you posted this, but I just found you. This is wonderful information and well stated. The statement "sheep get wet too" has gone through my head when talking about wools with people. Now I can say "see, someone agrees with me."

Unknown said...

Lamb from green pasture with lots of rain for drink to make the wool fluffy. Then time to baber the lamb :)

Unknown said...