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October 2, 2010 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Can I unshrink a merino wool sweater?

Our house is divided into four apartments that share a washer and dryer in the basement. This morning, I put in load of laundry and came back to switch it to the dryer and discovered that one of my neighbours had already done so, which shrank my favourite merino wool sweater. Any way I can stretch it back out again?
posted by futureisunwritten to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can try to reblock it and make it fit again. Thoroughly wet it in cold water. Roll it in a towel to squeeze out the excess. Shape it on a dry towel and gently gently gently pull it back to shape. You won't really unshrink it, but if the wool is forgiving enough, you may salvage it. I've had some success doing this with Icebreaker stuff that was accidentally dried in a low temperature dryer.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:56 AM on October 2, 2010

It might stretch out some if you just wear it around. Maybe even (if you are desperate) while it is ever so slightly damp from another washing or misted with a spray bottle. I've had trouble with wool sweaters stretching when they get damp, so maybe do it deliberately.

I was curious enough to Google for advice on this and most of it seems to echo what crush-onastick said. One site added, intriguingly to me, washing with hair conditioner to soften the fibers out, then washing the conditioner out when the sweater is stretched.
posted by BibiRose at 9:57 AM on October 2, 2010

yeah, you can stretch the felt some, but if it's well and truly shrunk, you will never get your original sweater back. Sorry.
posted by KathrynT at 10:43 AM on October 2, 2010

The first thing the forum threads on "unfelting" (shrinking wool = "fulling" or "felting") on Ravelry suggest is soaking in water with lots of (cheap) hair conditioner. Stretch the fabric while it's soaking, then rinse, stretch, and pin it down to dry while it's stretched out.

More drastic ideas are soaking or even simmering the fabric in white vinegar and water instead of the conditioner solution before rinsing, etc. Most of the knitters I know repurpose or give away the items they unintentionally felt, so I don't have much anecdata for you on how well these methods actually work.
posted by camyram at 10:52 AM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Blocking is a knitter's trick and it works pretty well, but like KathrynT says, the felt will only stretch so far. When you reshape it, try using rust-resistant pins to stretch it out. I'd actually block it pretty aggressively -- most wool can take it. I've blocked a cotton T-shirt that shrunk a bit in the wash, and it worked for that one wear (cotton has no memory and will snap back to its actual condition when washed; wool is a bit less forgetful).

BibiRose, hair conditioner can make the feel of the wool softer, but it won't really do much to make it more pliable.
posted by pised at 10:56 AM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

you might be able to stretch it, but its never going to be your favourite sweater again. Sorry.

Consider repurposing it - make a bag! give it to a child! Turn it into an oven mitt! But an awesome sweater that will fit you the way that made you love it? No.
posted by Kololo at 11:44 AM on October 2, 2010

If you have room, you can use overlong wooden dowels instead of pinning, which will give you better lines. Just take a 4x4 sheet of plywood, stretch out a portion of the sweater, and screw some cheap drywall screws as stays for the dowels. I've built things like this for wardrobe departments.
posted by nevercalm at 12:35 PM on October 2, 2010

Also, you might consider putting up a sign in the laundry room, a la "Hey, whoever moved my stuff ruined my sweater. No foul, sorry I was late getting back to the washer, BUT in the future please throw my stuff in my laundry basket, which I have left for this purpose (tho I don't plan on being late again)."
posted by nevercalm at 12:37 PM on October 2, 2010

I've had some luck with the hair conditioner method for relaxing (I presume) shrunk wool. Didn't get my favorite 1950s mohair sweater with the big disk mother-of-pearl buttons back 100%, but it got big enough to be worn without looking silly.
posted by Scram at 9:00 PM on October 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks folks. I'll give the conditioner suggestion a try. On the up side, I'm trying to lose weight, so maybe it will fit me again in a few months!

FWIW, I didn't leave the laundry in late. I got caught up on the phone and was about half an hour past the end of the wash cycle. It's a pay machine, so if someone leaves their stuff in the washer, the other neighbours will usually just take it out and put it on top of the dryer to get it out of the way. My neighbours are awesome and considerate, so I won't be leaving passive aggressive notes for them over a $25 sweater.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2010

Nope. When you put wool in the dryer it denatures the proteins in the fibers. You can't undo that.

That seems very unlikely, liketitanic. It felts the fibers. That is all.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 PM on October 3, 2010

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