How best to shrink a cashmere sweater?
January 27, 2013 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Spouse has a couple of 100% cashmere sweaters that are a little baggy on him all over--arms too long, too wide in torso, etc. As they are now, he won't wear them, which just seems to be a crime. They are so soft and wonderful! So, I want to try and shrink them. Any tips for how best to accomplish this? Wash in cold water, put in dryer on medium heat? Wash in warm or hot water, then dry flat? Please advise...

I mean, people do this by accident all the time, right?

One sweater has a polo-style collar with 3-buttons, the other has a half zip neckline. I suspect this may effect how the overall shrinking works (or doesn't work), but I still want to try. Since he doesn't wear these now, I don't see the harm in trying. These aren't new, so they can't be returned to the store, and we don't have any male relatives or close friends who would enjoy them as-is, so I'm pretty set on a trying to shrink them unless it seems impossible for it to work.

In addition to ideas for an effective shrinking strategy, any tips on maintaining the nice feel/texture of the sweaters through the process are also welcome.

Thank you!
posted by msbubbaclees to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total)
In my experience, once you shrink a sweater, the texture completely changes as does the shape. You see shrunken sweaters in thrift stores all the time- they get ruined. (well, compared to how they were). You may get differing advice here but it's not just that they get smaller, the fibers get closer together and the shape gets distorted. Maybe cashmere is different?

Ideally you could give them to someone they fit? Even if that involves donating them to goodwill?
posted by bquarters at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

The first thing I would try is the least destructive to the feel/texture.

Hand wash. Then lay flat to dry. But when you lay them flat, sort of form them into the shape you want. So if the arms are too long, scrunch up and compress the arm fabric so that they're shorter by half an inch or so. Do the same thing with the torso. Wet cashmere should be pretty stretchy, so if you don't let them stretch out after washing they should compress quite a bit. You'll have to do this every time you clean it, but cashmere sweaters can be cleaned once a season with proper care.
posted by muddgirl at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

As bquarters said, a shrunken, felted sweater isn't going to have the same luxurious feel of cashmere. It will become chunkier, thicker and slightly scratchy. I used a ruined cashmere as a gardening sweater for years. It was tough, warm and waterproof, but was somewhat like being inside a goat.
posted by scruss at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

In addition to bquarters' cautions, when garments shrink, they do not usually shrink uniformly, so if you throw them into the dryer, you might find that one arm shrinks more than the other, or that the body shrinks much much more than the arms.

The zipper is going to pucker, for sure, and the button band will almost certainly do funny things.

muddgirls' suggestion to try wetblocking is a non-destructive alternative.

(If that doesn't work, I agreeing with bquarters that rather than destroy the garment, you should offer them a casual friend or coworker who's the right size, or take them to Goodwill—it'll make somebody's thrifting year.)
posted by BrashTech at 9:35 AM on January 27, 2013

Dry clean them? Sometimes I get some sweater sag, but we're talking about merino, not cashmere. Dry cleaning gets rid of the arm sag for me. Otherwise, ask a tailor or sell/donate them.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:36 AM on January 27, 2013

In addition to ruining the texture of the sweater, it's difficult to shrink things down to a specific dimension. This isn't a good idea.

Alternatively, you could ask a seamstress to take in the width of the body and the arms.
posted by stowaway at 9:37 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tailors can perform miracles with all sorts of garments-- not just suits and dresses.

Alternatively, you could sell the sweaters in eBay and use the money to buy ones that fit correctly.
posted by deanc at 9:47 AM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Take them to a tailor.
posted by DudeAsInCool at 9:58 AM on January 27, 2013

Yep. You're talking turning your nice fluffy sweater into felt. It's not the same thing.

If you don't find a happy donor of these sweaters, and you're feeling crafty, a sweater pillow would be pretty luxurious in cashmere.
posted by fontophilic at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't shrink them, have them tailored to fit properly. Shrinking them will turn them into felt and they will never be the same.
posted by windykites at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2013

Yup, came to say get them tailored. Shrinking will be unpredictable in both quantity and proportionality, and will likely ruin the texture you love so much.
posted by Kololo at 10:34 AM on January 27, 2013

I noticed no one has answered the specific question of how to shrink cashmere. The answer is water + heat + agitation. Washing in warm water on the gentle/delicates cycle would do it. If you have the time and inclination to make this a process, you can start out with a very short cycle, let the sweaters air dry, see how they fit and feel, and keep trying until you have shrunk them enough (or too much).
posted by payoto at 10:54 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tailor. You can shrink it in hot water, but you won't like it.
posted by trip and a half at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2013

Are they good cashmere sweaters? Have they become saggy since buying them or were they too big when bought? Because all cashmere's soft, but I found to my (actually pretty insignificant) cost that the £25 Tesco cashmere jumper I bought was fine at purchase and a saggy mess within weeks, but a non-premium but properly made £60 one from Marks & Spencer lasts a season of daily wear until I wear through the elbows.
posted by ambrosen at 11:10 AM on January 27, 2013

I was basking in nostalgia yesterday with some old magazines of mine I found, and so courtesy of Seventeen Magazine's September 1994 edition (during the tiny-cropped-sweater-over-a-slipdress era):
Wash in warm water, air dry. If too tight, soak in cold water with a few drops of hair conditioner, then reshape (and in my experience, wringing it out and wearing it around while it dries can be a good method). If too loose, throw the air-dried sweater into the dryer.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:13 AM on January 27, 2013

payoto's got it. Hand wash in warm water, squeeze (don't wring), then roll in a towel to get rid of most of the water, block and dry flat. Do NOT put in the dryer or you WILL end up with a tiny felted sweater.
posted by Specklet at 11:25 AM on January 27, 2013

Mr. Walla has accidentally washed and dried several of my cashmere sweaters with the normal laundry. Other than coming out toddler-sized, they have changed little in texture or appearance. I intend to give him a couple other too-large cashmere sweaters for the same treatment.
posted by walla at 12:14 PM on January 27, 2013

Felting is primarily done by agitation, increased by heat. If you have a top-loading washer, wash the item to be felted on hot with a couple of pairs of jeans. Check every two minutes or so. You can always felt (shrink) more later, but you can never unfelt. Once it's the size you want, lay it out and let it air dry.
posted by rikschell at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2013

If these sweaters have seams down the sides, you can simply take the seams in to make them narrower around. If you take them to a tailor with specific measurements he/she may be able to also fix sleeve length, and even reduce the size of the armholes, but just making them less baggy though the torso should be pretty easy.
posted by aimedwander at 4:56 PM on January 27, 2013

try this with the least 'ideal' of them as a test...put it in a net laundry bag (the kind for drying delicates) and into the dryer with a wet, but mostly wrung out towel...steam it, don't soak it.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:19 PM on January 27, 2013

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