Can I shrink an Icelandic sweater?
October 28, 2013 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I have a traditional Icelandic hand-knit wool sweater (or "jumper" in European parlance) which I purchased when I was wearing a size XL. I am now wearing a size M and I miss my beautifully warm sweater. Is it safe to attempt to shrink it, or will that totally destroy it? If it's worth trying, does anyone have any guidance on how to do it? Explain as though you were talking to a 5-year-old - I have no experience in the fiber arts.
posted by matildaben to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by jon1270 at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2013

Best answer: You can, but it'll change the texture of the sweater considerably, and it won't necessarily shrink the same amount vertically as it does horizontally, so the end result may not be a sweater that's really in the right proportions.

It might be possible to cut it down, particularly if it still fits relatively well through the neck and shoulders. Although the sweater was probably knit in the round originally so it doesn't have side seams, a sweater like will probably take fairly well to be steeked (cut) and resewn. If you take some width out where the side seam would have been, and some out of the underside of the arms, you may be able to create a wearable final product. It won't necessarily be awesome, but it might work out as a comfy sweater for around home.

It's a process that even experienced knitters generally approach with trepidation and vodka, though, so if you have no experience in the fiber arts, you'll probably want to find someone who does and will do it for you.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:42 PM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh god no do not try to shrink this sweater.

Find a local yarn shop, ask about a person who does repairs of the type of garment you have.

Expect to pay exorbitant sums.
posted by bilabial at 1:47 PM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding the cutting-it-and-resewing that jacquilynne suggests. I would take it to a yarn store for advice on that score, though.

As for why the other way to shrink it won't work well, a little "fiber 101" info: any yarn made of an animal fiber, like wool, can be "felted" - which means, you get the fibers in the yarn to mat together. (You ever have a long-haired dog that had mats in its coat? That's the same kind of process.) If you take something that was handknit out of wool and felt it, that makes the yarn fibers all mat together, which makes it smaller - but makes the fabric a LOT thicker and stiffer.

That's actually why you don't throw handknit wool sweaters in the washing machine - that would make them felt. There are some sweaters that are knit with washable wool (wool that's been pretreated with something that keeps it from felting), but most sweaters, if you threw them in the washer, they'd shrink - but they'd shrink in a funny way and the fabric would be stiff and thick.

I'm assuming you don't want this to happen to your sweater, so I'd avoid trying to do this on your own. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 PM on October 28, 2013

Sell it on Ebay. Use the money to buy a new one in your size on Ebay.
posted by LarryC at 1:55 PM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I guessed that the answer was "no", but I appreciate the gory detail that "marked best answer" answerers have provided. I won't get one on eBay because I doubt that most of those are authentic (mine was purchased from the Handknitting Association shop on the main drag in Reykjavik), but I could try to order direct from them or wait until a trusted friend is flying to or through RVK (I believe the Handknitting Association has a shop in the airport too), and have them pick me up one.
posted by matildaben at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2013

It looks like they sell some sweaters on their website.
posted by barnone at 3:26 PM on October 28, 2013

Okay, so my new house came with a super fancy washer dryer set, both of which have "wool" settings. So I threw some sweaters in to try them out and ... they worked really really well. The sweaters 'tightened' up a little bit, mostly because they had gotten a little stretched from wear, but I do think they ended up slightly smaller (1 size or 1/2 a size, maybe). This was okay with me because I'm on the petite side anyway and I like the slimmer fit.

Mind, this is NOT felting - I think the whole point of the wool setting is that only cold water and cool air tumble dry are used. And these were definitely wool sweaters - some lambs wool, some blends, one cashmere (yeah, that was dumb for a test run). All came out in like-new condition, no weird stiffness.

So if you know someone with fancy machines and are feeling lucky, maybe give it a shot? There's definitely going to be a limit to how much your XL sweater will shrink, but it could help.
posted by ella wren at 4:10 PM on October 28, 2013

Steeking is actually pretty easy but then again I am a pro fiber nerd. However, if you have any friends who *sew,* you can have them turn it inside out and run a seam up either side and down the sleeves. Try it on and if it's working for you, cut away the excess material, or do another line of stitching and go smaller. It's easier than doing a proper steek.
posted by at 5:20 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would just wear the sweater even if it is way too big now. I would be THAT afraid to mess with it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:29 PM on October 28, 2013

I doubt that most of those are authentic (mine was purchased from the Handknitting Association shop on the main drag in Reykjavik)

I have an icelandic sweater from this site:

And it's pretty authentic--I even communicated with people in Iceland to get it!

Now if it would just get cold enough in California for me to actually wear it, my plans would be complete.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2013

Response by poster: Nordic Store seems to be the best place - they even advertise on the Reykjavik Grapevine. However, since they are about $250, I'm thinking of just wearing mine around the house even though it is too big, so I can avoid turning up the heat.
posted by matildaben at 3:45 PM on October 29, 2013

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