I bought (from a very reputable on-line source), several skeins of this luscious 6-play yarn in a deep chocolate brown advertised as “machine washable” – not my preference but practical for children’s sweaters. I designed and knit a top-down raglan sweater with some bands of texture (the solid brown was boring) for grandson O.
Grandson O loved his sweater and immediately donned it. After the sweater had its first washing, however, either he hit an amazing growth spurt or the sweater had shrunk. His wrists now hung about 2 inches below the cuff, and the bottom of the sweater hovered around the top of his jeans. The textured patterns had lost their “crispness,” and I saw the sweater was now fulled! I asked my daughter how she washed it and dried it, and she said in warm water (not hot) and then laid flat to dry.
Hmmm … I had a couple of skeins left over, so I dug them out for a careful look at the label – which I clearly had neglected to read – save for the length and weight information. The yarn is “shrink resistant.” . But the German word – schrumpffest – translates to “shrink free“. “Resistant” is not synonymous with “free.” Curiouser and curiouser.
I took a careful look at the international signage at the bottom of the label. (Yes, I should have done this earlier!) The hand in the basin (far left) clearly indicates the yarn should be hand washed. (See the Guide to Common Home Laundering and Drycleaning Symbols.)
Oops. Mea culpa. I didn’t read past the English “shrink resistant” which I thought meant “machine washable.” So what is “shrink resistant” and how does it differ from “machine washable?”
I’m still not too sure. I first turned to the wool industry. According to the Australian Wool Innovation Unlimited, shrink resistant wool has been treated by a chemical process “to modify the scale structure of the fibre and impart shrink-resist properties.” (They did not actually define “shrink resistant” or compare it to “machine washable” wool.) The Woolmark Company notes: “Machine-washable shrink-resistant wool is produced by masking or partially removing the surface scales to reduce the felting properties of the wool fibre and thus make it shrink-resistant.” The American Sheep Industry News, however, used the terms “shrink resistant” and “machine washable” interchangeably.
As O’s sweater demonstrated, “shrink resistant” wool – at least this shrink-resistant wool – can indeed full. I next turned to the academic literature. See H.D. Feldtman and J.R. McFee (1964) – the title of their article gives us a hint: “The Effect of Temperature on the Felting of Shrink-Resistant Wool,” in Textile Research Journal (March), vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 199-206. (As you can tell, you can take the professor out of the academy but not the academy out of the professor!)
What now? Today I am cutting the ribbed cuffs and hem off O’s now fulled sweater and, using smaller needles so I can match the fulled gauge, will pick up the stitches and lengthen the sleeves and body. (At least the sweater will be warmer.)
What did I learn? First, don’t assume term definitions (shrink resistant did not equal machine washable). Second, be sure and read all the international laundry codes. Third, after reading about the most common treatment process using either chlorine gas or sulphuric acid, I think I will avoid both shrink resistant and machine washable wool in the future.