Mea Culpa

diVeyarnI 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.

YarnLabel1Hmmm … 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!)

OSweaterWhat 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.

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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25 Responses to Mea Culpa

  1. Ah well, as they in Aussie Rules Footy “ya cant always kick a goal”

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  2. I think – especially in light of the awful translations (see people’s comments above), she washed it carefully in the machine with warm water (cold rinse). (No more “machine washable” yarns in my knitting future!)

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  3. I remember my dad reading that to me when I was a little girl! 🙂 The salvage operation is almost complete … thankfully it’s a little boy’s who doesn’t care if it doesn’t look perfect!

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  4. I think my daughter will now too – just to be on the safe side … though I’m never again giving her any sweaters for the grandkids knit in “machine washable” wool!

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  5. I only wash my wool sweaters by hand; my daughter washed this sweater in the machine only because I told her it was safe. 😦

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  6. Maybe it’s like “rain resistance” – maybe it will keep you dry in a light sprinkle!

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  7. Makes me wonder who did the translations … ?!?!? 😦

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  8. Good to know (re the translation) – thanks! I generally wash all my sweaters by hand, starting the washing in cold water and, if the sweater is very dirty, gradually increasing the heat of the water. My daughter said she will start hand washing the wool sweaters I’ve knit for her children – just to be on the safe side!

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  9. The sweater looks worn and frankly I’d toss the whole thing except that my grandson loves it. I’m almost done reknitting the bottom parts of the sleeve and body for length. Looks strange but he doesn’t care. Such is youth. (Or love of grandmother!)

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  10. Actually, that was really easy … once a sweater is fulled it is pretty difficult to “drop” stitches. 🙂

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  11. Thanks for the recommendation. I decided I will never use “machine washable” or “shrink fast” – or any combination of those descriptions! – again! If the sweater weren’t being worn by a 7 year old boy, it would go to the garbage pile.

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  12. Thank you – though I don’t like the way it is turning out, but I don’t think grandson O will care. Even the fulling didn’t look nice – the sweater looks old and ratty. I telephoned Webs (from whom I bought it), and they looked it up and told me it was made by Cascade. I e-mailed Cascade but so far have not yet received a response. 😦

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  13. What a clever idea (I will use) to lengthen the sleeves. Thinking outside the box. I love the online clever knitter community!!

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  14. Tony says:

    I have a Fisher & Paykel machine too and wash all my hand knits on the cold hand wash cycle. Have washed jumpers and socks so far and works perfectly. Another recommendation from me!

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  15. Pearl says:

    Rats* I’ll be thinking of you as you pick up all those itty-bitty stitches 😦

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  16. kiwiyarns says:

    Hmm. Even if your daughter had put it in the machine, did she use a regular wash and not a wool wash? Sounds like it’s faulty yarn to me. With your careful instructions, I’m sure she would have washed it correctly? I have to say I share your suspicion of ‘machine washable’, or treated yarns. They always seem to either shrink or stretch out too much. There’s nothing wrong with yarn the way nature intended it to be!

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  17. rthepotter says:

    Argh! Good luck with the salvage operation. (PS I hope everyone knows Ogden Nash’s verses about washing woollen socks?)

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  18. Northern Narratives says:

    Years ago, I gently washed with cold water a sweater I made from “washable wool”. I just cried when the sweater was ruined. Now I was everything by hand.

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  19. I’m glad you are going to salvage the sweater. I’m not a fan of machine-washable wool (except when blended with Nylon in sock yarn) because it feels so slimy when wet, has a tendency to stretch, and is sometime weakened in the processing. My washing machine (Fisher Paykel) has a “wool cycle” which is meant for machine-washable wool, but I wash all my hand-knitted sweaters made from non-machine-washable wool in the machine using that cycle and they come out looking great.

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  20. Interesting! I’ve never seen the term “shrink resistant” on wool before. What an odd choice of phrasing.

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  21. Stephanie Libbon says:

    Interesting–the French and Italian also say shrinkproof. So, either it means something different or perhaps the yarn was mislabeled.

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  22. Pingback: Mea Culpa | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber … | Comparescales.com

  23. streepie says:

    PS:
    I’m glad you can salvage the sweater!

    I do wash all my hand knitted items in the machine, but only on the special wool cycle, with cold, never warm water. So far, it has worked for me, but maybe I was lucky

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  24. streepie says:

    The German label would most probably say “filzfrei”, i.e. does not felt. I’ve also never read “schrumpffest” on a German label.

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  25. reWOLLuzza says:

    I’ve never read the term “schrumpffest” on any German wool label before… I think it might be used in Austria. So I I’d quite probably have made the same mistake.
    I hope you can salvage the sweater. Would be a shame to see all the work go to waste.

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