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Convenience of care: “Superwash” Wool

January 21, 2011

Gifting is one of the activities I love most about my knitting. I enjoy sharing my love of the craft through the creation of wonderful warm woolies, which are bestowed upon my friends and family. I worry, though, whether my gifted treasures will receive the care needed to live a long and happy life.

Knitted Treasures

Gifted Treasures need love and attention post gifting.

Each knitterly item contains hours (even months) of my time. A piece of my heart and soul goes into each set of gloves, each sweater, and every pair of socks. It is important to me that the giftee understands the true value of the gifted item and is able to provide the knitted wonder with the love and care it truly deserves. However, not all recipients of these knitterly wonders are adept to understanding the intricacies involved in caring for their natural fibre creation. Is there a solution?

Yes, there is, and it is known as “superwash” wool.

Natural fibres can be complicated to care for. Too much agitation and heat will shrink a full size sweater to one that only a doll can wear. YIKES!? Crafting the item with “superwash” wool will avoid this unnecessary fate.

Superwash Wool

Avoid laundering accidents and craft with a "Superwash" yarn.

“Superwash” is a term generally applied to fibre that has been treated to withstand the twisting, churning, tumbling, and overall violent process of modern day laundering machines, which encourages the scales of the fibre to bind together. Treating the fibres enables resistance to the shrinkage and felting experienced during the laundering process.

There are two processes fibre producers use to make the wool machine washable:

  • Wool fibres are coated with a plastic resin so that the scales are “glued” down. This acts like a protective coating that prevents the scales of the fibres from binding together.
  • Fibres are given an acid bath that removes its scales altogether, which often diminishes the strength of the yarn, to avoid the fibre from binding together.

As knitters, we are unaware of which process has been used to treat the yarn. Often, the two processes are combined to create a superwash”able” and strong fibre that will stand up to whatever laundering process the recipient of our gifts prefers.

Even though the superwash process creates low and easy care for knitted treasures, a few notes of caution need to be remembered:

  • Excessive heat (such as a hot setting on a dryer or in the washing machine) will still encourage felting of the yarns. So, always follow the fibre care instructions on the ball band.
  • Not all “washable” yarns are superwash, since the process is patented. Pay careful attention to the yarn you buy and the care instructions before you toss the knitted item into the machine.
  • “Superwash” yarns do tend to stretch a bit more than untreated yarns. Since the process eliminates the binding function of the fibre, the yarns cannot grip each other to hold in place. Therefore, it is essential to do a proper gauge swatch to determine the amount of stretch your finished project will experience.

For a worry free and easy care project I do recommend trying a “superwash” wool. The results are as fantastic as those knit from untreated varieties of fibres, but the worry of laundering accidents has been greatly decreased or, in some cases, eliminated altogether.

  1. What is your favourite knitted item to gift?
  2. Do you worry about the knitted item’s fate after gifting?
  3. Do you have a favourite brand of “superwash” wool?
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2011 12:56 pm

    Interesting. One thing that I always to to help the recipient of my gifts out is to include the ball band which generally has the wash instructions on it. This way they know exactly which fibers they are dealing with (in the event of allergies) and they have the washing instructions. Hopefully they actually look at it. But it isn’t hard to clip it to the item as means of extra insurance. Of course, this is more difficult when you are using stash that has lost its label.

  2. January 21, 2011 1:07 pm

    Certainly including the ball band (care instructions) is a definite plus. But I wonder whether recipients, of the non-knitting variety, truly appreciate the care rituals that many fibres require. My years of knitterly experience have taught me that they do not. They do like the natural fibres, but are clueless when it comes to their care.

    Enter “superwash” wool: The benefits and luxury of natural fibre with the ease and care of its lesser enjoyed counterparts.

    Problem solved. I use the “superwash” variety when knitting for children, non-knitters, and those whose laundering skills leave much to be desired.

    Indeed, it is that extra form of insurance that will keep the giftees enjoying my efforts for a long time (I hope…).

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