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Washing, Drying, and Storing Knitted Items

Throughout the 90s, grunge rock was the music of choice for teenagers all across America. Having grown up in the 60s, I was never much of a fan; however, I do remember those stretched and misshapen sweaters, which all the kids were wearing – both the rockers themselves and their devoted fans. These days you can buy sweaters just like that, but the original grunge style came about by accident – or rather, through negligence. Hey, who would have thought that a total disregard for knitwear would have inspired an entire generation? Simply put, if you want your wools, cottons, and linens to droop and sag, just ignore the washing guidelines.

Living off grid is the perfect environment for recreating the Kurt Cobain look. You don’t have a washing machine, detergents are largely homemade, and a dryer consists of the nearest stable objects from which to drape things. Let’s face it; you’re just a few repetitive chords away from a three-day rock festival. Don’t break out your tie-dyed sweater just yet though, as today, we are going to rebel. By deconstructing the grunge sweater, you will learn the right way to wash and care for knitted items – off-the-grid style.

Washing Knitted Items the Way Your Grandmother Used To

Woolen items require the most care out of all knitted clothing. When washing wool, use cold water only because washing wool in hot water will cause it to shrink. Use a detergent such as Eucalan, which contains lanolin (the natural oil found in sheep’s wool), for your wool wash. You can also use mild baby shampoo or make up your own formula from water, Orvus, and the essential oil of your choice. Mix equal parts Orvus and water, adding a tablespoon of oil to every pint. Orvus is pretty cheap to buy, coming at an average price of $18 per gallon. You will find the best prices for Orvus by buying bulk containers from farm suppliers or online. eBay seems to have the best deals. These types of detergents keep your wool’s fibers well oiled and close to their natural state.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that wool does not need washing after every wear. Spot cleaning or simply leaving your wool out to air is often sufficient.

Cotton, linen, ramie, and synthetic items can be washed in either cold or warm water. Although these fibers are not as delicate as wool, care is still required when washing. Use a mild detergent, which doesn’t contain bleach. Bleach will damage fibers over time, and it is not necessary to achieve adequate cleaning. There is no reason why you cannot use your Orvus formula for these fabrics as well.

Now, here’s where the grunge generation got it all wrong. Wool and other knitted items require delicate washing. Those wayward rockers would often return from a gig, take off their sweater, and throw it in a hot wash. Once the wash cycle was complete, they would transfer the sweater to an electric dryer. Depending on the material, they would end up with either a shrunken, misshapen, or stretched sweater. Living off grid using your washtub, washboard, and wrangle automatically eliminates those problems, right? Well, not really. The basic rule when washing knitted items by hand is to gently work the dirt out of the fabric. Never scrub, wring, or rub the fabric together. That means leaving the washboard hanging on the wall and detaching the wrangle. As tempting as it may be, you will not be using them to clean your knitted items.

Remember I said don’t wring knitted items during washing? That also applies during the drying process. Without the benefit of a spin cycle, your washing will come out heavy with water, so it seems logical to wring out the access. However, doing so will cause woolen fabrics to felt and cause damage to other knitwear. Remove each item from the wash individually, ensuring that you support the item from underneath.

Gently squeeze any access water from the item and place it flat on a towel. Jelly-roll the item in the towel, applying firm pressure as you go. Once done, transfer the item onto another dry towel. The item should be laid out flat and worked into its original shape. Do not stretch or pull to reshape; rather, gently tease and pad the material. The knitted item will require at least twenty-four hours drying in this position. Whether you are drying or storing knitted items, never hang them. Hanging will cause stretching and damage to the fabric.

Fold your knitted items and store neatly away. You just spent a lot of time washing them, so it would be foolish to neglect them at this point. We all love to have our favorite blanket or sweater close at hand, but draping them over your chair will significantly shorten their life spans. All the friction caused from moving about in your chair will damage the threads and cause holes to develop in your knitwear. If you have wooden-bottom drawers or shelving, make sure that you insulate them to avoid damaging your knitted items. Simply placing a soft towel on the surface will suffice; however, I find that bubble wrap is a great way to protect your clothing from splinters or coarse wooden surfaces. Make sure your knitted fabrics can breathe, and keep them out of bright light. To avoid damage from pests, place a cedar block or sprinkle chips close to your knitwear. Caring for knitted items may seem like a lot of work, but just consider the amount of time and love you put into creating them in the first place.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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