It’s a Ball! It’s a Skein! It’s Superwash!

Hello again, friends!

Have you ever heard a knitter or crocheter say, “I can’t use wool,” or “I don’t like wool,” or (heaven forbid!) have you said it yourself? I’ve met so many gifted, enthusiastic knitters and crocheters who shy away from wool. It’s a travesty, really- with so many gorgeous wool and wool blend yarns out there, it’s not practical (or fun!) to  avoid this paragon of fibers. Why do some people feel an aversion to wool?

One commonly given reason is a “wool allergy”- or more accurately, wool sensitivity. A true allergy to wool is very rare, and is triggered not by the fiber itself but by the lanolin- an oil produced by sheep. Most of the lanolin is removed when wool is processed into yarn. So when someone feels irritated by contact with wool yarn, they are more likely experiencing wool sensitivity. Each individual wool fiber is covered with microscopic scales (see below). This scaly surface can scratch sensitive skin. Of course, the varieties of wool and the way the wool is processed make a huge difference in the feel of the wool, as well.

wool

Scales on a wool fiber under an electron microscope.

Another frequent complaint about wool is its washability- or lack thereof. When agitated the tiny scales on wool fibers begin to interlock and the fabric shrinks and becomes denser. This process is called felting, and it’s accelerated by moisture and suds- so a washing machine is the perfect environment for felting wool. Felting is often a great way to transform a wool project (it make wonderful slippers and bags!) but many a wool garment has been accidentally ruined in the wash. With untreated wools, special care is necessary to preserve their beauty and comfort.

felting

This purse and these slippers were knitted with wool and felted in a washing machine.

Perhaps this is why some knitters and crocheters hesitate when they see “100% Wool” on the label. But what if you could have the best of both worlds? What if you would enjoy the softness, warmth, and natural beauty of wool with perfect comfort and easy care? The answer is simple: SUPERWASH WOOL.

Superwash wool is wool- yes, natural wool right off a sheep!- that has been treated to reduce the prominence of the microscopic scales on the fiber’s surface. The wool may be exposed to a chemical, usually a form of chlorine, which erodes the scales without damaging the core of the fiber. It may also be coated with a polymer which smooths the overall surface. The result is a non-irrtitating, machine washable fiber which looks and acts like traditional wool!

Just like untreated wool, superwash wool can be spun into fantastic textures and dyed to create any colorway imaginable. Because of the processes they undergo, superwash wool yarns may feel slightly softer or more silky than untreated wool. They may also have a slight shine. Many wool sensitive people find superwash wool a treat to knit and to wear, and its easy care instructions make it popular even for children’s items!

superwash

A quick search of The Yarn Patch will leave no doubt that we LOVE superwash wool. From sock yarns to shawl kits, big brand names to small dyers, we can’t resist. We’ve featured superwash wools in countless classes and KAL’s, like the projects pictured above. Our ongoing Maise Cardigan KAL features Classy by Dream in Color, a handpainted worsted weight superwash Merino that glows with color and exudes soft, squishy comfort. If you haven’t tried any of these spectacular yarns, please ask us to show you next time you visit or explore the great options available on our website (www.yarnpatch.com).

Here are some tips for superwash wool care:

  • Use the gentle cycle and a lingerie bag. Although your superwash wool won’t felt, no natural fiber loves friction. Merino, a favorite variety of wool, is especially prone to pilling due to the short length of its fine, soft fibers. Using the gentle cycle and placing your projects in a lingerie bag will protect them from these minor injuries- it’s a good idea when washing any handmade item, really.
  • Use the right soap. Strong detergents can leave a residue on your luxurious fibers or even alter the treated surface. Many cleaning products are the worst enemies of a beautiful dye job, as well. To preserve the color and feel of a superwash yarn, use a shampoo formulated for natural fibers or better yet a lanolin-based wool wash (we LOVE Eucalan!)
  • Use the dryer. The scales on an untreated wool give the fiber some of its structure; without these scales, superwash wool can stretch over time. Tumble dry superwash wool projects on a low temperature setting to help them maintain their shape.

 

Sources: 

http://allergysymptomsx.com/woolallergy.php

 http://knitting.about.com/od/knittingglossary/g/superwash_wool.htm

https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/category/fibers/wool/

 

 

 

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra David
    Jul 13, 2016 @ 20:49:39

    I have heartfelt sympathy for those who can’t or won’t use wool.

    Like

    Reply

  2. Suze
    Jul 17, 2016 @ 19:01:53

    I feel like this article was written for me. I should have read it prior to coming in on Friday. I did purchase the wool instead of running for the acrylic. However, I chose the machine wash instead of hand wash. Great article.

    Like

    Reply

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