January 18, 2013

George was Right: Cold Water DOES Cause Shrinkage! The OOPS! Files.

I should have put on my thinking face.
 I thought I had it. I was sooooo smart. My hubris was clearly my first mistake.

I have been doing laundry most of my life. I could not have said that at 15 years old, or at 25 or even at 30. But now, at 43 years old, I have had 30 years of total laundering experience; more than 50% of my life has been spent as "the person who does the laundry." Alas, 30 years of washing has not been enough--not enough to save my precious hand knits from certain and unforseen doom.

Amy frolics in the sand, not knowing what it
In one my more stupider moves, (yes, I said "more stupider") I single-handedly destroyed one of my favorite hand knits: my Petite Facile by Meghan Jones  from the Winter 2011 issue of Interweave Knits, made for Amy Rose.

I made it last spring for our Memorial Day weekend trip to Fort Stevens, which is at the Oregon Coast and can be a cozy, albeit damp and cold place. I used some precious Plymouth Mushishi in wool and silk to knit this adorable (and very warm) sweater. No, my preschooler was not going to suffer the cold and wind as we hiked on this trip!

Making this sweater even more special, was the fact that this was a first: The project turned out with nice, even tension throughout and nice, straight, tidy edges. And I even lengthened the sleeves to accomodate a turned up wrist cuff. I was very proud of it. It was perfect. Until...

Upon returning from camping, the sweater was worn a few more times. Fellow mothers know that, in spite of careful use, there is no such thing as an ever-clean guarantee when it comes to garments worn by very active preschoolers. I had been avoiding it, but the time eventually came when I had to face it:

The Wash.

This would have been fine (maybe) had I done the wash on a weekend, in the morning, when my coffee buzz was in full swing and the sun was shining on a day with no soccer practice or dance classes. However, I wisely chose to do the laundry after a hectic workday, at night, in the late summertime dark after dinner, dishes, and a 3-year-old's bath time, which falls right before the same 3-year-old's bedtime.

We all know that nighttime rituals are carefully orchestrated feats of mental and physical prowess,  requiring delicate balances of love and coercion, care and speed, reward and punishment. There are intricate dances between homework, housework, husbands, children, cats, mealtimes, bathtimes and bedtimes. Each needs attention in its sequence. There can be no slip ups in timing, especially as it relates to preschoolers waiting for their stories before bedtime. It would be better to be a tight rope walker in a large circus who misses a step while working without a net. I was taking a chance sneaking in some laundry.

I had about 30 seconds.

I decided to "save time," and put all the dark clothing in the washing machine together. I even felt that this was an advanced washing technique. After all, don't all those commercials for laundry soap brag that in cold water, you can mix the colors in the same load? I further patted myself on the back knowing that (as I tossed the little precious sweater into the front load washer without the agitator) the missing agitation + the cold water=no felting for my sweater. After all, I had washed many a commercial woolen sweater in my day. I knew what I was doing. Right?


Amy can't even get her head into the hole now.
As I read once (I wish I could say it was after the ruined sweater, but I am embarrassed to say that it was before the fact) in Clara Parkes' Book of Yarn, fibers felt, in part, due to the scales from the fleece. They are separated in the strands of yarn, but when washed, the agitation alone can rub them together and sort of bring them back together, irreparably shrinking the knitted fabric.

Of course, the shrinking depends on other things too. In the presence of heat, for example, the shrinkage is greater. But no matter. In my example, agitation and cold water were enough. Even though I have no center agitator like top load machines, the other clothes in the load were enough to cause enough damage to make the garment unwearable--at least by anyone but an infant (if it has a small head--and fat chance on that.).

Here is what we have learned today:

Precious hand knit+cold water+other clothes (mechanical agitation)=  Mom freaking out (emotional agitation)

We can simplify this formula for future reference:


Not even stoichiometry can save this one.

Put another way:

At least I have another skein of Mushishi.

For those who want to do it right...

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