How Knitted Wool Fabric Loves Water

Life is a bit crazy-busy right now which is why I haven’t been posting much. Hopefully I’ll be posting more in the near future!

I’ve been reading a lot of online messages lately asking the seemingly age-old question: “I’m knitting a [insert pattern name here] using [insert a popular wool yarn here] and the fabric is feeling really stiff. Will it soften up after I wet-block it?”

Based on 20-plus years of knitting garments, I can answer with  a categorical “YES” to the  question, regardless of the yarn, as long as it’s 100% wool (or close to it). The more synthetic fibers are blended with the wool, the less ‘wooly’ your yarn will behave. Wool loves to get wet. Fibers that have been twisted and put under tension during the knitting process will relax after a good dunking. When dry, some wools bloom, meaning the yarn puffs up a bit, changing the gauge. Sometimes the yarn develops a slight halo of very fine fuzz. In the case of Merino wools, they almost always develop a drape. This is even true of superwash wools, although changes in the before and after fabrics may be less pronounced. Your mileage may very depending on the breed of sheep, too. Sometimes, the wool doesn’t change a bit after a thorough wet-blocking – although I rarely find this to be the case.

A great case-in-point is Plucky Sweater, a terrific DK-weight yarn offered by indie-dyer The Plucky Knitter. This yarn is a 90% Merino wool / 10% nylon blend and in my experience, knits up a bit on the stiff side. This yarn has a tight twist and a ‘hard’ finish, meaning it’s not a fluffy, fuzzy yarn in the skein – it has a smooth almost cottony feel. After a simple dunk in lukewarm water, however, it transforms into a fabric I can only describe as ‘buttery.’ Not OMG-cashmere-soft mind you, but very lovely, smooth and soft. It also gains a nice drape not apparent pre-bath. In my experience, gauge did not change after blocking.

The lesson to be learned here? Whenever trying a new yarn, and especially when substituting in a pattern that requires something different, MAKE A SWATCH and give it a bath. Even if you don’t bother measuring the gauge (but you should, mind you), blocking your swatch will give you a heads up on how your eventual project will turn out.

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About fotoknit

Knitter, spinner, knitwear designer, photographer, blogger, former yarn shop owner.
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