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Guide to Greatness: How to care for your hand-made items

Today was laundry day for many of my handmade shawls, jerseys, scarves, cowls and hats. I don’t entrust this task to anybody. There are too many things that could go wrong.

The small washing line outside my laundry was filled with mohair, wool, silk, cotton and other natural fibre items.

You will find washing instructions on most yarn ball bands. In the majority of the cases, you will be instructed to hand-wash the item, and dry it flat in the shade.

Washing the items

Hand-made items do not like automatic washing machines. It doesn’t matter if it is a top-loader or a front-loader; the agitation from the wash cycle is too rough and might cause felting depending on the fibre used in the item, and the spin cycle will  stretch a hand-made item beyond recognition. You could put the item in a pillow case, or in a laundry bag to prevent it, but I prefer to eliminate the risk completely, by not using the automatic washing machine at all.

If you are an avid knitter or crocheter, a twin-tub is a worthy investment. I got my twin-tub second hand on Facebook for a measly R350. What a bargain!

My hand-made lovies (that is my name for all the hand-made stuff in my closet) are soaked in the twin-tub, but not agitated at all. I will gently move them around with my hand every now and then, but the machine will not be switched on to agitate the items. You see, I did not buy the twin-tub for the washing of the items; I could follow the same procedure in a basin or a bath although my back will complain quite a bit. The reason I use the twin-tub is for the spin cycle. A twin-tub has a small, narrow, spin cylinder in which the washing is tightly held, preventing any stretching. To transfer the items to the spin cylinder, is easier if the items are soaked in the big compartment of the twin-tub, instead of a basin or bath. Less messy!

Items are washed in my own laundry soap mixture that I make at home. We live on a farm and the laundry water goes to the garden; no harsh cleaning chemicals are used on the farm. I buy soda-ash in 25kg bulk bags. For each kilogram of soda-ash, we add one bar of finely grated, old Sunlight green laundry soap. I use the mixture with all my laundry. I spin the hand-made items for 2 minutes after the wash.

We don’t use softener either. All the laundry items here are rinsed in water with white vinegar added to it. The clothes doesn’t smell like vinegar once dry, but it comes out lovely and soft. I buy the white vinegar bulk as well. It is much cheaper than softeners. And much better for the environment too. Once the items have been rinsed in the vinegar water, I spin it for a whole 5 minutes. I want it to be as dry as possible.

(Side note: underwear and other items that contain elastic, should never be rinsed in softener water; it severely shortens the life-span of the elastic).

Drying the items

Most hand-made items don’t like a tumble drier either. Once the items have been spun for 5 minutes, small items are dry enough to hang. I hang all my cowls, hats, scarves and shawls. Without spinning it properly, hanging it will cause stretching due to the weight of the water. This is why manufacturers rather recommend drying the items flat. Afghans are too big to hang; they will stretch even after a long spin cycle. All my crocheted and knitted afghans are placed on the spare bedroom bed, with the windows wide open. Within 3 hours it will be dry.

Storing the items

Acrylic items are easy to store. Fish moths and crickets won’t eat it, as the fibre has no nutrition. In essence, acrylic is plastic. Acrylic items also won’t have any mildew damage if stored slightly damp; it might have a slight smell to it, but no damage. Natural fibres are a different story. Fish moths and crickets will eat it, and if stored damp, mildew will form and damage the fibres.

I store all my natural yarn items, in zip-lock bags. It’s the only way to keep it safe.

Many people choose their yarns based on the washability thereof. To me, the luxury of wearing natural fibre is enough reward; I don’t mind the extra effort to wash and care for my hand-made items.

Happy laundry!