WASH FIRST/KNIT FIRST

Tracey asks if I plan on washing my Webs-acquired Highland Tweed before I work with it, or if I plan on washing the sweater after it has been knit. 

I think in this case, I’ll wash my yarn first.  A couple of years ago, I knit something in a yarn that like the Highland Tweed was full of whatever they use to make machine spinning easier   It was a cone of some unidentified 100% wool I got at the old Classic Elite mill end store.  I swatched it up, got gauge, washed the square, re-gauged and knit up Flor’s gansey pullover for my older daughter.  (Flor’s pages are off-line, but the pattern can be found in the Internet Archive.) Then I washed the thing.  I was never quite pleased with the fit.  The yarn relaxed and fluffed out a bit, but looked "strangled" in the sweater.  Proportions shifted slightly in unexpected ways.  I’m sure if I had taken the time to wash the yarn first, then take a gauge on it rather than doing the lazy route, everything would have worked out better.

That being said – how to wash yarn?  It’s easy.

I take my swift (or two chairs back to back in my pre-swift decade) and wind a fair bit off the cone.  Then I’ll take some cotton string and loosely tie the newly made hank in two or three places.  I note that many hanks I buy are tied in a two or three "stitch" manner rather than in one big clump.  It looks like the person who did it took a length of tie string and looped it around the accumulated hank.  Then, he or she bunched up about a third of the hank’s yarn and plunged one end of the tie string through the thing from top to bottom, and the other end through at the same spot, from bottom to top.  Then they grouped up the next third, and repeated the process.  The whole idea is to keep the yarn in an easy to unwind hank, but not tie it so tightly that the yarns rub up against each other and encourage fulling.

Once my hank is loosely tied, I’ll wash it the same way I wash my finished items.  I’ll fill my washing machine part way with cool water and add a wash agent.  Right now my favorite is Kookabura Wool Wash, but I’ve also used Eucalan in the washer.  If I were doing this OUT of the washer in a tub sink or bucket and had no wool wash to hand, I’d try a liquid dishwashing detergent or inexpensive shampoo.  Warning though, adding either dishwashing liquid or shampoo to a washing machine can mean a Lucy Moment as you deal with the resulting overflow of lather.  

With the washer’s wash cycle off, but with the wash agent mixed well in the water, I submerge my hanked yarn in the tub and let it soak for a while.  I might swish it a bit very gently in the water to encourage the process but I don’t turn the washer on, or otherwise squeeze, rub, or agitate the yarn mass.  Once the yarn has soaked for a bit (usually about a half hour, or until I remember I’ve put it in), I advance the washer dial to rinse.  I let the machine empty, then refill partway with the SAME temperature water in which I did the wash, but stop it before agitation begins.  I let the yarn sit a bit in the cleaner water (again with perhaps the most gentle of hand swishes), then advance the machine to final spin.  This time I let the water drain out and let the machine go through its final spin, to fling as much water out of the yarn as possible. 

After the wash I take my hanks and loop them around plastic hangers, then hang the hangers somewhere to dry.  Over the shower rod with a towel underneath is fine.  The trick is to find somewhere out of direct sun that’s un-humid enough to encourage quick drying.  My basement in this case is right out, as it is too damp down there for quick drying.  On a very humid day I might direct a fan to blow at my drying hanks in order to speed the process.

Am I doing this right now?  Not yet.  I admit I’ve been sidetracked (the story of my knitting life).  I’m playing with the nifty cotton I described yesterday, messing with gauge measurements and stitch count, trying to establish my flash dimension.  It’s a bit harder than before because although the yarn has the right dimension and color placement to flash, the color set doesn’t have a wildly obvious marker like a screaming orange stripe.  A visually distinctive bit helps eyeball where the repeats should overlap.   More on this as I work the problem through…

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