The Fashion Experts’ Guide To De-Bobbling, Washing And Wearing Wool

(…and why you should be drying it in a salad spinner)

How To Wash Knitwear: The Expert's Guide To Debobbling, Wearing And Washing Wool

by Katie Dailey |
Updated on

In winter especially. nothing is as satisfying as buying and wearing knitwear. A boyish cashmere crewneck in grey makes everything you wear look effortless and Scandi; a brightly coloured cable-knit is both fabulous and comforting…but nothing feels worse than finding your favourite cashmere riddled with moth holes, or shrunken into a boiled wool miniature. Here’s how the experts keep their knitwear collection clean, whole, and the right size.

A Guide To DeBobbling Knitwear

A jumper de-bobbler used to be something you’d find at the back of the Innovations catalogue. Now it’s been re-branded as a Pilo Fabric Shaver by Soda (a start-up brand that specialises in ingenious lifestyle enhancers) and given a stylish makeover in millennial pink. If you’d rather not make the investment, Anna Singh and Rachael Wood of Chinti and Parker suggest you can also, ‘take a razor or cashmere comb to the sweater. Removing the pills in this way, as opposed to pulling them off, the sweater will actually soften even more.’

How To Wash Knitwear And Cashmere

There are two schools of thought on this. Brands including Boden and Pure have launched machine washable cashmere in the past couple of years – in fact, all of Boden’s cashmere knits are washable in the machine at 30 degrees. The label say they ‘engineer them during the knitting process for machine-washability’. And most modern hand-wash cycles are gentle enough to handle cashmere…

However, most premium knitwear designers would never dream of machine washing cashmere. Chinti & Parker’s Singh and Wood offer this step by step guide: ‘Hand-washing will always produce the best results for washing your cashmere garments. Cashmere is a protein fibre, much like our own hair, and responds well to the same gentle washing approach. Ensure you wash your cashmere sweaters every three to four wears, even if not visibly stained, as moths will flock to sweaters that have any remnant of debris.

‘When you wash ensure you use a specialist cashmere wash, baby shampoo or a gentle, low-alkaline detergent. The more alkaline a detergent is, the harsher it will be on your cashmere. If you’re washing more than one item, separate pieces into two piles, one light and one dark, and start with the lightest colour first using tepid water. Soak for at least 15 minutes and then just swish and lightly squish the sweater around in the soapy water. Press out the excess water, but do not wring the sweater and take care not to stretch the fabric.’

The other option is, you can steam knitwear, but be careful not to tug it out of shape in the process or scald the surface. It's for that reason, when people ask, 'can you iron knitwear', many experts say no.

How To Dry Knitwear And Cashmere And Wool

You would be surprised how many people Google,'can you put knitwear in the dryer?' the short answer is you can, but it likely won't resemble the sweater or cardigan it once was. Most importantly, don’t hang it or wring it, unless you want your favourite jumper to get some conceptual re-shaping. Boden recommend rolling it in a towel, while Anna Singh and Rachael Wood recommend pressing out excess water and then ‘using a large salad spinner to get rid of any excess water… Try a spinner with a pull cord as they’re more effective.’

How To Get Rid Of Moths From Your Knitwear

The experts are unanimous on this one – freeze it for a few days. Then wash it. If you want to be doubly sure (or your freezer is full of vodka), dry cleaning also works.

How To Fix Moth Holes

The Chinti and Parker team recommend sending your sweaters to Love Cashmere Care Service in Hawick, Scotland. In central London, the Invisible Mending Service offers skilled and miraculous moth hole fixing. But it is possible to do some light repair work yourself, if you can source similarly coloured thread (you can take some from a hidden hem or pocket detail if this isn’t possible), and are handy with a needle. You can either stitch a circle around the hole to keep it from further unraveling, and then make a lattice, or use webbing fabric. There are many good guides on YouTube, like this one.

‘Whenever I have a slightly moth eaten jumper I like to do one of two things. The first would be to darn the holes.,’ says knitwear designer and head of knitwear at Central Saint Martins, Craig Lawrence. ‘Failing that, to save time you can always sew on or iron (bondaweb) on a patch of scrap fabric on the underside’.

How To Prevent Moth Holes

Lauren Grant, a stylist who has worked with Florence Welch, Anna Calvi and Meryl Streep, developed a multi-pronged moth attack to protect precious samples sent to her studio by the likes of Chanel. ‘Everything must be washed, and regularly taken out and shaken. Then you need two different types of moth killer hanging in your drawers and wardrobes – the sticky pheromone traps only attract the males. You also need moth papers, which kill the females and larvae too. The papers only work for six months, so write the date you opened them on each paper.’

What Are The Most Flattering Knitwear Shape?

A touch too short and an inch too wide, says Geoffrey J Finch. The designer, who has helmed the design desk at Antipodium, Topshop Unique and now zeitgeist and gender twisting label Blouse, says the following:

‘I’m a fan of a classic shape subverted by a fresh detail and/or silhouette tweaks. Mine are very slightly too short in the body and a little wide in the shoulder. This proportion play gives an alpha-but-off allure. Oh and layer with a tee or shirt - knits on bare skin kind of weird me out.

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