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Spring Cleaning….your knits!

April 25, 2017
Sweater Drawer

My drawer of hand knit sweaters

As part of our year of thoughtful knitting we have been thinking a fair bit about knitwear after it has been created. How to keep your knits looking good so they can enjoy the longevity they deserve. Our knits (especially kid knits) get a lot of love over the winter so spring seems the perfect time to do a bit of an overhaul. At the end of a long winter, your hard working woolies need a bit of love and attention, and some items will be stored away until next winter. So, collect up all of your knits, and let’s give them a good clean!

Now, there is much debate on the care of knits, depending on the yarn you use, how much you use them etc. Personally, I always hand wash my woollies, even those in superwash yarns. It really doesn’t take long and it keeps them looking great (and there’s no chance of meeting some Velcro or a snaggy zipper in the wash!).


To give your knits a deep cleaning you will need:

  • wool wash
  • a pill shaver of some kind
  • blocking mats or a large piece of cardboard
  • a few towels
  • lavender or cedar balls or sealed plastic bins for storage
  • If you have a lot of colourwork knits you may need a bit of vinegar
  • if you have any lace you might want blocking wires and pins.

For each of these supplies there are many brands and types, but for those who want to know: I am currently using Wool Soap from Twig and Horn, I have the Gleener (and I’m quite pleased with it) to get rid of pills, my blocking mats are kiddie play mats from Canadian Tire, and I have a few lavender sachets and cedar balls for my yarn bins.

Assess your knits:

Once you have collected up your woollies you can decide:

  • which ones only need a good wash (probably all of them)
  • which ones should be stored away for Winter (for me that’s the mittens, there’s not much call for those around here after May)
  • is there anything that needs mending (is that sweater missing a button? are there any snags or holes in your knits?)
  • is there anything that’s too small or that isn’t being used?

Washing your hand knits:

To wash your knits simply fill a clean sink with cool water and a little wool wash, submerge a few items of like colours and leave them for about 15-20 minutes (note the section on colourwork knits below). Give them a good swish around and then drain the sink. Press the water out of the items (don’t wring them), and roll them in a towel. Stomp out any excess water and then lay your knits flat on your blocking boards or cardboard to dry.

While it is tempting to leave your knits outside on a warm day, just keep in mind that there are birds overhead (a perfectly lovely baby sweater I had just finished was blocking outside and lets just say I’m going to have to dye it black, because a little bird poop permanently stained it). Also know that some yarns will fade with a few hours of direct sunlight. We suggest you keep them under cover or inside.

Note on colourwork knits or any knits you suspect the colour might run with: wash these knits separately, adding a few tablespoons of vinegar into the sink with them. Don’t leave them soaking for much longer than 15 minutes, or the vivid colours may bleed into whites or lighter colours.

Bodhi’s little Antler needs a button sewn back on

A little extra love: most of the sweaters in my house get regular washings and are laid flat to dry, but all the knits need a little extra love once a year. Perhaps Hunter’s sweater needs de-pilling, or Bodhi’s sweater needs a button sewn back on. I found a great little mending tutorial from Martha Steward here, in case you find any holes in your knits. Lace shawls get a fresh block (here’s how to block a lace shawl), if a sweater is well loved it gets a fresh block (here’s how to block a sweater), and anything else that has worked it’s way out of shape gets a re-block too (blocking basics here). Knits that will be stored over the summer should be washed in advance of storage, as oils and grime from use are attract moths.

Hunter’s new Lush is getting the full blocking treatment

Now would be a good moment to consider knits that you haven’t used in a long time, or knits that are too small. While it is always hard to give away something handmade, I find a great sense of satisfaction in knowing someone else will get some use out of it. I pass along anything that is too small for Bodhi to my nephew Ellis.

Storing your knits:

If your knits are well used you are probably sorting through them regularly and keeping moths at bay through exposure to light air and movement. At the end of the winter you may have some knits that won’t be use again for some time. I store mine in a bin and throw in a few cedar balls to help keep moths at bay. While the kids use hats and cowls when we camp or on cooler spring evenings, their mittens are cleaned and stored away, as they are strictly a winter fare around here.

My mittens get put away for the summer months

What’s next?

Once your knits are all in order, washed and blocked, free from pills, time to go to the stash! Tune in tomorrow for the annual tossing of the stash!

Some fresh springtime knits to consider:

RivuletPlaydate Cardigan by Tin Can KnitsIronheart




7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2021 6:36 am

    May I ask what pill shaver you like?

  2. Linda Gale permalink
    November 1, 2017 1:01 pm

    I couldn’t find another way to contact you and tell you how THRILLED I was to find your tutorial on the cardigan that begins with a BACK NECK BAND!!!! I have a hand-typed (remember typewriters?!?) (smile) – 3 x 5 card with some notes on knitting a cardigan very similar to this….that is 60 YEARS OLD! I couldn’t remember all the details of I how I knitted many sweaters way back then; the card is basically an outline of the basic steps… but your tutorial helps a lot – and gives me even better information. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING IT! If you’d be interested in my ‘old’ pattern, I’d be glad to share it with you….though I doubt you’d learn anything new! Can’t wait to get my first newsletter from you! Linda

  3. April 25, 2017 9:27 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I Crochet, but I am sure that this will work for my Crocheted Sweaters and any other things that I need to block. I look forward to your next blog.
    Paula from NJ

  4. Kathy D permalink
    April 25, 2017 7:27 am

    I use the little cedar balls in my stash and was wondering if they should get a light sanding once a year? I seem to recall reading that once – to release more of the cedar-i-ness.

    • April 28, 2017 9:49 am

      Hi Kathy – I hadn’t heard that but a quick search says this is totally a thing!

      • Kathy D permalink
        April 28, 2017 12:09 pm

        Thanks for the reply. I guess I’ll get out the sand paper, definitely don’t want any critters in my yarn.

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