Washing Cone Yarn
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In a previous post I talked about using up some bargain cone yarn that I purchase a few years ago on Ebay. I have now finished making my Hoxton sweater and want to share the post knit care process that helps projects using cone yarn look their best.
If you have knitted with cone yarn you will have noticed the unusal feel and smell that comes from the layer of oil that is applied to the outside of the yarn. This is done so that the yarn does not shed fluff during the industrial knitting process, which would slow down the knitting process and block the machines.
Some people prefer to complete this cleaning process before they knit and then re-skein the yarn when it is dry.
To remove oil or dirt from yarn you need to use a mild surfactant, this the name for any soap, detergent or cleaning product that removes and breaks up grease and oil particles. A harsh surfactant is used for removing heavy machine grease or cooking oil, so we are looking for a product that will remove the right amount of oil without damaging the yarn and leaving it brittle and scratchy.
One option that I sometimes use is Synthrapol. This is in the mild catagory but I still find it to be a strong cleaner. I prefer to use this when working with yarn that is heavily coated with lanolin that would block my hand dyeing process.
If you are acid dyeing or overdyeing it can also be helpful for removing excess dye from yarn and fabric.
Many people like to use a gentle products on yarn, and products that have been specially developed with yarn in mind.
Soak is a good example of this, it is very mild and requires no rinsing so it perfect for yarns that will be damaged by excess handling and weight of lots of water. Soak is also a good choice for people who prefer unscented products with minimal chemicals due to skin sensitivity.
In this instance Soak is not a strong enough surfactant to lift the machine oil from the cone yarn. However I still need to use a product that is gentle enough for my sensitive skin, so I use a mild shampoo and conditioner.
Nothing fancy, no exotic oils or fragrances, just basic mild shampoo that I know won't irritate my skin.
When cleaning or rinsing yarn for this process or for blocking you should also be aware if your water is soft or hard.
Soft or Hard water refers to the concentration of minerals such as chalk or limestone that are picked up naturally by the water as it is filter through the surrounding bedrock. In the Highlands of Scotland we have Soft water, meaning there are few minerals present. Our water tends be be filtered by Peat, which presents its own issues for yarn dyeing!
The use of Soft water for rinsing yarn is particularly good at removing excess dye, dirt and machine oils without making the yarn brittle. This is one of the factors that contributed towards the Scottish Highlands reputation for soft quality wool and cashmere garments.
Before the cleaning process the finished garment has the smell of oil on it and the stitches are tight.
In this case it was easier to make up the garment for the cleaning process.
At other times I would clean and block pieces separately, for example blanket squares.
To start the cleaning process I fill a basin with warm water and soak the garment thoroughly. If the garment is dry when you use the cleaning product it will scour at the yarn instead of lifting the oil away.
You'll notice, even just using water that oil begins to lift from the garment and leaves the liquid a milky white/cream colour.
Discard this first basin of milky soaking water and refill with clean warm water. Replace your wet garment in the basing of clean warm water and now add some of the shampoo, or your chosen product. About 5ml or a teaspoon amount if plenty for an adult garment.
Using you hands gently squish the shampoo into the yarn. Don't stir, wring or scrub the garment as this will stretch out your stitches and may felt or break the yarn. Again the water should turn milky white/cream.
Discard this water and refill again with clean warm water. Rinse away the residue of the shampoo. Again using gently squishing and squeezing not wringing or scrubbing.
Discard the rinse water the refill again with fresh clean warm water. The garment is now clean and could be set to dry. However I find that the use of a cleaning product can leave yarn feeling harsh and I want a lovely soft finish. So I now apply a generous amount of hair conditioner, at least the same amount as you used for washing. Again, this is the mild basic version, no exotic oils or fragrances.
Repeat your gentle squish motions to disperse the conditioner all over the garment and push the product into the yarn. Give it one final rinse, then gently squeeze out the excess water and leave to dry flat.
You should immediately notice fuller stitches and a more pleasant smelling garment.
This process does use a lot of water, and I'm happy to dispose of this on my garden. I use mild products and I have a plant area that is specifically for dirty water.
I hope this post helps to make you feel more confident in choosing to work with cone yarn. By using this waste product from the industrial knitting process we can help to reduce textile waste overall.