mended and hand-washed

mended, hand-washed sweaters

Above are two hand-washed, mended sweaters, and only one is mine. I'm not going to instruct on how to mend clothes, just that I do it, even though I hate it. My perfectionist side resists the make-do, the not-quite-right, but my frugal and environmental sides win out in the end. My mending pile can sit for months before I finally force myself to tackle it. Yet after, I feel all smug.

mended knit wool hoodie cardigan, thrifted*

The problem with being a knitter is that friends may ask one to fix a sweater's loose seam, dropped stitch, or other hole.

mended hole in M.K.'s black cashmere house cardigan**

And I will do so in the spirit of interdependence, since my friends help me out in other ways according to their skill sets, and since fixing-what-can-be-fixed and saving-what-should-be-saved rather than throwing it on the dump heap is simply good form. Last weekend I also mended the seam in a thrifted linen jacket, the seam of a thrifted cotton-knit J.Crew pullover, and two holes in a big, heavy, intricately-cabled, forest-green, wool-alpaca, made-in-Ireland pullover my friend Jeff found recently at Salvation Army for $3; he wouldn't have bought it if he hadn't known I could fix it—but he also works on my car when needed, so we're even.

sweater suds

I will, though, describe how I wash my woolens, knit or woven. If the item is small enough, it gets dunked in a stainless-steel mixing bowl of shampoo suds in lukewarm water (hair is hair). Then it sits for a while, sometimes a half hour, sometimes a whole day, depending on my mood and schedule. Then the dirty water gets poured into the sink, while the water in the woolen item is gently pressed or squeezed out, never twisted or wrung. Then the piece is dunked again in cooler, clean water and repeated as needed till the suds are gone. If the item is large, like a blanket, I will soak it as above but in the washing machine, and then let the machine spin it out, again rinsing as needed—but avoiding the agitation cycle which could felt/full the piece to a stiff child-size. To repeat, the enemies of woolens are hot water combined with agitation.

Then the item is rolled up in a clean bath towel, stomped on (I'm not kidding), and laid flat to dry, preferably smoothed out, gently tugged into shape, and arranged on a sweater rack, though a clean towel on a table also works fine (but be sure to prevent moisture damage to the table). Do avoid hanging damp knits, which will stretch them out, but one can hang-dry most wovens, taking care not to create funky lumps from a clothes hanger, clothes pins, or shower rod. A knit item will sit till dry, turned if needed, and then it is folded and stored, preferably in cedar to prevent insect damage. Martha Stewart agrees with the above process in principle.

Before I learned to knit, I used to dry-clean everything wool or silk. However, hand-washing is really not that much work (unless you're washing for a family, in which case, teach them how to fish), it saves money, and shampoo smells much better and is less toxic than most dry-cleaning chemicals. I do, though, take to the eco-dry cleaner my very best or most complicated clothes: silk evening/party dresses, black wool suit, other things with linings, and a plaid-wool pleated skirt, which, gulp, costs more to clean and press ($12+) than I paid for it secondhand ($8).  

*I found the gray wool hoodie cardigan recently at the Powell Goodwill, and talked the price down from $10 to $7 because of the hole in the seam I would have to mend (now done).

**My good friend/neighbor/unofficial master gardener has been waiting on this repair for at least six months, if not closer to a year. (Sorry, M.K.!)

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