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I am a knitter. I am also a professional drycleaner; my family has been in the business for over 30 years. I have heard all the horror stories and the jokes. I've been accused of "taking someone to the cleaners" more than once. I usually smile, laugh, and go about my business. But the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" came a few months ago while I was reading posts on an online knitting board. "Don't ever take your hand-knits to a drycleaner", the poster wrote, "...the chemicals are too harsh, the steaming will ruin the yarn, you'll be sorry..."

Well, in this article, I hope to set a few things straight and inform you about the options you have in caring for your precious hand-knits. Should you do it yourself? Can you trust your local cleaners? What is drycleaning? Wetcleaning? How should you care for your hand-knits at home?

After spending days, weeks, and often, months with skeins of carefully chosen yarn, we have all had the pleasure of binding off the last stitches and proudly holding up a finished garment. Perhaps, the next day, you wear that garment to work, receiving compliments galore. However, on the commute home, you have an unfortunate encounter with your afternoon mocha and end up with a chocolate-scented brown splotch on your raspberry-colored, wool/silk blend, cable-knit cuff. Now what do you do? What if, instead of chocolate, the stain is oil-based makeup or blood?

Each of these stains is very different and should be treated differently to cause the least amount of stress and damage to the fabric and fibers. This is when you need an excellent clothing care specialist to help you. If you develop a relationship with a cleaner you can trust, he or she will give you advice on caring for your garment over the phone. I am always happy to talk to a customer and help him or her remove stains at home if it can be done safely. Interview cleaners as you would any professional. Most cleaners who are members of a trade association such as the International Fabricare Institute (IFI), regularly study fashion trends and learn all they can about the fibers and fabrics with which they work. Get to know your cleaner on a first-name basis. When you take a hand-knit item to the cleaners, be very specific about the fibers in the article, the type of stain or soil, and the fact that the garment is a hand-knit. We love to give these special garments lots of TLC!

Drycleaning is safe and the preferred method of cleaning for most silks, rayons, and wools. Drycleaning is a controlled method of cleaning textiles without water. When a well-trained drycleaner cleans hand-knits, he or she will control the moisture, heat, and mechanical action in order to remove soil without damaging the fiber. In the hands of a professional, your garment is safe.

Wetcleaning is another method used by professionals. It works well on cottons, acrylics, wool blends, and many other fibers. Wetcleaning is not the same as "washing". Temperature, agitation, and detergent are carefully controlled. Wetcleaning is often described as "giving the garment a bath". More and more drycleaning professionals are being trained in the science of wetcleaning as an alternative to drycleaning when appropriate. It is environmentally friendly and safe for many fibers. Ask your cleaner if they feel it would be appropriate to wetclean your hand-knit.

At our cleaners, we will also hand-clean garments for our customers who may not have the time or space to do so at home. Ask your cleaner if they provide this service. Be prepared to pay a premium, but in the case of some garments, it will be well worth the money spent.

Blocking is another way in which a professional can be a great help. A professional cleaner will have a steam-up utility press which can block your hand-knits into shape in a way that cannot be achieved at home. Most local cleaners will block your knits for you without cleaning them if you so desire.   

If you do not have a local clothing care professional with which you can develop a relationship, or if you really prefer to care for your garments at home, let me give you some helpful information.

Almost all soils and stains can be classified in one of two ways: water-based and oil-based. Water-based stains are much easier to remove at home, since the stains will dissolve in water with the correct detergent and action. It is important to read the band on your yarn and take note of the fiber content and the care instructions. If you have ever felted a knitted piece (on purpose or on accident), you know never to wash an animal fiber with hot water! Most yarns can be hand-washed or washed on the gentle cycle of your machine. Loose knits and those with beads or other embellishments should be put in a mesh laundry bag before being put in your machine. Cool (not cold) water is best with a gentle agitation and spin. Use a mild detergent, such as Wool-lite or something formulated for hand-knits. Never put a hand-knit in your dryer unless it is acrylic (low-heat only) or cotton. Lay hand-knits out on a towel to dry. If you are going to dry it in the clothes dryer, you must be sure all stains and soil have come out first. Otherwise, you can "set" a stain, especially if it is sugar-based.

Removing oil-based stains at home is much more difficult. They are classified as "solvent-soluble" in our industry; which means you need a drycleaning solvent to remove them best. At home, you will have your best luck treating them with something like "Stain-Stick" and then washing in warmer water. You can also try hand-washing them with a gentle dish detergent. Again, do not dry in the dryer, but lay flat on a towel, gently shaping the garment as it dries. If a stain does not come out, please consider bringing it to a professional before trying "home remedies". The average cost for cleaning and blocking a sweater is $7 across the country, less in rural and suburban communities. Considering the time and cost that you have put into creating your garment, this is a small price to pay for having it cleaned properly.

Just as most of us develop relationships with auto repair professionals that we trust to care for our cars, I encourage you to find a clothing care specialist that you trust and develop a relationship with him or her. Spend time talking to them and sharing your love for the craft of knitting. I am sure that (s)he will reciprocate with loving care for your hand-knits.



Tami lives with her husband and two school-age sons in West Michigan, near Lake Michigan. She owns Great Lakes Wedding Gown Specialists, a division of her family's drycleaning business, specializing in preserving and restoring special occasion garments.

When not working or knitting, Tami enjoys playing the piano and is the music coordinator at her church.