Shrinking Wool Sweaters

As much as I admire vintage clothing, I rarely shop in thrift stores, only because I assume nothing will fit my small frame. Jerrod at Oxford Cloth Button Down, however, has an inspiring post showing how you can shrink a sweater two or three sizes down. I emailed him to get details:

  • First, you have to be OK with losing the sweater. This is obviously not an exact science, and he’s ruined more sweaters than he’s saved. However, with the prices in thrift stores, this is usually not such a big deal. 
  • If you need a sweater to shrink a lot, then throw it in the washing machine under a hot, hot water cycle. When it’s done, take it out and shape it to the size you want. It should dry to the size you need.
  • If you only need the sweater to shrink a little, then spray it down with a water bottle and put it in the dryer. Check on it every three to five minutes. 

The downside is that all sweaters will felt, although some more than others (in the pink Shetland above, it was pretty minimal). To minimize felting, try putting the sweater in a pillowcase or mesh laundry wash bag. This should help prevent the sweater from beating against the side of your washing machine’s drum. 

You might also get away with just hot soaking your sweater, like denim enthusiasts sometimes do with unsanforized jeans. In this way, fill your bathtub or a bucket full of hot water, and submerge you sweater. Leave it in for thirty minutes or so, and keep putting in more hot water throughout the process to keep the temperature up. This should shrink the sweater without needing to agitate it (which is what causes the felting). If you only need certain parts to shrink, you can also try submerging only those areas. I’ve successfully done this with jeans. 

Relatedly, you can stretch and tailor a sweater, if need be. 

(Photos via Oxford Cloth Button Down)