It’s sweater time again and I thought it was a great time to chat about sweaters and how to best care for them.  Here is my advice.

Let’s start with the basics, What is a sweater and a knit?

For some of you more advanced readers, you can skip right past this part.  I wouldn’t include this part if I hadn’t been asked this question before.  I was once asked, “When does a knit get knit so finely knit  that it becomes a woven?”   I explained to her that knits or sweaters and woven fabrics are two totally different things, entirely.

What is a knit?

 Knitting is a method of constructing fabric by interlocking series of lops of one or more yarns.  If you look closely at a sweater you can see this looping process.  In most cases, unless a sweater has more than one color in it, you can bet that the looping process of the yarn was made with only a very long piece of yarn.  The best visual I can offer is in cartoons when one of the characters would have a sweater with one stray yarn which would get pulled and eventually the sweater would completely unravel.  This is exactly what would happen if you started pulling at a stray yarn on your sweater or knit, over time all you would be left with would be a ball of yarn.

What is a woven?

A woven on the other hand is the method of interlacing two yarns of similar materials so that they cross each other at right angles.  The best example I can give is the pot holders many of us made as kids.  But if you look at your pants or a jacket really close you can see how weaving fabric is done.  Woven fabrics do not have the stretch and flexibility that a knit has, even if they have lycra in the weave.

Why are some knits chunky and some knits very flat?

It may seem hard to believe but the process that is done to create pantyhose and the process that is done to create your very thick sweater is exactly the same, both are knit.  Take a moment to look at a pair of stockings and then look at one of your sweaters very closely.  You will see the same exact looping action in both.

So if the process is the same, why do my stockings and sweater look so different?

It’s called gauge and it stands for the number of knitting needles per given distance in a knitting machine.  So for example to create a very fine gauge knit like a pair of stockings, it would take many very fine thin needles to cover one inch of space.  Conversely, if you have a very thick sweater, you would need much thicker needles so there would be much less needles needed to cover one inch of space.

Also the thickness of the yarn also means a lot.  As you can guess, your stockings use very fine thin yarn where you chunky cable sweater uses very fat yarns.

What are some of the popular yarns used in sweaters today and what is the best way to care for them?

 Cashmere- Cashmere is the yarn of the Gods. as I like to say.  It feels good, is very warm and this luxe yarn is just beautiful to look at.  Cashmere pills at a moderate rate, resulting from the frequency of wear and friction.  Cashmere also holds its shapes well.


Of course you get what you pay for and I can guarantee that you will get better wear from a better quality cashmere sweater than you will one bought at Target.

Cotton- Cottons can be inconsistent in quality.  Rarely do they pill, but they do have shape-retention issues.  Cotton knits tend to not unravel as easily as other yarns.  There is also a frequent stiffness that comes with washing a cotton sweater.  Also, I have found that they do not keep their color well and can become faded and worn out looking quicker than sweaters made from other yarns.  If you launder a cotton knit, wash it inside out to keep the color from fading.

Mohair and Angora-  This is not a yarn choice for those with sensitive skin.  I can’t wear either of these yarns without a cotton T-shirt underneath.  If you have sensitive skin stay away from mohair and angora.  Otherwise, these yards are relatively low maintenance, with the exception of shedding. However never put sweaters made of these two yarns in the dryer unless you want a sweater made for Barbie.  Lay the sweater flat after each washing and adjust it to the correct size.  Always do this on a white terry cloth towel that can absorb the water and not bleed any color off onto your sweater.  The dry cleaner will do a better job at retaining the shape, but just make sure the dry cleaner doesn’t over-dry it.


Merino Wool- Merino is a very soft and comfortable wool.  This is a very easy yarn that doesn’t pill easily, comes in beautiful colors and keeps its shape.  The problem with this yarn is snagging, so keep sharp jewely and hangnails far it.  Also because merino is wool  is also a very warm yarn you can overheat easily.  You may want to layer with something made of cotton underneath.


Wool blends- Wool blends are usually thin, and very soft.  These knits are also very feminine because they have a great drape.  Wool can be blended with just about anything but usually it is acrylic, silk, modal or a higher end wool like merino.  These sweaters usually do not pill or wrinkle easily and if you are normally a warm person going for a blend as opposed to 100% wool can be a good alternative.


 Silk- Perhaps one of the more popular yarn choices for very professional looking sweaters.  Silk in a fine gauge is what many women today wear under suits or alone for a more work appropriate look.  There are many wonderful aspects to silk like being soft and thin and stylish.  Silk takes color extremely well so there are silk sweaters also come in a variety of wonderful colors.

There is a downside however to silk, however.  Firstly they pull easily.  These snags can often be pulled through and fixed, but it’s still something you want to watch.  The second problem with silk sweaters are that they are often problems with underarm odor after wearing.  The dry cleaning process often doesn’t do much to help the problem, in fact it can often make it worse.

Additionally, the resins some manufacturers use smell like formaldehyde and are another the reason for the odor problem.  Oddly this problem happens in silk sweaters of darker colors over lighter ones.  If you are going to wear a silk sweater, choose a really powerful deodorant, perhaps try wearing a cotton tank or cami under the sweater to wick the perspiration before it gets to the sweater and avoid wearing silk when you know you are going to perspire.

What are some quick tips to keep ensure my sweaters will last a long time?

#1- Never hang a sweater- The best way to have a sweater become mis-shapen is to hang it.  The sleeves will grow and stretch out and also you may find two bumps from the corners of the hangers right on the shoulder area of the sweater.

If you must (and only if you must) hang a sweater either use one of those padded lingerie hangers, or fold the sweater and gently fold it over a hanger similar to how you would fold a pair of pants on a hanger

#2- To keep angora or mohair sweaters from shedding stick them in the freezer twenty four hours before wearing.  This is an old trick but it really does work.

Lavender is a great alternative to keep moths away

#3- Before storing away your sweaters give them some air.  Sweaters need to breathe.  Keep them out of air tight containers.  Also, cardboard boxes aren’t always the best solution either because bugs can live in the box’s cracks and crevices.  Instead, you can buy one of those plastic tubs but make sure there are air holes.  Throw some lavender sachets in the box, which is a nice alternative to moth balls, to keep the insects away.

#4- Don’t dry clean a sweater after every single wear.  The chemicals used by a dry cleaner are not good for your knits.  Instead, buy one of those at home dry cleaning kits which are great for freshening up a sweater after a wearing

#5-Be sure to air out your sweaters before folding them and putting them away.  Many homes lack proper air circulation, which contributes to the odors that get locked away in your sweaters.  Because it is recommended that you wear a sweater more than once before cleaning them, airing them over night will allow the perspiration and moisture to evaporate.  By reducing moisture you will reduce wrinkling as well.

Baby shampoo is a great mild detergent to use to hand wash knits

#6- When handwashing a sweater, never wring it out.  Instead just roll up the sweater in a towel to soak up excess water.  Another solution is to use a salad spinner to wick off the excess moisture after handwashing before laying flat to dry.  Doing this cuts down the dry time immensely.  Additionally, instead of a harsh chemical detergent for hand-washing, try a solution like baby shampoo for your sweaters.


What are some of your sweater care tips?  I’d love to hear them!