You've just spent hours crafting a gorgeous sweater (or afghan, or shawl, or scarf...honestly, this article applies to any type of project!) and now you need to know what to do when it needs to be cleaned. We've all heard horror stories about washing machines eating afghans, and sweaters shrunk in dryers, and it makes the prospect of caring for things we slaved over rather daunting, to say the least. I'll do my best in the next few paragraphs to try to alleviate those fears for you.
Read the Label
The first thing to consider is the yarn you used. The label (or the yarn's page on our website if you've misplaced the label) will give you a bunch of information about whether the yarn can be thrown in the washer and dryer, taken to the dry cleaner, steamed, etc.
Not sure what all those symbols mean? We've provided a handy key for you in our FAQ. Remember, the information on the yarn's label applies to the yarn itself, not necessarily your project. In other words, just because the yarn you've used will not be damaged by machine washing doesn't mean that's the best way to care for your item.
Acrylic or 100% Wool?
Once you've checked out the label and seen all the ways you can safely wash the yarn, it's time to think about the item itself. Is this a baby sweater? An extra large man's sweater? An afghan? A very lacy shawl? A scarf with a fringe?
Something like a baby sweater, if it is made with a machine-washable and -dryable yarn, can be pretty safely tossed in the machine with no problems (though, as noted in the paragraph below, it will continue to look newer and fresher if it can be cared for more gently). The rest of the items I listed? Not so much. The fringed scarf is going to tangle itself up in all that loose yarn, and all the agitation can be very damaging to the fringe. Your larger sweaters, afghans, and lacy items, are going to get very heavy when they are wet, and the action of the washing machine and dryer will cause the weight of the item to pull on itself, stretching those items out of shape, in some cases quite severely. This can be somewhat alleviated by using a sweater bag with those larger items, as it will keep the item from having room to stretch out.
Making It Last for Years to Come
Finally, think about your expectations for the item. Is this an afghan you expect your rowdy family of five to snuggle up under on the couch every night and the cat to sleep on all day? You probably don't expect it to look perfect forever, and a little pilling and stretching is going to be par for the course, so throwing it in the machine (in a sweater bag!) is just fine.
Is this a beautiful cabled cardigan you hope to wear for years and years? You're probably hoping it will continue to look just-off-the-needles for a good long time. As with any delicate item -- whether handmade or store-bought -- the more gently you care for it the longer it will last and be beautiful.
Hand-washing and laying flat to dry is almost always the gentlest way to care for a handmade item to ensure the best results over time. It's inconvenient, sure, but isn't it worth a little inconvenience to keep the project that took so many hours to make looking and feeling great?
There are more great tips on exactly how to handle your project as you wash it in this article.