thoughts on superwash

A little over a year ago, I made Daniel a green hoodie sweater. I chose the pattern, and I let him choose the yarn. Would you believe it still fits him? I no longer have to roll up the sleeves, though, so I bet by next spring this will be handed down to Anya.

The sweater, despite plenty of wear, still looks pretty good. It's held up to a couple of washings and has pilled just a little bit, but not much. I used Cascade 220, the regular kind, not superwash. The more I knit, the more I dislike superwash wool, to tell you the truth. Sometimes it has an insincere, squeaky feeling to it, and I find its propensity to stretch when washed rather alarming. This is, I believe, due to the treatment wool receives to become washable; it smooths the surface of the fibers to prevent sticking together (which causes felting), but an unfortunate side effect is a tendency to stretch. In fact, I avoid knitting with superwash with two significant exceptions: socks and certain kid knits that I plan to give away. (And yes, I used superwash wool for Anya's Sweet Peasy, but it was the only yarn I could find in the right shade of yellow. It grew a little when I washed it, too.)

For me, it's worth hand washing hand knitted sweaters and other things, even kids' stuff that is bound to get dirty faster. (Not everyone has that kind of patience or time or inclination, though, which is why I'm more likely to use superwash wool or even a washable cotton or some kind of blend if I'm making a something for our niece or nephew, or for someone's new baby.)

There's an environmental impact, too. The chemicals and process used to treat wool to make it machine-washable are not green-friendly. Sadly, even though wool yarn is considered a natural substance, there is a lot about its production, from raising the sheep to dyeing and milling and transporting the yarn, that is not good for the planet. So if I use non-superwash for most of my knitting, at least I'm cutting out that particular toxic step of the process.

What about the other knitters out there? What do you think about superwash wool?


gay said…
aww i feel so bad now but i love superwash wool. i use it because it is not itchey and those i knit hats for always comment when something is wool or acrylic even and let me know it's itchey. same thing for myself, i can't tolerate wearing wool because of the itch it gives me superwash does not!
Anonymous said…
I love to knit with superwash wool, but haven't used it much except for socks and hats. I'm about to do a sweater in Dream in Color, so I guess I'll find out. I agree that it behaves more like cotton or other smooth yarn than a "real" wool.

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