Today I want to talk a little about aftercare. You picked out that yarn, you lovingly worked it into a smashing lovely wee thing, job done. Right? Wrong.
Just like all things we wear, you're going to (eventually) want to wash that knit/crochet/thing and because hand dyed yarn is oh so special, you need to give it the same amount of love and care that you did when you used it.
But Hannah, most of your labels say superwash, surely that means I can bung it in the washing machine on a 40 degree wash right? Ehhhh kind of. In theory you can do just that with superwash yarns and they will stay in good nick, absolutely no felting/shrinking to destroy your soul. The trouble is you won't keep those beautiful colours vibrant; just like those pair of jeans that fade with time, so will your yarn.
Now I'm going to be honest here, I am not the person who hand washes their hand knitted socks. I love them, I wear them, they go in the laundry basket and they go through the wash with all my other clothes. Why? Because I'm a heathen who would rather let socks live on her bedroom floor for months instead of hand wash them. The ridiculous reality is that hand washing takes mere minutes but for some reason only known to psychologists, I'm rubbish at getting around to doing it. I made peace with the slight colour fade if it means I'll get more wear and enjoyment from my socks, although that being said, the fade isn't as much as I expected, hooray! What I'm saying though, is that if you're like me and decide to throw caution to the wind, you have to get realistic about how your colours will wear over time, just like any other garment that gets regularly laundered.
Oh and a note about superwash yarns, if you're going to brave the washing machine, no judgement here BUT unless it's a superwash fibre + nylon blend, you need to look at what your blend contains. For example just because 60% of your yarn is superwash, doesn't make the rest of it. I'm talking alpaca, yak, cashmere, all of those other types of fluff that will not be happy about such treatment. I learnt this the hard way with a pair of socks that were superwash merino, nylon and yak. The yak fibres looked like they were physically trying to crawl out from the socks and looked AWFUL. They ended up in the bin. Lesson learnt. Stay on the side of caution and hand wash fancy blends.
SO hand washing, is it a massive hardship? Nope, not at all. When I remember to get around to this job, I fill up my bathroom sink (because it's upstairs with the items I just remembered to wash) with luke warm water. You don't need it hot and heat tends to encourage colour bleeding, so tepid is fine. I slug in a bit of Euclan because it smells lovely or, if you haven't got any of that, plain washing up liquid also does the job just fine.
A note about bleeding: all hand dyed yarns might bleed a tiny bit. This is normal. It's not necessarily an indicator of a 'bad dyer'. You don't wash your white shirts with your indigo jeans for a very good reason, your white shirt won't stay white. Treat your yarns with the same expectation. I heat set my yarns and hand rinse them until the water runs clear meaning that the dye is properly locked on to the yarn and the excess dye is gone. The trouble is, with heat, with a slightly different PH of water, different washing detergents, and with the best will in the world, some colours just tend to be utter bastards. I'm looking at you pinks and blues... If you're making a project with say a very light yarn and a dark yarn, make and wash some swatches to see if your dark yarn might bleed and effect your light yarn, your future self will thank you. It seems to be a myth that bleeding is the fault of a slap dash dyer which simply isn't always the case, you need to expect your yarn to behave the same ways laundry does and consider which colours are getting washed together.
So, your sink is full. Chuck your thing in the sink, leave it for 15 minutes.
Done. Don't scrub it, maybe swish it around a wee bit, you want to be gentle. That's all you need to do. Hoik your thing out of the sink, squeeze it, DO NOT WRING OUT (remember we said be gentle) and then lay it out flat on a towel. Roll your towel up loosely on the floor like a long sausage and then stand on it to squeeze out that excess moisture. Job done. Pull your project back into the shape you want it to dry in and hang it up to dry (if it's a shawl you might want to pin it out and block it properly). DONE.
And how often does yarn need washing? Probably not as often as you think. Socks are the only item I wash after every wear because, you know, feet... And honestly, I'm not sure I've ever bothered washing a shawl unless it needs another blocking for re-shaping and my jumpers are only washed if the underarms smell like they need it which isn't terribly often. Why? Because wool is very different to your regular clothing. It's properties include being very breathable, it's odour resistant and it generates very little static meaning it doesn't attract much lint and dust. Good eh? So keeping that in mind, your wool won't need the same amount of washing as your everyday undies, and less washing = longer wearing and less hassle, happy days!