In addition to being one of the most comfortable garments you can buy, a sweater can be one of the most confusing to care for.
The following tips for sweater maintenance come from "Taking Care of Clothes" by Mablen Jones (St. Martin's Press, $9.95) and from Bin Yu, an instructor at the Fabricare Institute in Maryland.
Before buying a sweater, check the label for shrinkage potential. If there is no information, assume the sweater will shrink at least a size.
Threads are stretched more during knitting than during weaving, so knit clothes shrink more than woven ones.
Cotton, wool and rayon knits are the most likely to shrink, so you may want to buy sweaters quite a bit larger than your usual size. Even with synthetics, it's a good idea to buy one size larger.
Never cut or tug a snagged thread; you may unravel the whole knit. If the yarn is unbroken, you may be able to pull the snag through to the underside of the sweater. Insert a large sewing needle or crochet hook from the inside of the sweater, catch the snagged yarn and gently pull through.
If the yarn is broken, carefully fasten the broken ends on the inside of the sweater, using a needle and transparent thread. Then close the edges of the hole with tiny stitches from the inside.
To remove "pills" from a sweater, use a clothes brush, tiny scissors or a commercial sweater shaver. Brush, snip or shave gently to avoid damaging the rest of the sweater.
To prevent stretching, fold knits and lay them flat for storage. Hanging is likely to distort the shape.
If you dry-clean sweaters, make sure the cleaner uses perchloroethylene for wool and hair fibers, and remind the cleaner to cool dry the sweater.
Almost all sweaters can be safely hand-washed even delicate angora and cashmere. Use cool or lukewarm water, turn the sweater inside out and immerse it for five to 10 minutes. Turn the garment over once or twice during this time, gently squeezing the suds through the fabric.
Never rub the knit against itself, which causes pilling. To rinse, soak in clean, cool or lukewarm water, gently squeezing out the suds. Repeat in fresh basins of water until no suds remain.
Hand-washed sweaters should be air-dried flat and may be blocked into shape.
Machine-washable sweaters (check care labels) should be turned inside out before laundering; delicate styles should be washed inside a mesh bag or pillowcase.
Always use cool or lukewarm washing temperatures, and remove sweaters before the spin cycle.
Machine-washable sweaters may be put in the dryer for a short time; remove while the sweater is still damp and dry flat or block into shape. Many synthetic knits require tumble drying fully to restore the heat-set shape, and should not be blocked. Check care instructions.
Blocking a sweater sets the shape of the garment. Except with wool sweaters, it often is not necessary unless the sweater appears misshapen while lying flat.
Blocking should always be done while the sweater is still damp.
A sweater's shape may be altered with blocking, but the process will not restore shrunken inches.
Remember that widening the sweater with blocking means losing length.
To block a sweater:
Make a heavy paper pattern from shelf paper or a brown paper bag before you wash the sweater for the first time. Lay the sweater on the paper on a flat surface and draw an outline.
After the sweater has been washed and throughly rinsed, pick it up with both hands so the water weight is evenly distributed.
Lay the sweater on an absorbent towel and blot or roll it to remove water. Then lay it flat on a mesh dryer (or a plastic-webbed lawn chair).
When the sweater is no longer dripping but is still damp, place the paper outline on a towel-covered table. Lay the sweater on the pattern and gently shape it with your hands. Draw together ribbed waists and cuffs, button cardigans closed, roll collars into proper position and straighten and extend sleeves.
You may use rust-proof pins to set the shape. Pin every three to four inches, taking care that the sweater does not buckle between pins. After the first washing, pinning is not usually necessary.