To soak or not to soak

To soak or not to soak

I asked a serious question in a funny manner on Instagram yesterday, and nobody realized I was actually asking. But I’m actually asking: Would you wet-block this yarn?

This is Loopy Mango Merino No. 5, and I know they say you can handwash in cold water, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea! It’s basically a big puff of 100% merino roving, with a single lace-weight strand very loosely plied around it. It’s by far the gooiest yarn I’ve ever knitted with. (I like my yarn more on the rugged side. Sheepy. Minimally processed. Hard-wearing.) It literally feels to me like if I put it in water, it will turn to paste, or even dissolve completely. I realize that won’t really happen, but I have blocked soft yarn before and had it come out the other side utterly lifeless. So I’m inclined to only steam or dry-clean this, unless one of you tells me you’ve knitted with it and wet-blocked it and it’s totally fine. Anyone?

Obviously, given the circumstances, I did not knit and block a swatch for this one. And unfortunately I don’t have enough yarn left to knit one now, if that’s what you’re very sensibly about to suggest …

64 thoughts on “To soak or not to soak

  1. I have absolutely no idea but I am looking forward to seeing what you do and reading the comments. Sometimes I too have questions that you cannot look up in a book!

  2. Don’t block it! Think about how many times you will really wear it during the cold season… Are you really going out to a barn to work or just a clean shop? I have a heavy cabled sweater from Ireland, had it about 15 years, worn it 4 times and only washed it once. And, that was after a cold camping trip when I wore it every day! I love the way a sweater becomes my sweater – shifting and molding itself to my dimensions as I wear it. Wash it only if you have to…

  3. “(I like my yarn more on the rugged side. Sheepy. Minimally processed. Hard-wearing.)” Topsy Farms yarn fits that description. Soap-washed only at MacAusland’s woollen mill in Prince Edward Island. 4 natural tones and 29 colours at the moment. I too dislike the feel of slippy, fluffy, nothing substantials. Sally

  4. My knitting friends and I face the block challenge all the time. Where there is texture, pattern I tend to not wet block. Sometimes not blocking at all. Steam can make the texture limp too. I say put it together try it on see how it feels. Go from there. When it needs freshening I’m going with dry cleaning. 😊

  5. I would pin it dry and spray it lightly with water with the tiniest bit of Soak and let dry.

      • I have only just read your post. My immediate thought was the same as ‘JB’. I would not do any pressing at all – you will destroy the texture. Such a soft yarn, once spoiled, cannot be resurrected.

      • I agree with pinning it dry and spraying lightly. I do that a lot. Or the cloth method. I actually don’t often do a wet soak. And yes, sometimes I don’t block at all. Especially if I want to keep the structure in place.

    • I think you’re on the money with this method. Although has anyone suggested that you don’t block it at all? (Did I hear a collective gasp?)

  6. I’ve knit with other roving yarns and wished I’d only steam blocked. I wonder if water quality/hardness has anything to do with how well wet-blocking would work?

  7. Steam it, if that doesn’t relax it enough to block it then think about wet-blocking. I’d worry about the wet weight stretching it too.

  8. IMHO, I would steam block a small area- like a side hem – and see how it affects the yarn. My fear is that a wet soak would stretch the yarn a lot. Plus, you don’t want to go and steam block the whole thing only to find that might not have been a good idea. ;)

    Good luck! I can’t wait to see what happens. :-) I LOVE YOUR BLOG!

  9. I’d contact the manufacturer and I’d also go to Claire Parks site and see if she has reviewed it. There may also be a way to contact her.

  10. If I’m worried about what wet blocking will do, I often use a spray bottle with Soak and water and spray it lightly rather than fully soaking it. I can lay it out into the shape I want, and it still gets some light blocking.

  11. I haven’t knit with Loopy Mango before but did knit a seed stitch hat on 12mm needles with this yarn:

    After wet-blocking it did stretch out a bit more than I’d expected because the fluffy wool retains a lot of water, but I wanted it to be a bit slouchy so it worked out. I wouldn’t recommend for a sweater though, I think you run the risk of it stretching out too much from the weight of the water.

  12. I saw the post on IG and immediately wanted blue cotton candy. Now I want blue cotton candy again.

    On a more serious note: Is the yarn in Ravelry? Can you see if someone else has used it and ask them how they’ve handled it and what it’s done?

  13. If you think you will ever have to wash this sweater (and if you wear it a lot, eventually it will need to be washed), then it will have to be soaked. I always, always soak and block sweaters I make for that very reason: I wear them, they get dirty (or sweaty) and they have to be washed, if for no other reason than to get them clean so they don’t attract m*ths when I put them away for the summer months. I guess it’s risky if you’re afraid of what it will do to the yarn, but it feels like an important step. Just handle it carefully and lay it out in front of a fan to dry, and my guess is that it will be fine.
    Reading the other comments, I see that I am in the minority opinion here!

    • It doesn’t necessarily ever have to be soaked. I normally soak sweaters when they’re finished, but rarely ever soak them again after that, if they’re 100% wool. Tossing them in the dryer with a semi-wet load to steam for a few minutes is usually enough to freshen them up, and even that’s rarely necessary given wool’s magical properties.

  14. Is the yarn like the roving we used in Rebekka’s wool blanket workshop? When I soaked my blanket, it definitely changed the texture, making it more durable but still very soft. I am very happy with the transformation – I can use the blanket and not worry it will just pull apart. Not sure how this translates to your sweater.

  15. Because the subject is wet blocking, I’m adding this comment even though it really won’t help you in this situation. I knitted a beautiful poncho with KnitPicks Capra Yarn and soaked it in SOAK only to have wide chevron stripe in the middle. One skein really faded. KnitPicks only refunded the cost of the one skein and I now have this funky poncho. I am really skittish about soaking now. Just saying. Good luck. For the record, don’t soak! BTW thank you for all the wonderful info you have provided.

    • Hm, I mean, soaking your swatch wouldn’t necessarily have alerted you to the problem (if it wasn’t true of every skein), but that definitely seems like an edge case! Did you contact KnitPicks about it?

      I soak everything and have never had anything like that happen. I’ve also never used KnitPicks yarn (rarely ever use anything mass-produced like that) so don’t know if that’s a thing or if your experience was an edge case. You should let them know, if you haven’t.

      • Oh yes, I did contact them immediately. As they were very sorry, they refunded the cost of the one skein, nothing more. I’ve mentioned this to quite a few knitters and no one has ever had this problem with any yarn, that is why I’m spreading the word. I don’t think there is any solution. Haven’t worn it yet, just stuck it in the closet. Very disappointed.

        • I think it’s outrageous they only refunded one skein. I think u should talk to a supervisor. They used to be much better about things like that. Which reminds me I had a neede come apart while it just sat in its case. Need to call them. So sorry about your sweater!

  16. I just blocked my first intarsia sweater because the seller said the wool would get softer and since I knitted for a child ( she picked the yarn with her dad ) I gave it a try – I was not impressed at all by the result – I vote for Steam as well. The weight of that sweater will be a ton when wet and even the carrying around will completely stretch it….I suppose. Good luck and greets from Switzerland!

    • What happened to your sweater that you weren’t happy with? Are you saying you don’t find it any softer than it was before (did you use lanolin soap?) or did something else go awry?

  17. I guess I am with Susan. If you are ever going to want to wash it – and it is a light color – then I would block it. I would do it carefully, I would not lift it more than absolutely necessary – roll it from sink to towel, wrap it in the towel to squeeze out the water, unroll it on the blocking surface and don’t pull on it when you shape it. it likely will relax some. But the thing is – will you be happy with a sweater that needs dry cleaning every time the cuff gets dirty or you spill your soup on it? If you are really worried, then even if you only have enough yarn to knit a very tiny square – do it, and block it. Who said your sample has to be 4 by 4?

    • I do have a few sweaters that require dry cleaning, and I take them in once every year or two. Not a big deal. It might be because I don’t eat soup!

  18. Their care instrux state to dry clean or hand wash cold water, lay flat to dry. I’d wet block. I’ve never had a wool item totally loose it’s shape after wet blocking. After soaking, I roll in towels & then put all my weight on the bundle to get as much water out as possible. I’m very careful in lifting the garment out of the water. Once it’s just damp, I follow Anne Hanson’s instrux for wet blocking. They always turn out much nicer than before the blocking.

    As someone else said, you have to wash it at some point. Besides, after a lot of handling even before it got to you, the yarn is probably a little dusty/dirty now.

    • I absolutely believe in blocking — 98% of the time. This is one of the cases in the 2%, this yarn having essentially no structure at all to begin with.

  19. I’m such a fan of wet blocking because of what it brings out in the yarn. (And anti-dry cleaning for the environment). If you handle it very carefully wouldn’t it be OK? Soak it in a small space and lift it all in one piece, maybe supported by a towel.

  20. This pretty pale blue color shows dirt badly and has probably acquired some from the natural body oils present on even freshly washed hands. So, go ahead, wash it. It will acquire dirt at some point and will look more even and attractive if washed and blocked now. I would also suggest running a fan on it as it will otherwise take a long time to dry given the thickness of the yarn.

  21. I would not wet block. I wet blocked a hat yesterday made using a single ply merino yarn and it ‘relaxed’ so much that it lost all its fun texture ridges and is way too slouchy now. I really liked the hat and it fit perfectly before I soaked it.
    If you want a crop sweater I would avoid the wet block and lightly steam instead.

  22. I vote for the cocoknits method! I’m thinking it’s more of a novelty yarn, but I like the look and color, and think it’s going to be great as it is. Post a picture of you wearing it when it’s finished. I think you could spot clean it with water if you happened to spill, just not completely soaking. I’d dry clean it.

  23. I blocked a little blanket I knit with super bulky alpaca and I’m not sure it was worth it. Lifting a soaking wet blanket out of my bathtub was a good workout, so that’s a plus… But my house smelled like wet llama and it took days to dry! I’m a relatively new knitter, so maybe there’s a better way – I’d love to know what you end up doing! Your sweater looks so gorgeous already :)

  24. I would sew it up, try it on and if it looks good, wear it until it needs cleaning. You’ll have time for more research (many good ideas above) and if your chosen method changes the sweater into something you don’t like, at least you’ve had a chance to wear it as you like it. I would think Loopy could tell you exactly how they treat their sample sweaters. Can’t get over how the top photo looks like a Barbie sized sweater in worsted.

  25. As a novice sweater-knitter, blocking is so strongly emphasized that I didn’t realize it was an option NOT to. Am reading these comments in fascination!

  26. I think I would take your tiny yarn ends, make a tiny swatch, wet block that and see what happens, you should be able to get a pretty good idea. If that is the yarn you are using to sew the sweater together just rip out the swatch. I don’t think the blocking will make a difference for seaming. Good luck, I’m interested in seeing what you decide to do.

  27. I can see me wet blocking such a bulk and waiting til next year for it to dry to wear! But as many others said I guess it will have to be washed one day.

    • But there is no swatch to test….and no leftover yarn.

      If I was intending this to be a part of my wardrobe I’d wash and block it. If it ruins it, lesson learned, don’t make anything like this again.

  28. About the only thing I ever wet-block is lace, or pieces where I want to finagle the size a bit. If there is a lot of texture, like cables or seed stitch, I lightly steam the seams, using a damp press cloth, to get them to lay flat. You can always go back and block something a little more if you think it needs it, but you can’t unblock something that has been blocked too severely.

  29. Well, when in doubt…don’t! Once it’s ruined, there’s no going back! I took a series of classes with Deborah Newton in Providence several years ago, and she blocks absolutely nothing. Her work is beautiful, and she likes the look of hand knit. I learned so much from her, but I generally block by misting with a spray bottle. If you contacted the yarn producer/distributor, might they have a small sample you could use to do a test run? I think that’s worth a try. Good luck…I’m crossing my fingers for you!

    • I’ve seen Deborah Newton say that (in her finishing book) and I find it so interesting, because I’m absolutely devoted to blocking – it makes the fabric look so much better. But I also don’t knit intricate stitches, and knit mostly light sweaters that I wear next to the skin, so need to be able to wash. And I’ve never used yarn like the one in this post, so it will be interesting to see the results!

  30. I wouldn’t wet block it Karen, the texture will change and the loosely plied yarn stitches will move a little alarmingly when immersed in water. The less you do to this sweater the better I think. Being basically stabilised roving, it may pill or pull quickly too, so it’s going to change anyway, with wear. Enjoy it as it is, in all its textured puffiness for now and treat it gently.

    • Totally agree–very educational post and discussion. I have always wet blocked as that was what I learned. However, the one sweater I made last winter, before shoulder surgery slowed me down, I lightly steamed, and it turned out beautifully. Frankly, I think the best advice here is the comment that suggested you just wear it till it needs something, then dry clean it and hope for the best! If it doesn’t withstand the cleaning, at least you will have enjoyed it for a time. It’s so cool–I’d probably wear it till I was sick of it! Good luck…

  31. Can you spare at least a few feet of yarn to try wetting? See what happens? I like to steam everything and if you’re sure you’re okay with NEVER washing it, then by all means, stick with steaming/spraying. But a pale sweater that’s probably gonna make the wearer sweat a little worries me, as far as never-washing goes ;-P I worry if it’s too soaked, though, it may take way too long to dry and get mildewy.

  32. If you’re happy with how it looks when you wear it, don’t block it. You can always change your mind later.

    For what it’s worth, I have a wool coat that I spilt some food on once. The dry cleaner couldn’t get it out so in a final effort to save it I put it in the washing machine on the wool cycle and watched with trepidation. The drum part filled with water, rocked side to side (no complete revolutions like normal) and gently bubbled air up through the drum holes before draining with more rocking to draw out excess water. The coat came out beautifully, no apparent shrinkage. Since then I’ve blocked all of my woollens in the washing machine regardless of care instructions. I think it could be gentler than blocking by hand.

  33. I have knitted big yarns (WATG and WAK) and i first pin them and i use a spray with water and soak and then i let them dry. The problem is that as it is a big single ply it pills…a lot and very quickly. ..

    • I’m totally dreading the pills. My assumption about this sweater is (following the first few wears) it will be the thing I’m forever wearing when hanging around the house but can’t bear to go out in.

  34. Its a gorgeous sweater- you must be so excited to wear it! Although I have never blocked big yarn like that, I did knit a pillow out of some loopy mango, and have lain on the pillow with damp hair. Tbh it is the worse for wear just from that (pilling being the problem more than anything).
    Good luck!

    • Ha! I love that it took 59 comments to get to this one. Thank you!

      I steamed it last night and it seems fine, but that’s really good to know.

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