Is there any way to rescue a shrunken jumper?

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What do you do when your most beloved jumper shrinks in the wash? Lauren Bravo has the answer – and it’s already in your bathroom

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By Lauren Bravo on

We all know that, when it comes to taking care of your clothes, there’s a discrepancy between what we know we should do and what we actually do. Hell, these columns are entirely based on that premise. Show me a person who follows every washing label faithfully to the letter, and I will show you a person who badly needs to experience the heady rush of a little laissez-faire laundering. If you don’t fling a dry-clean-only shirt in on a 30° cycle every once in a while, just to feel the thrill of taking it out unscathed, how do you even know you’re alive?

But every so often, catastrophe strikes. It only takes a slip of the hand or a slightly too cavalier attitude, and suddenly you’re starring in a Rick Moranis straight-to-video fourquel called Honey, I Shrunk The Cashmere. We all have the story of that one jumper, cut down in its prime. You had big plans with that jumper. You were going to see the world with that jumper. Who knows what could have been, if your love hadn’t been cruelly smitten by a boil wash?

It’s especially unfair that it’s generally the most expensive jumpers that are liable to do this. Your £20 acrylic numbers could practically survive nuclear apocalypse, even when you’re deliberately trying to shrink them smaller (heat is the way to do that, as you can guess – try a hot wash followed by a hot dryer for cotton and wool, or a cool wash and a hot dryer for polyester, and check at frequent intervals), while that good-quality jumper you save for best is the one that shrivels like a delicate flower as soon as the heat is on.

 It only takes a slip of the hand or a slightly too cavalier attitude, and suddenly you’re starring in a Rick Moranis straight-to-video fourquel called Honey, I Shrunk The Cashmere

You’ve kept the shrunken jumper anyway, of course. It’s rammed into the back of the drawer, so you don’t have to relive the heartache every day, but it’s still there. Just in case. Just in case there’s an especially bad bout of food poisoning that allows you to fit into it for a day or two, or an adorable dog that looks chilly. Or in case one day you discover there’s a way to stretch it out again. Friends, I’m here today to let you know that there is*.


The crucial question is whether or not the wool has become ‘felted’. If it has – ie. if the fibres have become so tightly enmeshed that there’s no stretch left in the wool at all  – then the bad news is you might have to bid farewell to your jumper. The good news is that you can say ‘hello!’ to a lot of free felt for craft projects you never knew you wanted to take on. Remember the golden rule of wardrobe maintenance: a disaster is just a craft project you haven’t met yet.

But if your jumper isn’t felted, just shrunken, there’s hope. Here’s what you need to do...


1. Fill a sink with lukewarm water, and add about two tablespoons of hair conditioner or baby shampoo. Mix well, then add the shrunken jumper and let it soak for at least 10 minutes, or up to two hours. This should relax the fibres and make it less crunchy, more flexible. Which is also my fitness goal for 2018. 

2. When you’re finished soaking, drain the water from the sink, leaving the jumper where it is. Then gently push out excess water against the sides of the sink, resisting the urge to twist it or wring it. Don’t rinse it in clean water either; you need the conditioner left on to give the fibres a bit of slip. 

3. Next, roll the jumper tightly inside a dry towel to squeeze out as much moisture as you can. 

4. Then lay it on a new towel, and begin gently stretching it. You need to be careful here – stretch evenly and methodically, as though giving it a nice massage. Desperately pulling at it while sobbing “why have you forsaken me??” will most likely leave you with a lumpy, misshapen mess. Pay attention to the seams, as they’ll be your stretching limits. Remember to stretch down as well as across, so you don’t end up with a cropped top. And don’t get so into the stretching that you inadvertently make it bigger than it was before.

5. Once your jumper looks more like its original size, leave it to dry flat and then try it on – you’ll probably be able to stretch it a little more once on your body. If it’s roomier but still too tight, repeat the process again. You can also use try the pinboard technique, which involves pinning your jumper to a corkboard to help coax the fibres into a new shape (but it does risk leaving holes in your jumper, so works better with looser knits). Don’t give up hope. Patience and perseverance are key.

Although, if you planned to use this whole thing as a convenient excuse to dress your dog up in a tiny jumper, please forget I ever said anything. 


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Photo: Getty Images 
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