How to Stretch a Sweater

How to Stretch a Sweater in 3 Simple Methods

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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You might have accidentally tossed a wool sweater into a washer in hot water or an acrylic sweater into a hot dryer and discovered that it has shrunk to practically doll-size. Before you throw the shrunken sweater away, try this unshrinking process to salvage your clothes investment. The situation is not as hopeless as it sounds. You only need to learn how to stretch a sweater, and you will have your favorite sweater back to its original shape and size. Keep reading!

Can You Stretch a Sweater?

Before going through the full emotional roller coaster (the shrunken sweaters, the spark of hope, the labor of attempting to unshrink them, the waiting, then the disappointment of it not working), evaluate your sweaters to determine if it's indeed possible to unshrink them.

If your sweater is mohair, wool, cashmere or made of any form of natural fibers, we recommend checking to see if it has felted. Fully felted cloth cannot be stretched. According to The Empress of Dirt, you can tell if the wool has felted by looking for individual fibers (not felted). Plus, try to see if any stretch remains if you tug a tiny part in opposing directions (fully felted cloth will not stretch).

With that information on hand, let's check out the common methods of stretching a sweater.

The 3 Common Methods of Stretching a Sweater

Method 1: Softening the Fibres

1. Fill your sink halfway with lukewarm water and add 2 tbsp (30 mL) conditioner. 

Pour the hair conditioner into the sink and gently mix the water with your hands until the conditioner is evenly distributed. The conditioner softens the wool fibers in your shrunken sweater, allowing it to stretch more easily. However, if you don't have any hair conditioner, you may use fabric softener or baby shampoo.

You can also use this method to stretch other woolen clothes such as jackets, shirts and pants. Meaning the method applies to all sorts of wool.

2. Soak your wool sweater in the sink for 20 minutes.

Soaking gives the lukewarm water and conditioner solution enough time to saturate and soften the fibers of your sweater properly. First, ensure that the entire sweater is immersed in water to soak. Then allow the sweater to soak for 30 minutes, especially if it's large or thick.

3. Remove the sweater from the sink and gently squeeze out the water. 

Allow most of the water to drip off the fabric before squeezing out the remaining drips. Avoid wringing your sweater as this might cause fiber damage. Also, rinsing your sweater will remove the conditioner from the fibers, making it more difficult to stretch.

Method 2: Stretching the Sweater by Hand

1. Set a towel on a hard flat surface, then place your favorite wool sweater on top of it.

Ensure the sweater is lying flat on the towel to avoid wrinkles. Adjust the sleeves so that they are snug against the towel. And if possible, use a white towel to avoid any dye from the towel staining your merino wool sweater. This task will require an absorbent towel rather than a light cotton towel.

2. Place a second towel on top of the sweater and gently push it down. 

Placing a second towel usually helps gently remove excess water from the sweater. Gently press down on the sweater's shoulders and work your way down. After pressing the entire fabric, remove the top towel from the sweater.

3. Stretch your sweater back to its original form.

Gently pull the sweater's shoulders apart to their normal positioning and tug on the sleeves to make them longer. Next, pull the body material widthwise, then lengthwise to stretch the fibers. Continue to stretch the sweater until it is the shape and size you want. Afterward, hold the sweater up to your body to verify you are stretching it properly. If you're yet to achieve the original size, repeat the same process.

4. Allow the sweater to air dry for 24 hours on a towel. 

Place the cashmere sweater to dry on a dry towel in a dust-free place. If the sweater is still moist after 24 hours, flip it over, lay it on a dry towel, and let it dry for another 24 hours. If the sweater still seems too small, repeat the softening and stretching process.

Method 3: Pinning your Sweater in Place

1. Place your shrunken sweater flat on a towel and roll the towel along with the sweater

Ensure that both arms of the wool sweater are on the towel and that the sweater is wrinkle-free. Then, roll the towel and sweater up tightly to absorb as much moisture as possible from the fabric. We recommend using a fluffy, absorbent towel for the best results.

2. Stretch your sweater across a cork-board and pin it in place. 

Gently stretch your sweater in front of your body to the breadth of your shoulders. Keep the sweater stretched in this position and pin it to a cork-board. Then, pull the bottom hem downward and pin it in place to extend the body of the sweater. Also, stretch the arms out to the right length before pinning them to the board. To avoid corrosion and rust, use steel pins. Additionally, you can adjust the sweater's size with more pins.

3. Check your sweater after an hour and, if required, restretch it.

As it dries, the wool may shrink somewhat. If the sweater hasn't yet back to its original shape, stretch it out a bit wider and longer, then pin it in place. Stretch and pin the sweater till it reaches the usual size.

What Are the Tips for Stretching a Shrunken Sweater?

  • If you don't have a hair conditioner, you can use baby shampoo or fabric softener; try to unshrink a sweater.
  • Next time you hand-wash your sweater, you will end up washing the shampoo, softener or conditioner used to unshrink the sweater. Alternatively, take the sweater to a dry cleaner and explain what you did as well as the possibility of soapy residue in the fibers.
  • You can use the same stretching process with wool hats, socks, and throws.
  • When wet, intense heat is applied to wool, the barbs on the natural fibers tangle and lock, resulting in a non-raveling felt. If your sweater is beyond repair, transform it into a rustic felted fabric that you can use to make felted coasters, a handbag, dryer balls, or even slippers.
  • Air-drying your sweater upside down from a trouser hanger (so the weight stretches it), wearing the wet sweater to assist stretch out the moist wool or inserting clean white paper in the sleeves are all alternatives to shrinking.

How to Wash Your Wool Sweaters Correctly

How to Stretch a Sweater

To avoid shrinking, hand wash each wool item individually in cold water with soap flakes or sunlight soap. If you decide to use flakes, ensure you dissolve them in hot water first.

1. To start, soak the fabric in cold, room temperature water.

2. Rinse the fabric three times in cold water, ensuring to get rid of all the soap suds.

3. Next, gently squeeze all excess water out of the sweater without wringing it out and lay flat on a towel to dry (ideally in the sun). This method works every time, and the form of the wool remains intact.

Frequently Asked Questions on how to Stretch a Sweater

1. What causes sweaters to shrink?

There are several reasons why your clothes shrink, but none stands out more than high heat levels. It's a key factor to why clothes shrivel up into a little replica of themselves, whether it comes from the dryer or even hot water in your washing machine.

Unfortunately, that is not the only cause. Part of the reason clothing shrinks so fast is that manufacturers stretch the fibers to their maximum length when creating the garment. It's a method of getting more garments out of less material.

Therefore, when heat or friction is caused by brushing up against the sides of the dryer or washer, those taut tiny threads spring back into their smaller selves, making the sweater shrunken.

2. How can you stretch thick sweaters?

Fill your sink halfway with lukewarm water and add 2 tbsp (30 mL) conditioner. Pour the hair conditioner into the sink and gently mix the water with your hands until the conditioner is evenly distributed. The conditioner usually softens the wool fibers in your sweater, allowing it to stretch more easily.

3. How can you stretch a knitted sweater?

i). Soak the sweater in water and wrap it in a towel. Step on it or press on it to squeeze extra water from the sweater.

ii). Stretch the sweater slightly to fit, up to one full size. For precise measurements, use a yardstick.

iii). Pin the sweater to the towel using rustproof pins and keep it away from direct sunlight or heat.

4. How do you make an oversized sweater fit?

If you are wearing shorter oversized knitwear, you can match it with leather pleated trousers that cinch your waist. This works well with sweaters that aren't too bulky since you can tuck them into the pants to create a waistline, making the ensemble seem feminine and stylish.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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