Taking care of our clothes and making repairs when necessary is paramount in achieving a long-lasting, sustainable wardrobe. However, specialty textiles such as knits can be incredibly finicky when it comes to maintenance. So, to help us unravel the secrets to nurturing our knits, Swap Society founder Nicole Robertson chatted with Ellen Saville from The Endery—a knitwear company that creates one-of-a-kind, handmade knits out of luxury deadstock yarns—to talk all things sweaters.
1. Choosing a Fibre:
The fibre that your knit is fashioned out of makes all the difference when it comes to texture, weight and longevity; and since The Endery creates their garments in Peru, a country famous for their high quality alpaca wool and Pima cotton, Ellen is an expert in the qualities of both fibres. Alpaca wool, in particular, has been used in Peru for millennia, and is an especially durable and complex fibre. For instance, due to the wool’s hollow nature, alpaca will keep you cozy warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Moreover, the alpaca is an extremely sustainable animal to keep. Unlike goats or sheep who trample land with their hooves and who require specific grazing conditions, Alpacas have soft paws and can survive in some of the world’s harshest conditions. In addition to taking fewer resources to raise, alpaca’s produce four times as much fibre as the average cashmere goat. Lastly, alpaca wool is naturally odour repellent, meaning that garments can go longer without a wash and therefore, will have a much longer lifespan than other fibres.
As a general rule of thumb, Ellen recommends to wash less and wear more. Washing your knit garments frequently can damage, stretch or shrink the fibres and leave you with a sweater that is beyond repair. Alternatively, try airing out your sweaters in the sun or try using a wool and cashmere spray to kill bacteria and freshen the scent between washes (try this recipe!) However, if your sweater is in desperate need of a deep clean, rather than tossing it into a washing machine, try hand washing in cold water using a sulphate free shampoo (if the shampoo is good enough to use on your hair, it’s good enough for the sweater!)
Once your sweater has been washed through, lay the garment out onto a towel and roll the entire bundle like a sushi roll. This will help drain the sweater of excess water, without the hazard of stretching. Finally, lay your knit flat or over a few rungs of a drying rack to naturally air dry. NEVER put knits into the dryer - unless you’re in need of a child-sized sweater.
4. Dealing with Pilling:
Pilling is a normal occurrence with nearly every type of knit and should not be confused as being a sign of poor quality. So, when your sweater starts to pill, there are a few ways to deal with them. The most eco conscious methods include using a sweater stone (works best for most knits) or a wooden sweater comb (works well on lightweight knits) to gently pull off pills and leave your garment good as new.
5. Darning, Mending and Repairing:
Darning is a centuries old technique that is used to securely patch holes in knitwear. Ellen recommends using a yarn that is the same weight or lighter to discreetly mend a hole, or you can try your hand at visible mending. Drawing attention to a garment’s imperfections is an art form in and of itself and can be achieved with colourful yarns and a little bit of time. Prolonging a garment’s life span through mending should be an achievement that you’re proud of and visible mending will show the world that you love your clothes enough to save them from the landfill.
Clearly, caring for your knits can be a labour of love, but the environmental impact of purchasing knitwear should warrant the extra TLC. We should strive to care for our clothes and keep them for as long as possible. So let’s wear our mends like a badge of honour, as a gesture of thanks to the resources and craftsmanship that went into creating our garments and a promise to protect our clothes from the trash!
Lauren Tjoe lives in Vancouver, Canada and is currently attending the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. She has always been involved with philanthropic initiatives and, while working on a human rights project, found herself down a fast fashion rabbit hole. Since then, Lauren has been a passionate advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion, often making her own clothes rather than buying new!