Protect woolen items by hand-washing in cold water.

How to Stretch Wool After Shrinking It

by S.R. Becker

Wool and other animal fibers make cozy garments that keep you warm all winter, but they require special care. The scales in wool are much like the scales in human hair, and just as your hair can form knots with enough friction, wool can shrink. This shrinkage, called felting, occurs when wool is exposed to hot water and agitation. If you accidentally toss a wool garment into the washing machine, it's possible to stretch it out again with a process called blocking.

Fill a clean sink with cold water and add 2 tablespoons of hair conditioner or baby shampoo. Swish the water gently to mix in the shampoo or conditioner without making suds.

Place the shrunken wool item in the water and allow it to soak for 30 minutes.

Remove the item from the sink and gently squeeze out as much water as you can, without twisting or wringing. Lay a large bath towel on the floor, lay the item on the bath towel, and roll the towel from one end to the other to absorb the rest of the excess water.

Lay another dry towel over a large piece of thick cardboard -- a flattened cardboard box works well. Place the item on the box and tug it gently to stretch it back into shape.

Pin all the way around the edges of item with straight pins, sticking them through the sweater, through the towel and into the cardboard. Place one approximately every 2 inches to hold the item in the shape into which you have stretched it.

Allow the item to dry thoroughly before unpinning it. If it is very large or thick, this can take up to two days, depending on climate. To speed up drying, place it in front of a fan or dry it outdoors in the shade on a warm day.

Items you will need

  • Hair conditioner or baby shampoo
  • 2 bath towels
  • Cardboard
  • Straight pins
  • Fan (optional)


  • When a garment felts, it loses its stitch definition and becomes fuzzy. Although you can stretch it back out, the stitches won't look exactly like they did before. However, you can shave off any fuzz with a sweater shaver.


  • If using hair conditioner to stretch your sweater, look for a formula without ingredients that end in "-cone," such as dimethicone or amodimethicone. These are silicones, synthetic lubricants that can coat the fibers and leave buildup.

About the Author

S.R. Becker is a certified yoga teacher based in Queens, N.Y. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years. Becker often writes for "Yoga in Astoria," a newsletter about studios throughout New York City.

Photo Credits

  • Dynamic Graphics/Creatas/Getty Images