Why Knit with Non-Superwash Wool Yarn?

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So, why would you want to use non-superwash yarn?

It’s a valid question and one I’ve seen come up more than once in knitting groups– especially among newer knitters. Superwash wool is easy to care for and who wouldn’t want that?!

There are many articles readily available discussing the unsustainability of the superwash treatment to process these yarns. A quick google search will help you find that information. That’s not what I’d like to cover today. 

For me the question is why wouldn’t you want to use non-superwash wool? 

 

Pure and unadulterated, it’s wool in its purest form.

Wool is naturally antimicrobial and wicks away moisture while also keeping us nice and warm or cool…as long as it hasn’t been tampered with. Water pollution and toxic chemical use aside, the superwash treatment strips and then coats the outer layer of the wool fiber. And just like that all of these very wonderful properties have been removed from the fiber. If you’d like to understand more about why this happens, scientist-knitter Anna of the dunkelgrün vlog explains it very well in this episode. This is a full knitting episode so skip to about 35:00 for her explanation of the Hercosett Treatment.

Now this next point could prove to be controversial, but I’d argue it’s worth some consideration.

While it’s true that superwash wool is typically softer than one hundred percent wool, the superwash treatment sucks the life out of it. Everything that makes wool beautiful and springy and full of life is taken away. Pure wool running through your fingers connects you to the earth– deeply. Maybe the reason for that is because it feels more like, well, an actual sheep than an overly processed fiber.

However, just as not all wool is created equal, the same is true for non-superwash wool. Some pure wool can be, well, a bit unpleasant. It really comes down to sheep breed, micron count and how the yarn is processed. But we can talk about that another day.

Tell me in the comments, what do you love about one hundred percent wool? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Mindy Kingery

Mindy Kingery

When I'm not dyeing, designing or dreaming of yarn, you can find me digging in my garden, hiking with my family or working on one of my many, many WIPs.

12 Comments

  1. I agree! The lanolin and bounce, the springy squish – there is nothing like pure wool. When I work with superwash the song goes through my head, “You’ve changed…”

    1. Thank you for sharing, Kari. And, ohhhh…I’m going to have that song running through my head now every time I touch a skein of superwash yarn! lol

  2. I adore working with the natural fibers, wool, silk, cotton. If I am knitting for someone who doesn’t know how to take care of them, I use super wash wool so they don’t end up with a shawl for a gnome! Or fingerless mitts for a baby. I love to use wool for me, my family & people who know how to treat the lovely fabric.

    1. Hi Laurel, thanks for sharing your thoughts! That’s a very good point about using superwash yarn for gifts. I definitely feel there are appropriate times to use it. Like you said, we wouldn’t want a lovingly-made gift to end up as a toy (unless it was meant to be one!) =)

  3. I didn’t know what was involved to making superwash wool and only recently have I had the pleasure of knitting with 100% wool. I find the 100% wool a lot more easy and pleasant to work with than I thought. I think there will be some more projects worked in 100% wool and I will think before just grabbing the easy wash/care for superwash fibers and consider non-superwash fibers too.

    1. Hi Bonita, I’m so glad you’ve discovered the pleasures of knitting with 100% wool. I love that it still has a bit of grip to it and I don’t have to worry about it slipping off my needles! =)

  4. I agree with Laurel. Sometimes superwash is the way to go depending on the recipient. But I love my pure wool since it gets softer with each wash and, if taken care of properly, will last and last.

    1. I completely agree, Marlene. I can’t see myself ever using non-superwash wool for, say, a baby sweater. So there are appropriate uses for superwash. And, yes, you make excellent points about how it continues to soften with washing and age and that wool is wonderful for long-lasting garments. Ahh…I could sing the praises of wool all day long! lol

  5. I was a weaver for many years and am still a spinner. There is nothing like having your hands deep in natural fleece and feeling it move through your hands as it spins into yarn … just lovely.

    I just finished the cowl project with you Mindy … It was a fun project with a beautiful design from Jessica Ays and your awesome hand dyed wool! Thank you!

    I’ve used superwash a time or two for socks, but really do prefer the untreated wools.

    1. Oh, Beth, that sounds amazing to feel the wool run through your hands during spinning!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the Efflorescence Cowl KAL. It was a fun project with a great group of knitters! Thank you for being a part of it =)

  6. I haven’t worked much with wool, either treated or untreated. I do have some untreated wool in my stash that will be super itchy if I try to make a garment out of it, but now I realize that it’s probably because it’s not high-quality wool. Thank you for educating me!

    1. Hi Angela! Thank you for taking the time to comment. The spectrum of wool softness- measured in microns- is quite extensive so if you have some scratchy wool in your stash, it probably has a high micron count. It may not make a great sweater or shawl, but it might pass for a hat (maybe). Or, it might make a really great home decor project.

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