Sunday, 4 October 2009

Pre-washing colourmart cashmere

A few years ago I went on a mad spree at Colourmart and purchased various cones of cashmere in different weights. For anyone not in the know, this cashmere is sold as remainders from industrial production batches, which means that it comes on cones and is slightly oiled for
machine knitting. It also means you get cashmere at a bargain price!

My resulting stash looked a bit like this...

There have been various discussions on the Colourmart Yahoo forum about whether it is better to wash the yarn before using it for hand knitting. The answer is that it is really a matter of personal preference.

You can certainly use it 'as is' for handknitting. Some knitters prefer to because it means that their finished stitches meld
together more tightly after blooming, making for a stronger fabric. It doesn't feel quite as nice as cashmere bought on the ball would, and it often has a slight smell of machine oil. But when you wash the finished item, it blooms like a butterfly and becomes a thing of gorgeous, plush softness. It also tends to shrink a little in length (and sometimes grows in width) which has to be factored in by the knitter. The golden rule when doing this is to wash a swatch before starting.

Other knitters (and I have decided that I am one of these) prefer to pre-wash the yarn before knitting. This way you get to knit with the unoiled version of the yarn, which feels lovely and soft while knitting. Also you get a more predictable result, with less shrinkage and blooming in the finished product.

So... having hidden the above stash in a cupboard for eons, I decided it was high time to do a big batch of pre-washing. This post is simply to share my method and results with any Colourmart fans out there who have not yet given it a go.

So here goes...

1. Step 1 - Wind the yarn into skeins

I used my swift to do this, because (as the name implies) I find it much quicker than using a niddy noddy. Once they were wound, I tied them in at least 4 places to keep the threads nice and straight.

2. Step 2 - pre-soak the skeins

Here is where you might gasp in horror... I like to pre-soak the yarn in none other than Fairy liquid, diluted in lukewarm water.
Whatever you may think about cashmere, it is actually quite a hardy fibre and copes with this very well. Fairy liquid does a
lovely job of removing the machine oil in a first pass and leaves the skeins remarkably soft. I soaked the skeins for 5 mins
before wringing out gently.

Step 3 - mashine wash the skeins

My washing machine has a wool cycle, which is an ideal way to wash the skeins and get out any remaining traces of machine oil. First of all, I placed the skeins inside some zip-up washing bags (the sort used to wash delicate underwear). Then I added a good amount of wool-friendly washing detergent and a dose of fabric conditioner. (My cycle washes at 40 degrees C, takes 50 mins and has a spin speed of 800).

When the skeins came out, they were extremely plumped up and soft. A couple of them came out a little puckered, like the one shown below, but a good stretch was all it took to revert them to a taut, flat state.

Step 4 - dry the skeins

The skeins seem to dry pretty quickly over a radiator or even a well aired banister. I like to turn them every couple of hours to help them dry evenly. I also removed the ties to avoid getting kinks in the fibre.

Step 5 - admire!
The finished skeins are lovely and soft and considerably plumper than the oiled thread that I had when I started. They can now
be wound into balls, and will be a pleasure to knit with. I just need to decide what to use them for...
Here are a few pics of the dried skeins


  1. Absolutely gorgeous!

    I am a pre-washer as well and have never had the nerve to put them in the machine. Maybe next time I will try your method.

    Happy luxury knitting:-)

  2. Hi Diane, thanks for your comment :-)

    I hope machine washing works out for you... (at the very least it helped to prevent the wrinkly washerwoman's hands that I end up with after lengthy handwashing!)

    The most crucial thing is to tie the skeins in several places. (After doing that I was able to put a few skeins inside each washing bag)

    Have fun!

  3. beautiful job

    A question though, is your a top load or front load washer?

  4. Hello there, it is a front loader (I live in the UK, so it's a British style front-loading machine). Hope that helps...

  5. really interesting, i might try that! thanks for sharing!

  6. Did you really manage to rinse all the soap suds out???

  7. Hi Monadelphus. Yes, the suds all came out in the washing machine, with no problem.

  8. Just in time with this awesome report!

    I wanted to knit with some cashmere (black) and was unsure how. I gasped at the temperature, but you're right.

    I'll try it and will let you know how it panned out.
    (I was linked via ColourMart Group/Ravelry).


  9. Good luck Monique, I hope the pre-washing works for you.

  10. Thanx for posting this, but what is Fairy Liquid?

  11. Hi Jessica, are you from the US? Fairy liquid is the UK's leading brand of washing up liquid (the stuff you squirt in when you are washing up by hand). I am not sure what the US equivalent would be... (maybe Daylight?)

  12. We are producing 100% cotton yarn of several counts ranging from 10/s up to 40/s for knitting and weaving.
    yarn exporter in Pakistan
    standard textile Mills Pakistan