Crochet Class: How to Soften Yarn

Some yarn is scratchy. That’s not a judgment, it’s just a statement of fact. Not all yarn can be soft like cashmere, baby alpaca, or vicuña, nor would we want it to be. However, we sometimes use a scratchy yarn for projects that would be better suited for a soft yarn. I’ve been guilty of using scratchy yarn for sweaters and shawls even though I know better. When you know how to soften yarn, you have some leeway in using scratchy yarn even when you shouldn’t.

The problem with scratchy yarn, besides the obvious, is drape. Scratchy yarn is often stiff, which will make garments look rigid and feel uncomfortable. Softening and blocking your projects will give them good definition in addition to making them more comfortable to wear.

how to soften yarn

Swatches of scratchy yarn before softening.

Above are 2 swatches before softening. As you can see, they are a bit lumpy – meaning they don’t have very nice drape.

The top brown swatch is made in Patons Astra, which is a light-weight 100% acrylic yarn in colorway medium tan. It’s not the scratchiest acrylic on the market, but it could use a little softening, if for no other reason than to give it better drape.

The bottom teal swatch is made in Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok Worsted, which is 100% Fine Highland Wool in colorway spring ice. It’s not the scratchiest wool out there, but since I want to use this on a shawl, it doesn’t hurt to soften it and block it to bring out the stitch pattern.

Below are the same swatches after they’ve been softened. As you can see, the stitch definition really pops on them. They are also softer and have better drape.

how to soften yarn

Swatches of scratchy yarn after softening.

To learn how I softened these swatches, keep reading!

How to Soften Acrylic Yarn

One of the most beloved attributes of acrylic yarn is that it’s machine washable and dryable. This easy-care characteristic makes it ideal for almost every project, except for the scratchiness factor and the drape issues. Yarn companies are finding ways to make acrylic yarn softer and softer these days, but many acrylic yarns are still scratchy. Here’s how to soften projects made with acrylic yarn:

Method

Step 1: Machine wash and dry your project with a load of laundry (like jeans and shirts) using your regular detergent and fabric softener. I used Sun powdered detergent and one All brand dryer sheet on the swatches below.

Step 2: Block your project by first pinning it to a blocking mat to size, then steam iron (but do not touch the iron to the project, as the yarn will melt). I used a Conair Extreme Steam Fabric Steamer with Dual Heat. Allow project to dry completely.

That’s it! If it’s not quite as soft as you’d like, repeat the steps.

How to Soften Wool Yarn

Wool yarn is much beloved for its loft and warmth. However, projects made in wool may felt if you place them in the washer and dryer, so you can’t use the same softening method as acrylic. Some suggest that wool gets softer after wearing it a bunch, but that doesn’t help in the short term. Here’s a trick for softening projects made in wool yarn:

Method

Step 1: Soak your garment in water and fiber wash specifically made for wool. I used Eucalan and followed the directions on the bottle.

Step 2: Place a dollop of hair conditioner in your hands (I used Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Cream Conditioner), rub your hands together, then gently rub them across your garment, transferring the conditioner to the garment. Don’t over-agitate your fabric.

Step 3: Place another dollop of hair conditioner in your hands. Rinse off the conditioner under running water, and let the water fill the sink. Repeat a few times. Basically, you are just trying to make conditioner water, but sometimes conditioner gets lumpy in water. This method allows it to dissolve better.

Step 4: Soak your garment in the sink full of conditioner water for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Step 5: Rinse the garment in a sink full of clean water a couple of times.

Step 6: Gently press the water out of your garment with your hands. Don’t over-agitate or compress too much.

Step 7: Place garment on a dry towel and roll the towel capturing the garment between the roll. Gently press to dry garment.

Step 8: Block your project by pinning it to a blocking mat to a desired size. Allow it to dry completely.

That wasn’t too bad, was it? If your project is not quite as soft as you’d like, repeat steps 2-8.

A Note about Softened Yarn

I think it needs to be said that although these methods will soften yarn, they will in no way make your yarn feel as soft as vicuña. It just won’t. However, these methods will soften your yarn enough to make it worth your time. And, if your project is a gift, it’s a kind thing to do to soften the project before giving it away.

Wrapped in Lace Shawl from Love of Crochet Winter 2017.

The swatches and shawl in this post are from the Wrapped in Lace Shawl by Natasha Robarge in Love of Crochet Winter 2017. As you can see from the picture, the shawl has really nice drape now that it’s been softened. Be forewarned: this easy pattern is addictive. I have my hooks in a second one as we speak.

Do you know of other methods for softening yarn? Let me know in the comments.

Dana


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