Or, The Case of the Mysterious Shrinking-Expanding Sweater

Last Friday, I stopped to browse around Marshall's and Ross on my way home from work (which is a more frequent occurrence than I might like to admit, since they are so conveniently located). I have had it in the back of my mind for a while that I wanted a black, drapey, open cardigan, and I found the perfect one at Ross, for the perfect price, too! It was thin and almost sheer, with just enough but not too much fabric in the drape, and very soft, to boot. Plus it was the only one I saw on the rack! Needless to say I snatched it up and brought that puppy home (and then proceeded to wear it around the apartment with the tags still on for the next couple of hours, reveling in my shopping success. Don't judge.).

On Saturday, I did like three loads of laundry and also convinced myself to wash the growing pile of things that needed to be washed by hand, including the new sweater. (I always wash new things before I wear them for real.) It said "hand wash cold separately; lay flat to dry," so that's what I proceeded to do. Washing things by hand never ceases to gross me out, because you get to see the sinkful of murky water that has been produced by YOUR beloved clothing, and this sweater was no exception. I carefully spread it out on a towel on the bedroom floor, doing my best to make sure the drapey part wasn't awkwardly wrinkled in any way, and I left it at that.

As I walked by later I thought the sweater looked awfully small, but I figured it was just an optical illusion.

Still later, I walked by and held the small-appearing sweater up to my torso and thought it seemed short, but again convinced myself my eyes were playing tricks on me.

The next morning I contemplated wearing it to church even though the thicker parts were still a bit damp. I put it on and found that the sleeves....were now 3/4 sleeves when they had been full-length!! What?!? I followed the care instructions to a T! What was going on? I grumpily showed it to A. and hung it up on a hanger to dry the rest of the way, thinking gravity might help me out.

Lo and behold, come Monday morning I put the sweater on and it was back to normal. I even wore it to work that day. All I can figure is that something about the fabric made it draw up when it was wet and release back out to normal as it dried.

The sweater is made out of cotton "slub" fabric and looks something like this:


According to a random website I found via a quick Google search (what? being honest here), "One of the early problems with automated carding and spinning processes was the appearance of an incidental section of the yarn that was fuller than the yarn was intended to be." This bit was known as a slub, and its allowable levels in finished products were carefully regulated. It continues, "Over time, however, the concept of yarns containing a high count of slubs as a textural and style alternative began to develop." The so-called slubs are woven right into the fabric, creating a texture/pattern like seen above. And that's what my sweater is made out of! My thought is that maybe the variance in quality of spinning created the shrinking-expanding effect. I'm sure there's a rational explanation. But it was still awfully bizarre to have a sweater fit perfectly upon purchase, shrink to doll size when it was washed, and turn back into a human-sized item of clothing once it dried.

Have you had any experience with weird fabrics? What's your worst apparel washing nightmare scenario?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman