Machine-Washing Handknit Socks!

When you work in wool, you read a lot of ball bands. Normally I pay attention to the fiber content or fun colorway names - rarely do washing instructions catch my eye. But when I first came across Rauma’s Vandre yarn, the “machine wash before use” instructions struck me as odd if not blasphemous: how many of us double and triple check our wash to make sure none of our precious handknits are inside? 

This May I had the delight of traveling to Oslo, Norway and when I saw skeins of Vandre at the shops, I just knew I had to pick some up. Inspired by all the Norwegian motifs and traditional colors, I grabbed one skein each of bright blue, red, and natural cream. Naturally, I had to cast on a pair and report my findings to the other Thistlers who are curious to try this yarn but are also nervous to follow the care instructions. 

Rauma Vandre at The Woolly Thistle

The Yarn 

Vandre has a rustic feel yet isn’t scratchy. Its 2-ply construction is not prone to splitting and the colors have a rich saturation. Half of the wool in Vandre comes from the Spælsau, a short tailed sheep from Norway credited as one of its oldest breeds. Rauma says that these socks need to be washed to help the long hairs settle and create a stronger product. Working with the yarn, I saw immediately what they meant – long fibers would poke out here and there. After seeing photos of the sheep behind the wool, it made sense in the skein: look at those long curls! 

Norway sheep

Knitting the Socks 

The motif at the top is from an exhibit we saw at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. I was particularly inspired by the works of Norway’s most famous knitwear designer, Unn Søiland Dale, who in the 1950s elevated the craft from a home hobby to being featured on movie screens. Her “Marius” motif was the most knitted one in Norway and can be seen on ski sweaters, hats, and skirts. I just knew it was the perfect addition to my souvenir socks. 

Norwegian sweaters at Norwegian Museum of Cultural History    Unn Søiland Dale's Marius sweater design in the movies

I turned to one of my favorite teaching patterns for the actual instruction: Rye by Tin Can Knits. These are great learning patterns and they even released an app where you can specify your size so you only see one set of stitch numbers. My motif was 20 stitches, meaning it perfectly fit two times in the 40 stitches called for on my pattern. This method would be a great way of incorporating those gorgeous colorwork motifs you see in books like Anne Bårdsgård’s Selbu Patterns.  

Machine Washing  

After winning a game of yarn chicken by one gram, I was nervous to finally machine wash knowing I didn’t have enough yarn to knit another if things went south. First thing was to determine which setting to use: a wool or hand wash setting. I was partially nervous to mess up the cycle as I’m notorious for using the wrong settings on my clothes. I will also mention that my washing machine, unlike myself, understands only Celcius and German. If you, like myself, don’t understand Celcius, here's the conversion rate…

  • 40° C = 104° F
  • 30° C = 86° F

My machine gave me two options under the “Wolle/Hand” setting, 40 minutes at 40° C or 36 minutes at 36°C. The instructions say to wash at 40° for no more than an hour, so I decided to do the 40 minutes at 104° F. While the instructions don’t mention soap, I did take the liberty of adding some wool soap to my sock just to help wash it as I mostly knit on my public transit commutes. So into the wash my sock went and I waited patiently for the results…

The Results  

I’m very pleased to announce that my socks did not shrink and, better yet, my colorwork turned out as crisp as an autumn leaf! You can see the difference between the two socks below, the left one marked with a stitch marker is unwashed and the right one went through the machine. 

Handknit socks in Rauma Vandre by Mary Claire

The fabric is a bit denser but my gauge did not significantly change, going from 4 ½ stitches per inch to 5 stitches per inch. I even did a test try-on: I can feel the stitches a bit more on the unwashed sock, while the washed one feels more solid underneath my feet.  

This pair of socks, even though it used three colors, came out to a little under 250 yards or the total of two skeins. If you’re curious to try out Rauma on your own, definitely check out this year’s Worldwide Fusion Sock Bag: it comes with three skeins (two MC and one CC) which would be perfect for making your own pair! 

I’m curious to hear what your experiences with Rauma Vandre were and even more interested to hear how washing them went! Let us know if you have any tips & tricks or if you’ve heard of other yarns that encourage machine washing non-superwash wool before wearing.

With the Sock Sprint going on I can’t wait to see the pairs y’all make. There's still time to cast on a pair of socks and knit along with us! Through July 27th, we're doing our best to sprint our way through a pair (any pair! any yarn!) of socks. Use the hashtag #2023twtsocksprint and join along! Happy (sock) knitting Thistlers!

The Woolly Thistle 2023 Sock Sprint graphic 

1 comment

  • Martha Guyer

    Great explanation. Can you wash socks in the washing machine with WT Rambler yarn. I bought the Moongate sock kit when it came out. It’s my traveling knitting. Was just wondering if I can wash socks in machine and lay flat to dry. Take care Martha

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