Softening an Acrylic Yarn Project

This is the fifth post in a series, in which I’m sharing lessons learned as I progress on my yarn art journey.  To see the complete list of posts in this series, please visit the Guess what, yarn art newbie? page.

Lesson 5:  Softening an Acrylic Yarn Project

When I started learning to crochet, I thought it would be fun to make gifts for special occasions.  Oh, I was so naive then.  If only I could go back and tell myself in the past some of the things I’ve learned…  Like how hard it can be to choose a project for a friend or family member who doesn’t really have opinions about crochet, or who simply wants something handmade by you and doesn’t care much what it is, or who has very specific tastes and likely won’t care for anything you choose to make them unless it’s a blanket.  At least, these are the perceptions I’ve developed over the years.  Maybe none of them are true, but that’s my paranoia and I’m sticking to it. :-p

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve been making projects for special occasions for about 3 or 4 years.  Mostly baby and bridal showers, with a few special requests here and there.  What I find myself using, especially for the larger projects, is what I’ve referred to as economical yarn in a previous post.  There are a couple of reasons for this:  First, it’s economical.  Not that I mind using premium yarn for gifts, but sometimes those gifts are pretty darn big, and that can get expensive fast!  Second, because the recipients often don’t know or care about the differences between economical yarn and specialty yarn.  It’s simply not that important to them.  And if they knew you were planning to make them something using expensive yarn, they’d probably ask you not to.  I mean, most of them… right?

So here I am with a cousin soon to be married.  It’s been a tradition, as I said, since I learned to crochet, that I make something for each family member’s special occasions.  I’ve done so for three babies and one wedding, and dude, weddings are definitely the hardest.  My first wedding gift resulted in one of my favorite projects that I’m most proud of:  A sea turtle hatchling blanket. 🙂

In my least-hipster-sounding voice, I just want to add this disclaimer that I made this before the sea turtle blankets became a thing.  I had seen the hexagons made by Trifles and Treasures, and thought they would make a neat throw blanket, so I planned out how I wanted it to look and started crocheting.  It was the first project I’d ever really designed to this extent, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  When I finally started making the hexagons, I began to see how very small my blanket was going to be, and I had to modify the design quite a bit to make it large enough.  It seemed to grow and grow, even after I’d achieved a good throw blanket size.  In any case, I’m happy with it. 🙂  And when sea turtle blankets started becoming a thing, my project got a lot of views and compliments, so that was nice.

But I digress…

The thing about economical yarns is that sometimes the sacrifice you make for manageable pricing is the softness of your yarn.  After all, it is a synthetic fiber.  For weddings, I really don’t know what you could crochet for the happy couple that would be any more practical than a snuggly blanket. 🙂  But just how snuggly can it be when it’s made of a budget-friendly synthetic scratchy yarn?

Once I started to realize that my blanket was going to need some help, I turned to – where else? – the Internet.  If you Google “how to soften yarn,” you’ll find all kinds of tips and tricks and methods.  I read several things that suggested shampoo and especially conditioner would do for stiff acrylic yarn the same thing it does to my poor frizzy locks.  Made sense…  And on one of those pages, I read a commenter state that it wasn’t actually conditioner that made the magical difference, but the agitation and manipulation of the finished fabric.  That also made sense…  So I went into it with this general plan:

I would buy some cheap shampoo and conditioner, hand-massage each into the blanket, with a thorough rinse in between.  The only problem is that I don’t have a tub large enough to do that in besides my bathtub, and I did NOT like the idea of that.  (I’ve got a bit of germaphobe in me that thinks my bathtub can’t ever be clean enough – especially for something like this).  The kitchen sink didn’t seem large enough, so my only other option was the washing machine.

I filled the washing machine about half (medium load size) with water, then massaged in the shampoo.  Not as easy as you’d think.  My back protested loudly.  Once I felt the shampoo was in there good, I let it run through the agitation cycle on delicate.  I felt like this would give it just enough agitation to work the fibers, but not so much to ruin it.  I let it rinse and drain, then I repeated the rinse and drain until I didn’t see any bubbles left.  After that, I repeated the process with conditioner.

Although I briefly considered attempting to block the blanket, something so thick and heavy made me nervous about the smell.  I wasn’t sure if it would sour or not, and the last thing you want is for your wedding gift to reek.  I read where someone said you could put an acrylic yarn project in a dryer on the lowest heat setting, so I tried that.  While I didn’t use liquid fabric softener in the washing process, I did throw in a dryer sheet for good measure.  I think it took a couple of cycles, but the blanket was finally dry and when I pulled it from the dryer I couldn’t believe how soft it was!

Now, don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t miraculously as soft as, say, alpaca or anything.  But compared to how it felt before the washing process, the difference was incredible.  I don’t have a before photo, but I figure that wouldn’t really help you to know how soft it truly was (or wasn’t).  The process did cause a bit of fuzziness.  Not a huge amount – and obviously, it didn’t felt or anything.  But I did take a clothing shaver to it in an attempt to smooth it out a bit.  I love the look of a freshly finished project, so this bothered me just a bit.  But I don’t think the recipient will even notice.  Besides, the softness is TOTALLY worth it!

The only downside I experienced was that now the blanket had a strong scent.  It didn’t stink, and I’m not sure if the scent was from the shampoo, conditioner, or dryer sheet…  But I don’t have to give it for another 6 months, so I figure I’ve got time to let it air out.  If I had a clothing line in the back yard, I’d let it hang out there for a day.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a way to soften up your stiff “budget-friendly” yarns, try one of those methods for yourself.  I’d pick something that isn’t super important for a trial run, though.  I wouldn’t have tried it on this blanket, except I knew if something catastrophic happened, I would still have plenty of time to re-make it if necessary.  And if it did work out, (which it did!), I would be ready far in advance of my gift-giving deadline.  Which is kind of a first for me.  And also something I’m super proud of. 😀

If you’re interested in more project details for this blanket, you can find them HERE.

(This isn’t the full size shown.  The blanket is folded over twice, so this is a quarter of the actual size.)

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