Tips for buying pre-loved knits this winter

Tips for buying pre-loved knits this winter

Ahhhh, my electric blanket.  I love you so much, but unlike my high school boyfriend I cannot spend my entire day with you (and then hours on the phone, to the annoyance of my entire family).  While a man I sat next to on a flight in 2016 told me about a coat that operates much like a mobile electric blanket, I deleted the note I made of the brand long ago.  And so I must kick it old school, pre-technology, and turn to wool. 

We’ve been spinning wool since around 5000BC, and even after 7000 years we produce a huge amount of woollen clothing every year.  While wool is a natural fibre, and therefore better at decomposition, keep two things in mind:

  • Harvesting, spinning and dying the yarn, and turning it into clothes, still burns precious resources
  • Many landfills don’t work that well as decomposting sites, so there’s no guarantee your natural fibre is rotting away peacefully

Great news is, there’s heaps of good quality pre-loved knitwear out and about – so I thought I’d share what to look for and what to do to make sure you can keep super toasty, on the cheap.  Let’s imagine ourselves in our local op shop or Savemart, shall we?

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First up, you want to buy wool.  Just wool.  I’ve seen a weird number of ads for cotton jumpers or cardigans this year, and I do not understand who thinks cotton will keep them warm when it’s “feels like 2 degrees” on the Metservice app (maybe this is an Auckland-and-northwards thing).  Synthetics avoid the potential for itch that comes with wool, but I’m yet to buy a synthetic jumper that can last the distance of woollen fabrics, or keep me as warm.  Woollen fabrics also repel water, and require way less washing than synthetics (because they breathe much better). 

I look for two kinds of knits: hugely chunky (as pictured) and super fine.  I love a super chunky jumper with jeans or a mini skirt and boots on the weekend; I love those super fine knits for work and to layer under things.  Either way, you want to look for something that’s not stretched or warped, and which still has a good smooth surface – avoid anything that looks like it’s turning into felt.  If you're going for something chunky, I favour the "someone's Nana made this" look - the jumper I'm wearing here was made on a loom, but you get the gist.  I want to see some complex knitting patterns in action and I want to have made absolutely no effort to learn how to read a knitting pattern.

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If it looks like it’s basically the same shape and texture as the day it was made, next up you want to check very carefully for holes.  Knits will unravel forever if they get holes in them, and those holes could suggest some moth action.  I’ve made one exception in my life for this rule, and that’s for the hole in the left hand sleeve of this jumper.  It was so “rugged shepherd” that the hole was a-okay (also – you cannot be cold in this jumper.  You basically become the sheep when you wear this jumper.)

Great! You’ve picked a new jumper.  Now we take it home.

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Put your jumper directly into the freezer and leave it there for 48 hours.  This will make sure that if you have moth eggs in the jumper, they will never ever hatch.  After 48 hours you can defrost your jumper and then either wash it yourself using a specific liquid wash for woollens, or take it to your local drycleaner and get them to sort it for you.  Do not throw it in the wash with your other clothes (imagine a pained emoji here).  Love your wool!  It had to be grown for you by a little fat sheep, after all.

Pro tip, absolutely not born from experience - do not accidentally put your jumper next to some very delicious but very fragrant lamb sausages in the freezer.  Cold, sausagey wool is not what we're going for here (wait for that to somehow be a trend in 2020). 

Final step: wear it and feel toasty warm because (a) wool and (b) smug feelings of not buying overpriced high street knits that feck out after a season.

You might find wool itchy, particularly if you aren’t used to wearing it.  I generally find that I benefit from an occasional antihistamine at the start of winter, but then adjust to the wool on my skin. Another option is the tissue-thin long sleeve tshirts from AS Colour, which provide a barrier between your skin and the wool.  Failing that, try to avoid “rough” wools like this jumper, and look for very fine merino, angoras, or (my lifetime favourite) cashmere.  I’ve found the first two in second hand shops, but never cashmere – although hope springs eternal on that one.

Let's just say, I understand why the super rich wear cashmere everything.