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Over a year ago I was gifted a lovely cat ear hat that was hand knit by an artist on Etsy.

Cat ear hat

I love wearing it but since I've worn it so many times (and sometimes wear headphones over it while at work) it has stretched out quite a bit and now falls off my head easily.

Is there a safe way to shrink it back to its unstretched size?

I've asked the person who gifted me the hat for the shop they bought it from, and the creator says it is made of a wool blend.

I wanted to ask before doing something rash, like throwing it in the dryer.

  • 2
    Can you add a photo of it - we can tell you whether it's knit or crochet just by looking at it... they're usually pretty distinct? Can you guess how much it's been stretched? Have you ever washed it? – Catija Jan 3 '18 at 16:18
  • I asked the person who gave me the hat for information about the seller, and I will take a picture when I get home from work. It's probably stretched by at least 1/4 of the original size (125%). It's been washed only once (accidentally) in a cold cycle. – Wimateeka Jan 3 '18 at 16:46
  • Material will definitely make a difference - you can shrink something like wool, but not acrylic. You could do a burn test to check if it's acrylic, but you'd need a spare scrap of yarn for that, is that possible? There may be other non-destructive ways to tell but I'd have to do some research.. – user812786 Jan 3 '18 at 20:47
  • Image added; let me know what technique was used (crocheting? knitting?) so I can update the question and corresponding tags. I am waiting on the person who gifted the hat to get back to me. I will see if I can get information that way first before I go setting things on fire :P – Wimateeka Jan 4 '18 at 13:58
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    If this isn't the same hat, it's extremely similar. The edging is identical, I think. This is not to say this is the exact item in the shop that you have... but the pattern is the same, so it's likely the same seller. – Catija Jan 8 '18 at 4:55
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It doesn't matter whether the hat was made with knit or crochet.

  1. Suppose it has wool fiber content, or unknown fiber content. If unknown, we must assume it has some wool in it, to play it safe.

    Premeasuring (in preparation for blocking). Turn the hat inside out and lay it out flat on a table. Measure the half-circumference of the hat by measuring the width of the cuff or bottom band. Stand the tape measure on its edge to allow it to follow the natural curve of the hat, or allow your tape measure to come up from the horizontal plane if necessary to follow the curvature of the hat. Also measure the height (from the edge, or folded cuff edge, to the top, or center of the crown). Write down the measurements. Now turn the hat right-side out and put it on. Pinch the cloth with your fingers and look in the mirror, to try to figure out how much too big the hat is for you, in each direction. Keep the fact that you're working with a half circumference measurement in mind. Subtract from what you measured and write down what you think the ideal measurements would be for this hat.

    Washing. Even if it's wool, you can wash the hat by hand in cold water. Woolite would be a reasonable choice but laundry soap or detergent labeled for baby clothes would also work. Don't scrub, just swish the garment around and let it soak for five minutes. Rinse several times, using a tiny bit of fabric softener in the last rinse. When you're done, do not wring (twist); instead, gently squeeze dry to the point where it's not dripping copiously. Since your garment is small, if you like, you could put it in a colander and then push a similarly shaped bowl down on it to get a bit more water out. (If you are a body builder, do not use much strength when pushing down on the colander.) Now, lay out a clean, dry, old towel and put your garment on it. Start to roll the towel by folding over the short end and continuing to roll it up, with the garment going along like a jelly roll. When you've rolled up the whole towel, you may fold it in half. Wait a few minutes and unroll. Lay the garment on another old towel to dry. Or lay it flat on a "sweater dryer."

    Blocking. You will work with a steam iron with a misting button. If the garment is fully dry when you start, you'll mist it with water (both front and back), but if it's still a little damp, you can skip the misting. Lay it out on an ironing board or a folded towel on an old table. Measure. Let the damp fabric bunch up a bit if necessary to get the desired measurements that you wrote down before washing. Preheat your iron to medium and switch on the steam feature. Cover the garment with a "press cloth," a clean piece of cotton cloth or a clean, thin dish towel. In a pinch you could use an old cotton T-shirt. Use the iron like a hover board over the fabric sandwich. The idea is to create steam which will encourage the garment to take the desired measurements. Don't press down on the fabric sandwich, and don't let go of the iron. You may allow the iron to come into the tiniest bit of contact with the top (cotton) layer. From time to time, set the iron down and lift up the cover cloth, to check if the desired measurements have been achieved yet.

    When you've reached the desired dimensions, uncover the garment but don't move it, and allow it to air dry in place.

    If there's no wool fiber content, the garment will probably not benefit from blocking. In that case, follow Method 2.

  2. Suppose there is no wool in this hat. Hand wash as described above (except you may squeeze a little harder). After the towel roll-up step, put your garment in the dryer along with a clean, dry old towel. Set the dryer on "gentle," "delicate" or "low." Check, and give it a few more minutes if necessary. The dryer will activate the elasticity in the fibers. If the garment is cotton or mostly cotton, there may not be any elasticity to activate. In this case, repost with a photograph of the hat and information about the dimensions. It might be possible to give the hat a little bit of reconstruction.

  • Nice answer. I suggest a change to the advice in 2 to put the hat in the dryer with a towel. Synthetic fibers pill very easily so tumbling with a towel could negatively impact the hat's appearance. It would be better to tumble the hat inside out with something smooth and synthetic to make sure the hat tumbles. Also, the explanation of the dryer "activating the elasticity of the fibers" makes it sound like the fibers become stretchier. In fact, with wool fiber the fiber permanently shrinks up, it's called felting. Cotton fiber also shrinks due to rearrangement of the intermolecular structure. – user1798 Jan 9 '18 at 17:39
  • I found out that it is a wool blend and updated the question accordingly. Feel free to update your answer. – Wimateeka Jan 9 '18 at 21:11
  • @Wimateeka - But we still don't know how washable this wool is. If you want to be really safe and prevent any unwanted felting and true shrinking, best to play it safe: wash by hand very gently in cold water, do not twist or wring, dry flat. – aparente001 Jan 10 '18 at 17:30
  • @abbie - You know more about what's going on microscopically than I do. I'm speaking from experience, without the benefit of the structural knowledge you have. When I wrote "activate," what I meant was that often when a garment gets a bit stretched out of shape, washing and drying in a dryer can help restore its original dimensions; but I've had somewhat less luck with this with cotton knits than with other fibers. // I would not put wool in the dryer. – aparente001 Jan 10 '18 at 17:34
  • @abbie - Re the towel idea: are you saying some lint from the towel might stick to the hat, or the towel could trigger more pilling? Something "smooth and synthetic" -- could you give an example or two of some commonly found items that would fit the bill? The only thing I could think of when reading that description is a nylon half slip. Am I on the right track? – aparente001 Jan 10 '18 at 17:36
3

A great way to rescue a stretched out ribbing is by adding rows of shirring elastic to the ribbing (on the inside).

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The one factor missing here is knowing whether the yarn is “superwash” wool or not. Here is a description of Superwash Wool, as well as care instructions. Superwash will not shrink back into shape no matter how much blocking or steaming, or drying in a dryer, you do. In fact it can grow even more when washed. So if you have tried all of the above methods and the hat is still too large, the yarn is very likely Superwash, and the only way to get a stretched-out Superwash hat tightened is indeed by using either elastic, or elastic thread, to pull the ribbing band into a tighter dimension. (I started this as a comment to agree with @Jane above, but apparently my comment is too long so it became a separate answer.)

Here is a youtube demonstration on applying elastic thread to the lower edge of a stretched-out hat using a crochet hook. This would work for either a kniitted or crocheted hat.

I have also had excellent success with elastic thread by using a darning needle to run 3 or 4 straight stitch rows along the inside edge of the hat, spaced about 1/4” apart. As she shows in the video, elastic thread comes in “clear,” which virtually disappears into the fabric, and if applied on the inside will be completely invisible on the outside of the hat. This invisibility is a big advantage over sewing actual elastic bands onto the inside of the hat.

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The hat is definitely knitted. You have several variables to think about - fiber content (unknown, TBD), yarn size and openness (fairly loose and open), and fabric construction (knit).

I suggest not burning a yarn to ID the fiber content of the hat; if it's acrylic you don't want to breathe the fumes, if it's cotton it could flare up and burn you. Wait to hear from the maker - this is an easy question for him/her to answer. You can search for your hat maker on Etsy ("knitted cat-ear hat") or ask your friend for the name of the maker.

If the hat is made of cotton (doesn't look like it), or wool fiber you can wash and reshape it. For these fibers, either wash by hand or on a delicate machine cycle, and machine-dry either by tumbling in a warm dryer until almost dry and reshaping it - scrunching it up a little - on a towel to complete drying, or completely drying in the dryer for maximum shrinkage.

If the hat is a manufactured/synthetic fiber -in which case it will most likely be acrylic- you will need to try and shrink the fabric (the knit) back into shape since the fiber does not shrink. Chances are the knit fabric just got stretched out. After washing, dry the hat completely in a warm (not hot) dryer.

My guess is the hat is made of acrylic fiber/yarn. Acrylics are easy-care - meaning they machine wash and dry quite nicely so you don't have to worry about damage unless you use a hot dryer.

Very cool hat, good luck!

  • I found out that it is a wool blend and updated the question accordingly. Feel free to update your answer. – Wimateeka Jan 9 '18 at 21:11
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Fabric care for a fiber blend should be based on the most delicate fiber in the mix, in this case the wool (percent of a fiber is also important, which is discussed below) . Wool fiber is a protein fiber like silk, and is weaker when wet, so be gentle with it, no tight squeezing, wringing, or agitation. (In contrast, cotton is stronger when wet so wringing out cotton items is OK.).

Use a large bowl or a plastic dish pan to hand-wash the hat. Make a cool solution of Woolite or delicate care liquid laundry detergent, use just a little detergent to a lot of water - a lot of suds means you have used too much. Push the hat up and down gently through the water. You can soak it if it is also really dirty, but in any case, be gentle.

Gently squeeze out the solution. Fill the bowl with cool water and repeat as above a few times, till there are no suds in the rinse water, 2-3 rinses should be fine.

Gently squeeze out the last rinse water. Loosely lay the hat on a clean folded towel and put another folded towel over it. Push gently on the top towel and hold and press gently for a few seconds to get most of the water out.

Depending on the percent of wool in the blend, you may or may not want to block it with steam. If the wool percent is high, say over 40 %, the steam blocking method described so well by @aparente001 is the way to go. Just be sure not to steam the ribbing when it’s stretched out, scrunch the ribbing together before steaming. The give and take - stretchiness- of the rib is what makes the hat fit around your face and head.

If the wool fiber content is low, say 20-40%, I would try blocking the hat by laying the washed and rinsed and gently squeezed and hand-pressed hat on a clean dry towel and scrunching the hat into the approximate size you want and patting it flat. Pay attention to the ribbing at the opening of the hat, push together the ribs a little all the way around.

If there is still a lot of water left in the hat at this point, you can repeat the two-towel sandwich and press and hold again.

The hat will dry faster if you use fresh dry towels through the drying process. Be sure to turn the hat over a few times as it dries. Do not hang the hat to dry, it will stretch.

If the percent of wool is very small, say 1-10% (which is true sometimes with expensive fibers like cashmere), and the rest is mostly acrylic, if it were me, I’d tumble dry the hat on low heat til it’s almost dry and then lay it on a towel. Acrylics are “self-blocking” in that they wash and dry beautifully and resume their original shape in the dryer.

Without knowing the exact composition of the blend, I.e., all the fibers in the blend and their percentages, it’s hard to be more specific than this.

Good luck! The friend who gave you the hat must be very pleased that you like it so much!

  • @Jane I agree! This works great! – Laurent R. Feb 19 at 17:46

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