How to stretch your sweaters (properly)

Friday, March 17th 2017
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I've always rather liked domestic fixes to knitwear.

Darning holes, removing pilling, slimming bodies: I've consistently practiced and written about them all over the years. (Posts at those links). 

But being introduced to Love Cashmere up in Hawick, Scotland last year changed all that. Their service for repairing, washing and altering was so good (and such great value) that it undermined any argument for doing it at home. 

In October I wrote about giving them two cashmere sweaters to repair, and mentioned that they also slimmed down the fit in the waist at the same time. 

For £29, the results were fantastic, so I subsequently asked them to try another service on another two pieces: this time, stretching. 

Now I had tried stretching knitwear at home also (post, back in 2014). The method is pretty simple: wool stretches particularly when wet, so you spray the piece to make it damp, then stretch the sleeves of body and hold it for a few minutes. 

But there were several issues.

It was hard to stretch the body without distorting its shape; the results were mixed, with some knitwear not stretching at all; and even when it worked, it was hard to achieve more than half an inch consistently. 

This wasn't really surprising. The amount knitwear will stretch depends on several things, primarily the fibre (cashmere, merino etc), the elasticity of the yarn, and the way the garment is knitted (tightness, or structure such as cables). 

Anything with silk, linen or cotton in it, in particular, will hardly stretch at all. It's why those fibres are often used to give a garment greater stability.

Distortion in the shape of the piece is best controlled with variously sized racks - which is what Love Cashmere uses. It's called boarding.

You can see the racks above. They come in a range of sizes, and one from a larger size can be inserted into a smaller piece to stretch it.

If you want to add greater length to the body or sleeves, weighted paddles can be used to hold the piece in place (below). 

Generally the garments will be left on the rack for around an hour. They are then dried and - the crucial bit - put back on the rack to steam them. 

It is this steam pressing that has the greatest chance of locking in the new shape, particularly in terms of the stitches. The steam relaxes them initially, and then cool air is pulled through to set their new size and shape.

Without the pressing (shown below), the stitches relax over time (a few hours/days). This will always happen to an extent (even after steaming), but it should be minimal.

It was this last point which was the biggest issue with my domestic, amateur attempts. 

Even with all this work, most garments cannot be stretched by more than an inch in the sleeve or body length.

But anyone that has bought a lovely sweater in the wrong size (as I have, more than once) will know that an extra inch can be the difference between wearable and unwearable. 

Needless to say, Love Cashmere's results were good. I gave them a cashmere hoodie from Al Bazar and a cashmere half-zip top from Simone Abbarchi. Both gained half-an-inch to an inch on sleeves and body. 

If you want to alter knitwear, stretching is not the best option.

Much better to buy something that is a little too big in the waist, for example, and have it taken in. Knitwear is akin to outerwear like suede and leather in that respect.

But if the aim is rescuing a beautiful piece - as it was with my first piece around moth holes and pilling - £29 is definitely worth the money. 

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Very interesting indeed, I did not even know this service existed.


Hi Simon,
This is a kind of know-how that may need to be expanded beyond the UK.
Surprisingly enough, many bloggers do not pay attention to such an important topic. They don’t care, that’s it.


Fascinating, I may well take advantage of this as I have arms like an orangutang and struggle to find knitwear that fits well. How about an article on shoe stretching or shoe repairing in general. I’ve just had stretching done by a Japanese cobbler, who did a terrific job, salvaging an expensive, but seemingly unwearable pair of Cleverleys. He sent me photos of the process and it looked interesting.


Very very keen on this, especially within london. Have a pair that are desperate for some love ASAP!!!!


Phil, can you please sent me info on how he did this with pictures perhaps?

Matt S

Very interesting! I love seeing these maintenance tips. But is the opposite possible? I can’t find any sweaters these days that are short enough. Everyone seems to be making their sweaters longer these days to account for low-rise trousers (I assume). I find brands that have extra-small or small slim-fit sweaters that fit me, but they’re longer than the old size medium sweaters I have.

hugh memess

Can i take it from the fact you had to have the sweater stretched that you wouldn’t recommend Simone’s MTM knitwear, Simon?


I wouldn’t recommend him for shirts either……..


Have to say I’ve been very happy with my shirts from Simone. I’ve got quite a few now and have been happy with the fit on every one apart from the first which had some issues in the body

David Craggs

I have used this service to clean, repair and de-pil sweaters and it is completely fantastic.
They come back like new and their process is fine.
Furthermore, I think they are extremely good value (I hope not too good because I want them to stay in business).
A great PS find!


This sounds very helpful, but won´t everything shrink to its former size the next time it is washed?


I’ve just rescued my irish Aaron jumper by ironing it ( full steam) highest temperature and stretching,, my jumper is like new. It’s the only method that worked.




on my silk turtlenecks the neck gets very tight after a few years, making it difficult to get it on and off. Any tips on how to safely stretch a neck, or prevent it from getting tight?

Nancy Bocian

Can I buy these stretchers I’m the US?


Hi Simon,

I’ve got one of the Anderson Sheppard shetlands- essentially at your recommendation! The body is indeed shorter than other shetlands currently on the market, which is what I was looking for, but the arms aren’t aren’t long enough for folding back the cuffs as I had hoped.

So I’m going to try stretching them myself to hopefully get a further inch out of the sleeves and I am hoping for a bit of advice on the steaming element of the process mentioned here.

I have a handheld steamer which I was hoping I could use- or do you reckon the ‘pressing’ element of a steam press would be the more integral part of that step? I was going to pin down the stretched sleeves in place (one over the other to make sure the stretching is equal), leave it a good few hours so it has essentially dried while being stretched, then give it a good going over with the steamer while it is still pinned down in place. Then remove the pins following the steaming. Do you reckon this would work?

Also, when you previously did DIY stretching yourself, did you just stretch as far as the amount you want to gain- i.e. stretch and pin at 1 inch extra in order to gain 1 inch length? Or am I better off stretching closer to 2 inches with the expectation that the result will only be 1 inch at most?

Appreciate your thoughts as always!



Hi there,

I’ve got an issue with a knitted wool jumper. the body and sleeve has an oversized fit and fit perfect, but the neck is a bit too tight to wear comfortably. Do you have any tips and tricks for that specifically? It would be amazing if I was able to save this jumper!

Susan Spray

where can I get the frames pictured?

Fran jennings

Please can you tell me where to obtain these frames


Where can I buy the stretching racks?


where can you buy these frames?