I am not a very handy person – in life generally, but especially when it comes to the so-called domestic arts. For the most part, this is not something over which I lose sleep; I have mastered enough basic life skills to pass for an acceptably responsible adult, and I am fortunate to have money to throw at problems I can’t solve. Still, there are times when I wish I had spent more time in my youth learning practical arts – for example, every time I have to pay $20 for someone else to fix a basic hem on a dress. Sigh. Recently, though, I find that I am more inclined to take an occasional risk and attempt a solution myself; thrifting is often the catalyst because, well, the downside of a failed experiment is much less painful at thrift prices.

Such was the case with this red wool Smythe blazer.

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This was my second time spotting Smythe at the thrift store, though it was a far more readily explainable occurrence. My first thrifted Smythe was in impeccable condition; this one … not so much. Commensurate with its retail price, the blazer had lovely design details. Real leather elbow patches; a windowpane print that lined up at each seam, and over the lapels too; that signature waist-nipping tailoring. The only problem? It had been shrunk to hell and back. In fact, it looked like it had made a trip to hell – wash ‘n dry cycle hell. The collar had shrunk into a permanently popped state, and the whole thing looked like a sad, misshapen child’s jacket.

It was also $6 (VV was running a random 50% off sale).

I suddenly remembered reading something online about how wool fibers have “memory” and can be un-shrunk. Without so much as trying on the blazer, I turned to my BFF and said “I’m going to try to fix it.”

When I got home, I decided to see how bad the damage really was. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a photo when I tried it on, but the image was comically horrific and my optimism took a nose dive; I pretty much wrote off my $6 then and there. No point in taking a photo to document my certain failure, right?

Well, as it turns out, this story has a happy ending after all. Behold:

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There is no secret to this “magic”. I mean, all the instructions are right there on The Google. Here’s what I did:

– Soaked the blazer in a bathtub of lukewarm water with a bunch of Johnson’s baby bath shampoo. Don’t ask me how much; I eyeballed it. I realized belatedly that baby bath stuff + running water = foam, but luckily there were minimal suds to contend with. I left the blazer to marinate for about 20 minutes.

– Rinsed the blazer in lukewarm water, then gently squeezed (without wringing) the excess water out.

– Gently pulled and stretched the (wet) blazer back to a more natural shape/length.

– Put the blazer on a padded hanger, then proceeded to stuff it with towels until it looked like a dummy. The arms were difficult to stuff, so I used two small towels – one at each end. I closed the blazer button to hold the inner “stuffing” in place. Then I hung the (still wet) “dummy” and left it to air dry.

– Every so often, as it dried, I would gently pull and stretch – especially the bottom flaps.

The blazer dried much more quickly than I expected; it took about 36 hours. The lining remains fairly wrinkled, but the blazer is otherwise in great shape, including the leather. I think the elbow patches might benefit from a bit of conditioning, but they don’t look the worse for wear. This was surprising to me, though it should not have been; I had read accounts of people who have rehabbed vintage (leather) Coach bags by soaking them, re-shaping, and drying them (followed by conditioning) … still, I have always cringed at the idea of putting leather in water. This was a good lesson for me on that score as well.

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As successful experiments are wont to do, this one has given me the confidence and desire to test my newfound rehabbing skills on new subjects. Next time I find a beautiful, shrunken Wilfred sweater at the thrift store, I shall not be disappointed; quite the opposite, in fact …

11 Comments on DIY Wool Rehab

  1. Amazing that it worked so well! I’ve tried halfheartedly to rehabilitate a wool cardigan that shrank in the wash, but I think I didn’t give it enough time or, er, actual effort. It didn’t seem to want to actually stretch, though I didn’t do it carefully, and gave up on trying.

    The thought of soaking a vintage leather handbag to fix it up is also terrifying to me! My old Coach City crossbody can probably do with a soaking (it was already quite old and well-loved when I got it around 2008, and I used it heavily) as it certainly can’t hurt to try.

    • I’m terrified of attempting to rehab a leather bag as well! I do have a good candidate, so if I find the colour of polish I need, I may work up the courage to try.

      I just rehabbed a wool cardigan and pretty happy with the result (it’s on my IG). I wouldn’t have the guts to try it if I had more money at stake though.

  2. Wow, I can’t wait to use this when I have a too-small sweater. The blazer still looks a bit tight on you, or is it just the photos?

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