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How to unshrink and stretch shrunken clothes

My daughter returned from a trip to Kenya this week along with some custom made clothes (rather than selling pre-made clothes they show you some fabric, take your measurements, and a few hours later have your custom made pants, shirts, etc).  Unfortunately none of the fabric they use is pre-shrunk, so after my wife carefully laundered the clothes most of them shrunk.  Much unhappiness followed.  While messing around with clothes is outside my usual areas of interest, to try to restore peace and happiness to the family I started looking for different tricks to unshrink and re-stretch clothes.   After a bit of experimentation I was able to get all of the clothes restored to their original size.  Here are some notes on what worked:

  • Put the clothes into a sink filled with lukewarm water (not hot)
  • Many of the folks on the internet trying to stretch clothes put a variety of additives into the water ranging from conditioner to baby shampoo.  The common thread is to use something that does not foam or lather.  I added some conditioner, but I am skeptical that the additives to the water actually do anything and that the water and correct water temp are what make a difference.
  • The key is to get the fibers in the clothes to soften and relax so you can stretch them.  When you first put the clothes in the water give them a tug and you will see that they have very little give.  As the clothes soak you’ll notice that the clothes start to have some stretch.  I had 4 different fabrics with the clothes I stretched and they all required different periods of time to soften up.  If the fibers are not softening raise the water temp slightly and take the piece of clothing out, wring it out and then resoak.  One of the courser fabrics I dealt with didn’t loosen up until I did this twice and raised the water temp quite a bit.  Average time to soak to loosen the fibers was around 5 minutes, with the longest being 15.
  • Once the fibers have loosened you want to get most of the water out so the clothes are damp but not wet.  I did this by wringing them out well (don’t worry about any wrinkles you’ll stretch them out) and then sticking the clothes between 2 towels, patting them dry, and then rolling the towels up with the clothes inside a couple different directions.  There was one housecoat that I had to stretch which was still quite wet  and it didn’t seem to impact the results.
  • The actual stretching is the trickiest part and needs to be done with some planning.  Make sure you know what direction you want to stretch the clothes and also where the seams are.   You want to pull evenly and along large areas.  For the pant legs wrap the top 1-2″ of the pant top over a table edge and have someone hold it while you stretch the legs from the bottom.  To widen the legs put both hands inside, make fists, and pull both out and down.  The seams need to be stretched separately since they have more fabric.  For sleeves stretch each arm individually from the seam to the end and also stretch the back since if the sleeves have shrunk so has the back.  At the very end gently stretch the entire length of both sleeves and the back together, being careful not to rip any seams.  Compare sleeve and leg lengths as you go to make sure they are even.
  • Once it is stretched hang it with the heaviest part of the clothes at the bottom and let it air dry.

Some pictures below of some of the pants with only one leg stretched to show the difference between shrunk and stretched (yes these are actual pictures and not photo-shopped or altered in any way).

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5 Responses to How to unshrink and stretch shrunken clothes

  1. Pennie Louise De Witt January 13, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    How do you launder them after you do this? Should they be hung to dry from then on?

    • roger January 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      Since they were prone to shrinking; washing in cold water, tugging them a bit to stretch after laundering, and then hang drying works best.

  2. erich from around the corner January 18, 2014 at 2:20 am #

    Brilliant. = a little crazy and highly amusing!

  3. Carolr August 14, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Thanks Roger for your experience. I felt encouraged to jump into my mess. I combined your stretching idea with another DIY idea using a sprayed on solution of 1/4 part vinegar and 3/4 part water. Hung the cushion cover over the towel bar (permanently a fixed to wall) and put a number of food cans in each side to weight it down. It has only been hanging about an hour but already is about 8 or 9 inches longer. Need another 5 or 6 so will keep at it for awhile more (spraying and stretching). Hopefully this is a one time event.

  4. Tracey August 31, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    Brilliant, thanks for sharing.
    The trousers are beautiful colours by the way.

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