Turns out mom was right – there really is a correct way to fold a sweater. Whether you're storing that hideous Christmas cozy for another season or depositing some new cashmere in your closet, be sure to give your garments the VIG treatment by mastering the meticulous art of the box fold.
Start with a clean slate
Many of us are programmed to believe that a dry cleaner is the safest place for our treasured but soiled togs. Not so, according to the grand dame of domesticity, Martha Stewart. She insists that proper handwashing is the best way to care for most sweaters, including delicate fabrics such as cashmere and wool.
Start by taking a good look at the sweater before you wet it, to get a sense of the dimensions. Type A's may want to use a tape measure to record shoulder to shoulder, sleeve, bustline and bottom-edge lengths.
Swish the garment in cool water after adding a small amount of liquid soap for delicates such as Woolite. Rinse gently. Remove excess water. Place on a towel that's lying on a flat surface.
Now is the time to reconstruct the shape (hint: if sleeves look too long, pull out the middle of the body of the sweater). Finish by rolling the towel and sweater up jellyroll-style and leaving to dry for several hours.
While waiting, feel free to go out and spend all that money you saved on dry cleaning.
Fuzz-bust as needed
If your sweater's gotten pilled – sleeves and where sleeves rub are the chief areas of concern – start by carefully removing the larger pills by hand, and then the fluffier fuzz with some good strong tape. If your hand is steady, you can also use a straight razor to clean up those little wool balls, but be careful not to cut the sweater or yourself (thus possibly staining the sweater).
You can also buy a device specifically made to remove sweater stubble. Sometimes called a fabric shaver, it looks not unlike a man's electric razor, but with a detachable reservoir that catches the fuzz and can be periodically emptied.
Assume the position
To ensure a department-store-quality end result for the fold itself, begin by laying the sweater out face down and perfectly flat with the neck end facing you. (This method will also work for T-shirts, men's dress shirts, and pretty much anything else that has sleeves). Make sure that all seams match up perfectly and that the collar and the bottom line up. It sounds easy, but this type of fastidiousness requires patience, fine motor skills and a dash of je ne sais quoi.
"There's a certain knack to it, and either you have it or you don't," says Karen Dunkerley, store manager at Joe Fresh on Queen Street West in Toronto, who by all appearances has a black belt in folding. For quality and consistency, Joe sales associates use Plexiglas folding boards (8.15 inches by 14 inches, or about 21 cm by 35 cm). At-home fold associates can go without, or simply construct their own instrument. "All you need is a piece of cardboard," says Ms. Dunkerley.
Settle on a sleeve philosophy
There are a couple schools of thought regarding where the sleeves belong in the grand scheme of box folding. Ms. Stewart dictates that the proper process begins by folding each sleeve across to the opposite shoulder and then folding each side in to meet in the middle.
Alternatively, Joe Fresh employees (who learn their craft over a four-hour folding seminar, and often fold more than 200 sweaters a shift) are taught to fold the sweater itself in on each side to two inches away from the neck. Sleeves should be parallel to the side of the garment. "This will reduce the chances of any bumps," says Ms. Dunkerley, with Martha-defying confidence.
Depending on the measurements of your storage space, you will complete the process by folding your sweater parcel in half (flatter but larger), or tuck the bottom under and fold into thirds (plumper but smaller).
Don't do this: Let your five-year-old anywhere near your now photo-shoot-worthy sweater rack.