Trying to unravel a sweater mystery

I like wool, but I've never trusted it. The minute I invest in a lovely wool sweater, it starts shrinking.

Before I can say "Where's the receipt?" it has shriveled and barely covers the shoulders of a two-liter soda bottle.

But lately, I've battled a knottier knitted problem: the case of the incredibly growing sweater.

The moss-colored sweater fit my husband perfectly last year. The pullover summered on a hanger in the closet until two weeks ago, when my husband pulled it on for work.

Suddenly, the sleeves looked really long - orangutan long.

"What's happening here?" he sputtered. The shoulders on the woven-ramie wonder had dropped a good three inches. The hip-fitting bottom had slipped, too.

I tried to be optimistic, because he was already late for work.

"At least you won't need gloves," I told him. "Just bunch it up around the waist, tuck under the sleeves, and try not to move around too much. No one will notice."

"What? That I'm drowning in a sweater?" he shouted.

I don't know where "ramie" comes from - plant, animal, or Afghanistan - but it's one ornery fiber.

By noon, according to my husband's account, the sweater was moving in a southerly direction at the rate of an inch an hour. By midafternoon, his "mid" was so bunched up it looked as if he were wearing a personal flotation device.

By the time he swaddled in that evening, the sweater groped his knees. It was twice the sweater we'd bought.

"My word, take that thing off! It's spreading faster than kudzu!" I told him.

I tied it up in a garbage bag and hauled it to Mom the next day to donate to charity.

"Why, that's too good a sweater to give away," she said. My mother's motto is "waste not, want not." She insisted on washing the sweater in hot water and reshaping it.

I was skeptical, but Mom has rescued the family's wardrobe many times, using hand-me-down (likely toxic) formulas to scare stains out of shirts and duct tape to rip lint from corduroys.

By afternoon, she'd wrestled the ramie back down to a "medium" and had it blocked out and drying on towels on the kitchen table.

Thinking it might go XL again on a hanger, I neatly folded the sweater in a drawer. Yesterday, my husband was desperate for something to wear and decided to give the sweater one more chance.

"Your mother is sure that the sweater isn't going to spread out again?" he asked, still suffering from sweater shock.

"She stabilized it," I assured him.

As he walked out the door, I swear I saw that ramie relax and descend a notch, but I held my tongue.

The only way to unravel this mystery is with a pair of scissors. Tomorrow, I'm taking Mom a big bag of fluffy moss-colored yarn. I'm sure she can find a use for it.

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