Handwoven Magazine Ask Madelyn

Dear Madelyn,

I prefer to make up my own designs rather than working from directions; but I'm a fairly new weaver and can't always remember how to wash my new piece to finish it properly. Is there a handy guide somewhere that will tell me how to handle fabrics made of which fibers? (Some guidance on fulling wool pieces would be helpful, too!)
––Sandra Pollard

Hi Sandra!

The most important advice I can give is to use your common sense and watch what is happening during the finishing process. (It may be more important to sample the finishing than to sample the weaving itself!) There are several factors that affect finishing choices: the fiber involved, the dyes, and the final desired hand of the fabric. In general, you want to use the coldest water and the least agitation for the smallest change in the finished piece. Hot water acts to shrink yarns (some fibers more than others). Use hot water (and machine washing) for cottons and linens that will be washed frequently when they are used (towels and table linens). Silk shrinks with hot water, so use lukewarm water and wash by hand.

If you are worried about dyes running, use cool to cold water, remove the piece from the water immediately after rinsing, roll in a towel (or towels), and press out water until almost dry. Then press until dry with an iron. Never let the cloth sit around wet.


For wool and fulling wool, washing by hand is safest. Use lukewarm water. Fulling is primarily caused by agitation, the more fulling, the more agitation is required. If you wash wools that you want to full by machine, check every minute during the wash cycle. I usually prefer to do the fulling by hand even if it takes awhile. There is nothing more disappointing than discovering that your throw has become a floor pad.


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