I have a question about cotton shrinking. When I use handwoven kitchen towels, usually 8/2 cotton, they seem to keep shrinking every time they are washed. Eventually they become too thick to use easily. Plain weave isn’t as bad as a twill, probably because of the interlacement of the yarns.
Do you have any ideas to help with this? We already wash with warm water, and use a medium heat in the dryer.
I do know what you are talking about, in that towels in unmercerized cotton, washed repeatedly, feel thicker as the yarns full, and have a slightly fuzzier overall surface from the loosening of short fibers. I haven’t experienced continuous shrinkage, though. I’ve asked other weavers about this and cannot really come to specific helpful conclusions.
First, there are several sources of 8/2 cotton available to handweavers, some from Sweden and some from the United States and Canada. The degree of spin and the length (quality) of the cotton fibers in the yarn will both affect the way the yarn finishes. We’d need careful study, using all these available yarns, treating them exactly the same way with repeated wet-finishing, and comparing the results to know how each yarn behaves.
Most of the weavers I consulted did not find their towels continued to shrink after repeated washings (and they were happy with the results). All recommended washing in cool-to-warm, never hot, water, with gentle agitation (which it sounds like you are doing). Most did machine dry their towels.
It would be interesting to compare the behavior over time between towels woven in 8/2 cotton and towels woven in cottolin as well as those woven in the different 8/2 cottons available.
P.S. Check out the Best of Handwoven Yarn Series: A Dozen Projects in 8/2 Cotton for tons of tips and inspiration.