The Next Step

I still remember the first time I wet-finished my first "real" weaving project. It was a set of 4 cottolin towels and I was so scared it was going to go wrong (looking back, I'm not sure what disaster was going to befall me) I only wet-finished one "just in case." Today I can wet-finish cotton and cottolin without sweating, and you can bet that before weaving with a new fiber I'll be checking out Laura Fry's new video Wet-Finishing for Weavers so I can wet-finish without fear. —Christina


  Before and After
   Before and after 2
  Wet-finishing transforms fabric, sometimes

Congratulations! You’ve done it: interlaced warp and weft and cut the web off the loom. You aren’t quite done yet, though, because the next step is to wet finish it. What is wet finishing? It is the very first time the interlaced threads meet water.

Several important things happen during this transformation—because it is a transformation. It is being changed from a loosely interlaced grid of individual threads into a cohesive “real” cloth.

Why don’t I just call it washing? I prefer to distinguish between this first ever introduction to water from on-going cleaning because some of the processes may be quite a bit harsher than one would do in terms of ongoing maintenance. I might use much hotter water or more vigorous agitation in order to bring the cloth to its finished state than is recommended for general washing or laundering.

The process is as simple and complex as the rest of weaving. Essentially the steps are to scour, agitate, possibly compress, or brush. As with other aspects of weaving, what looks simple on the surface becomes more complex when you look at things like water temperature, vigorous or gentle agitation and so on.

Different fibres need to be treated differently. For example woolen and worsted cloths have completely different wet finishing processes. Cotton and linen can withstand much higher temperatures than are recommended for rayon and silk.

Woolen cloth may need to be fulled (agitated) quite vigorously or perhaps just a little, depending on what is being made. Woolen cloth might also be brushed to raise a nap. If this part of the process is going to be applied, the cloth must be stable and secure enough to withstand the process— stability which comes from vigorous agitation to develop a degree of fulling appropriate to the intended purpose. Woolen yarns will be warmer as air gets trapped inside the structure of the cloth. If the wool is fulled significantly and given a hard press it will stand up to abrasion better than a softer finish.

Fibers such as rayon, silk, and linen benefit from a firm compression, whether that is done with heat or cold.

All of these things—and more— can be part of the process of turning your interlaced threads into ‘real’ cloth.

Properly wet-finished cloth will often times be brighter in terms of their color, especially if spin oil residue has been left in the yarn. It will have more drape and be more flexible. It will be more stable, a quality that is very important if it is to be cut and sewn. It will wear longer because all the threads are acting in concert as one, rather than as individual threads.

All of these factors must be considered when designing a cloth from the threads up. Ultimately the cloth needs to be able to fulfill its function, hopefully with beauty and grace. Above all, it’s wise to remember that it isn’t finished until it’s wet-finished.

—Laura Fry

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