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Wet Finishing - Versatile Wool

With the ability of wool to full, it is possible to take a single type of wool yarn and produce different qualities of cloth. This aspect of wet finishing is one that is frequently overlooked by weavers, but is one more tool in a textile designers' repertoire.

This sample was done with 2/40 worsted wool available from Robin and Russ in Oregon. This fine wool makes a lovely shirting set at around 40-48 in a twill structure. However, it can also be woven very sheer for curtains or shawls, and it can be encouraged to 'crinkle' for warm winter scarves.

These samples have been taken to one end of the spectrum for set to produce a very gauzy, open fabric. The yarn was set at three different epi. Using an 8 dent reed, one section was sleyed 2 per dent, a second section was 3 per dent, and a third section 4 per dent. With 16 shafts, I am able to thread the three different sections on separate groups of shafts, but this will work equally well on 4 shafts and plain weave.

Wet Finished Sample
The bottom image is the sample after wet finishing. Note that the scale is identical in both photos.

You must have very good control of your beat, although small inconsistencies will not show after wet finishing. Using a 10 dent reed, and sleying 2, 3, and 4 will give a slightly heavier weight and more stable cloth.

A warp of 15 yards was beamed and woven with plain weave in the 16 and 24 epi sections, and a twill in the 32 epi section. A lavender mylar thread (also from Robin and Russ) was included and threaded with the last wool end of each section. The cloth was woven at 24 ppi.

After removing the web from the loom it was cut in half. One half was finished as for worsted cloth (i.e. scoured, agitated as little as possible, and given a hard press); the other half was significantly fulled.

Previously, I had always fulled crinkle effect scarves by hand, but because this was a large piece of fabric, I used the washing machine. In the end, a total of 28 minutes of agitation was applied. However, if I were to do this again, I would stop sooner, remove the cloth from the washing machine and finish it by hand in a tub as the fulling did not happen equally throughout the length and width of the cloth in the machine. Doing it by hand, you can rotate the cloth evenly and more closely monitor the fulling.

After fulling, the cloth was loosely twisted along its length and coiled to dry in as wrinkled a state as possible.

The samples were cut to the same dimension following a woven-in cutting line. The difference in size is significant between the two samples. An accurate measurement to compare the worsted and crinkle was difficult as the whole purpose of the exercise was to have one fabric that was very three dimensional and I didn't want to flatten it out! However, shrinkage in the worsted was approximately 5%.

Fulling is a lot like kneading bread dough - you have to experience it to know when it's enough. I encourage everyone to try a bit of sampling just to see what happens when and if...

My thanks to Karena Lang for cutting up the samples.


Laura Fry has been weaving for over 20 years and completed the Guild of Canadian Weavers' Master Certificate in 1997. Laura lives in Prince George, B.C., manages to weave enormous warps for fashion designers, write articles for weaving magazines, recently published a detailed book on wet finishing - Magic in the Water, and participates in exhibitions and craft shows. She teaches weaving from beginning to advance techniques in Western Canada and the United States.

Copyright © 1999 by Laura Fry. Please contact the author for permission to use any part of this article.

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PO Box 4, Stn. A
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Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4