Wet finishing a handspun scarf

Until I began weaving I didn’t appreciate how much of a transformation the cloth undergoes after the weaving ends. Wet finishing is a magical process that I enjoy every time. Watch what happens with this tweed scarf that’s entirely woven with my handspun yarn.

On the loom

The warp yarn (end to end) is stretched, and I deliberately beat the weft yarn (side to side) lightly to create an open weave with lots of scope for shrinkage. This yarn, like much of the yarn I create for weaving, hasn’t been washed and set after spinning, so it hasn’t shrunk at all yet.

handspun scarf on the loom

Off the loom

Now I’ve cut the scarf  from the loom and it’s no longer under tension: notice how the yarns are distinct and you can still see through the weave.

Scarf cut from the loom showing open weave

Wet finishing

The next step is to wet finish the cloth. For these scarves, which are mostly wool with a little silk, I start by running a bowl of hot tap water with a small amount of wool wash and soaking the scarf for at least 15 minutes. Then I work the scarf vigorously in the water, squeezing and pummelling, just the opposite of how to hand wash a finished scarf! I lift it out often to see how the fabric is changing.

How long this takes depends on how fulled I want it to be. I’m looking for a change, from individual yarns that move separately, to a surface where all the yarn looks bedded together and the cloth moves as one. At that stage I rinse in cold water, then hot, agitating it more, and repeat as needed – watching the fabric carefully all the time. This is to shock and shrink the fibres further, just like fulling felt. You can always full it more if the finished cloth isn’t quite what you are aiming for, but you can never ‘unfull’ it, so it’s important to pay attention to what is happening or the fabric will get too solid and lose its drape.

Once the scarf has reached the texture I want, I stop fulling and place it into a bowl of lukewarm water with a splash of vinegar to neutralise any remaining wool wash. Then a final rinse at the same temperature, squeeze out the water gently, roll in a towel to absorb as much moisture as possible, and hang to dry at room temperature.

This is the cloth after wet finishing: see how the yarn has bloomed and shrunk, closing the gaps to form a textural, nubbly cloth. You can still see through it a little, but only if you hold it up to the light.

Handspun scarf after wet finishing

Ironing

Once the scarf is dry or almost dry, the final step is to iron it. This creates the lovely tweed surface, bringing out the sheen of any silk or lustrous wool I may have used. After this I can really say the scarf is ‘finished’. I use a steam iron on the hottest setting (with a pressing cloth to protect the woven fabric) and press as hard as I can all along the length; then turn it over and do a lighter press on the other side.

Handspun, handwoven scarf after wet finishing and ironing

The result!

And the finished scarf is now ready to wear.

Handwoven, handspun scarf by Fiona Dix

Visit my shop on Etsy to see more handwoven, handspun scarves.

Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom

Every Sunday I get an email newsletter from Andy Ross at Global Yell in Shetland. Today’s included a post about research into linen making in Shetland and there was a photo of a little book with a linen cover – ‘Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom’.

This sounded irresistible and I went looking for it online, discovering there are a few copies for sale in antiquarian bookshops and each one is too rare and costly to contemplate. I did find treasure, though.

  • The whole book has been digitised and is in the California Digital Library and so available for all at The Internet Archive. It’s full of poems and prose about spinning and weaving, with delightful illustrations and woodcuts. You can really get a sense of the physicality of it even through the screen. There’s a page-turning mode so you can view the pages close up, including the tactile linen cover, and there are various formats to download.

    book page

  • There’s a review of the book in the Spectator Archive. This is a charming extract:

    The paper was made by hand ; the cover is of unbleached flax spun by Langdale cottagers, and woven on a hand-loom ; the printing has been done at a hand-press. A kindly thoughtfulness has given the names of all, or as nearly all As it was possible to give, who have had a hand in the work. Editor, publisher, and illustrator we are accustomed to know by name ; but it is good, also, to be aware of our obligations to spinner of thread and weaver of linen, and binder.
    The Spectator 7 DECEMBER 1889, Page 11

I found a quirky personal connection as well. As the review in The Spectator mentions, the linen of the cover was spun and woven in Langdale, and the first illustration in the book is a view of the Langdale valley. And one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet here is that we have been away for a while, setting up Spinners, a holiday flat in Grasmere, just a few miles from Langdale. The view in the book is almost the same one we chose for a kitchen splashback at Spinners!

splashback

As I virtually ‘thumbed through’ the book (isn’t it interesting that thumbs are also digital), I saw that the foreword was by a man named Albert Fleming, who had facilitated a revival of spinning and weaving in Langdale in the 1880s. I hadn’t known anything about the textile history of Langdale before today, but when I’m next in Cumbria I’d like to try and find out more about this. I’ll leave you with a couple of lines quoted by Albert Fleming that really resonated with me – does anyone know what this is from?

It takes the ideal to blow an inch aside
The dust of the actual

Drawing with fibres

I haven’t worked much with prefelt but I recently got some different kinds to try (from Wingham Wool Work) and these are some exercises I’ve been doing with lines and marks using different prefelts and different fibres.

This is Blue-faced Leicester on black Merino prefelt, before and after felting. Some of the fibres were wetted before laying them down, or laid onto wetted prefelt, and these retain more definition, I think.

preparing handmade felt

handmade felt

Update: I realised when I looked again at the notes I made for this next one that I had mixed up the order of the first two – it’s Shetland on the left and BFL next (now corrected).

This is the same prefelt, but exploring different fibres. Each group of three lines shows: untwisted fibres, dry twisted fibres, wet twisted fibres. From left to right the fibre is: Blue-faced Leicester, Shetland Shetland, Blue-faced Leicester, Merino, Teeswater, Massam. I love using Merino for felting but to be more sustainable I would prefer to find a UK alternative, the more local the better, and only use Merino when nothing else will do. Of these fibres the Shetland BFL has a lovely quality of line and is much less ‘hairy’ than the Teeswater and the Massam, almost as smooth as the Merino. The BFL Shetland is somewhere in between.

handmade felt

This is Merino on white Merino prefelt, I do love these lines.

handmade felt

This is Shetland fibre on Norwegian prefelt. It’s a much coarser prefelt but I like it more than I expected.

handmade felt

Here I made the prefelt first myself from Merino fibres (because I wanted the colours), laying out the fibres in random directions and then using a version of the dry rolling method described by Treetops Colour Harmonies in Australia. I used Merino for the lines too, dampened and twisted by rolling a little between my fingers. It’s just a small experiment in drawing with felt. I really enjoy the way the line crinkles as the felt shrinks.

handmade felt

One of the advantages of Merino, apart from softness and sheen, is the huge range of ready dyed colours. Does anyone have a source for dyed Shetland (and BFL!) tops in more than a few colours? And/or any other breeds to try? Bowmont?  I do have some lovely Shetland cross fleece grown here on Tiree, in a couple of natural colours which I’m going to try dyeing myself as well.

“Shouting quietly”

I know I’m not alone in finding self promotion difficult to practise, despite understanding how important it is. That’s why I’ve just crowdfunded Pete Mosley’s forthcoming book "The Art Of Shouting Quietly", subtitled "a guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls". If you’re one who feels reticent about mentioning your achievements and sharing your successes, this might be a good book to take a look at.

Promotion is rather easier when someone else does it for you, and I’ve been delighted and a bit overwhelmed this month to be featured in an art quilt magazine, Patchwork Professional. The magazine showcases a number of well-known textile artists producing beautiful work and I feel honoured to be included.

Patchwork Professional cover

The magazine is German and I only have a Google-translated idea of what the article says, but it looks lovely, with lots of images.

magazine pages

It’s a celebration of my work and the Isle of Tiree where I live, drawn from what I’ve posted here on the blog, and crafted into a coherent story by the editor of Patchwork Professional, Dorothee Crane. My thanks to Dorothee and her team for getting 2015 off to such an exciting start for me!