Finishing Handwoven Textiles

A common perception about handweaving is that it's just throwing a shuttle back and forth, but there is so much more involved in the process, both before and after the shuttle work. I've talked before about many of the steps that happen on the front end, like designing, planning, sampling, warping the loom, and the weaving itself. But what happens after the last shuttle is thrown, and the piece is ready to come off the loom? Certainly with all the effort I've invested in this handwoven textile so far, I should put the same care into the finishing process.

Twisting fringe on a bamboo lace shawl

The first step is to secure the ends, to keep them from unraveling. In the case of a scarf, that often means twisting a fringe. Two groups of threads are twisted in the same direction, then brought together and twisted back in the other direction, and secured with a simple overhand knot. For anything that will be hemmed, a simple zig-zag stitch with the machine is all that's needed at this point.

Next comes wet-finishing. Technically, what comes directly off the loom isn't even called cloth, but the "web". The threads are under tension on the loom, so they don't get a chance to interact within the weave structure. It can be stiff and quite uninteresting at this point. Wet finishing is what transforms the web into cloth. Mild detergent removes any spinning oil or sizing in the yarns. Gentle agitation allows the threads to relax, bend, bloom and/or full, to settle into their final resting locations within the cloth structure.

Trimming excess thread "tails" from a towel

When almost dry, I trim any tails at color changes or joins. Then, a hard press really locks in the integrity of the cloth. First one side, then the other. Even if the item will never again see an iron, this step is indispensable in creating good cloth.

A hard press with a steam iron sets the fabric

A handwoven item deserves a hand-sewn hem. Yes, there are those who disagree, and I respectfully let them. But for my textiles, that's my philosophy and I'm sticking to it.

Handwoven bamboo placemats get a hand-sewn hem