Saturday, November 20, 2010


a fan of scarves showing my on the image for an enlargement

People quite often exclaim over the straightness of my selvedges. They want to know my secret, or assume that I must have some trick up my sleeve for getting ruler straight selvedges (most of the time, depending {there's that word again} on weave structure and yarn).

The secret to getting straight selvedges is no secret at all. Or at least, I've not kept how I do what I do a secret. I've been active on the internet since 1994 (anyone remember bulletin boards and usenet groups?) telling people what I do and how I do it. (Check the labels here or my You Tube channel for video clips.)

The 'secret' to getting good selvedges is learning the physical skills that need to be utilized and using 'good' tools/processes.

What those tools are will depend on the individual - their physical size, their personal hand/eye co-ordination, their equipment.

But to gain proficiency at something like weaving or any other skilled craft, the practioner must understand the essential theory behind what they are doing, be analytical about how they are doing it, and practice, practice, practice with a self-awareness of what they are doing, gauging the success of their results and tweaking their processes, sometimes changing their tools for ones that will work better for them.

Instead they rely on what I call 'magical thinking' - if I use this trick or this tool I will magically get good selveges without my having to do anything else.

Getting good selvedges requires a succession of steps, any one of which if not done well, will lead to poor selvedges.

First you must beam the warp well and under tension. The longer and wider your warps, the more crucial this step becomes. If your warp is 'cigar-shaped' on the back beam, you will have problems with your selvedges. (Unless you build that shape properly so that the outside threads don't slide off causing them to be shorter than the middle ends.)

A short narrow warp simply doesn't have the length and breadth to show poor beaming techniques because it's all too soon done. So a weaver who has consistently woven short (less than 5 yards) and/or narrow (less than 15 inches wide) warps who decides to put on a longer/wider warp will suddenly run into problems that s/he has never experienced before and cannot figure out what went wrong. They've been weaving for years and never had the problem before, after all!

A weaver should know how to hold and throw the shuttle efficiently. I know, I know, many people aren't interested in being efficient. What these people don't realize is that holding and throwing the shuttle efficiently simply means that you are doing this process in a way that will lead to good selvedges and a good consistent beat. In other words, they will get a better quality cloth.

Some people don't even know that there is an efficient way of holding and throwing the shuttle. I so often see shuttles being thrown (or should I say shoved) 'backwards' or even upside down. When I mention this to the weaver I generally get a blank look and a response of "I didn't know there was a 'right' way to hold the shuttle."

Again, if the weaver is only weaving on a narrow warp, how s/he holds the shuttle doesn't matter as much as when they try to weave a wider warp.

I watched a sheep to shawl demo one time where the weaver held the shuttle 'overhand' which meant she could not get the shuttle from one selvedge to the other as it could only travel 3/4's of the way across the web which meant that she was reaching into the shed to retrieve it. The net result of this? The handspun alpaca warp was stretching at the selvedge and I could see that the selvedge was starting to pull apart from the repeated stretching and abrasion due to fishing the shuttle out of each shed.

Over and over again I read/hear people being advised to leave sufficient slack on the weft. This is absolutely true - as far as it goes.

But over and over again I see weavers leave a nice lovely angle on their weft pick and then as they beat they pull the hand holding their shuttle towards their body which effectively shortens the weft pick and results in excessive draw in. And they get frustrated because they don't realize what they are doing and continue to do the same thing. Or they make longer and longer 'bubbles' in their weft which results in loops forming at the selvedge which in turn results in loose selveges ends and then..........poor selvedges.

Since I have begun having private students come to learn how to weave I have been delighted that they all appear to be 'natural' weavers achieving good selvedges on their very first sampler. It occured to me during a recent bout of insomnia that perhaps in addition to being naturally adept they are also benefitting from my tutoring. They are learning from the get-go how I hold and throw the shuttle and they are very quickly achieving selvedges that are generally consistent and pretty straight right away.

Ultimately if a weaver is happy with their results there is no need for them to change what they are doing. If they are not happy with their results, perhaps a good analytical look at how other weavers achieve their results will get them closer to the results they desire.

For a complete look at what I do and how I do it, CD Weaver III pretty much sums up everything I do except for how I now sley the reed. Since I've posted extensively on that technique (learned from Syne Mitchell who learned it from Peggy Ostercamp) I don't feel the need to upgrade the cd for that technique.

My advice? Get Peggy's new book and look at how she does what she does. Or buy CD Weaver III and try out a few of the things I do and see how they sit with you.

Christmas is coming - ask Santa for either of these resources and be open to trying something different if you aren't happy with your results.

(CD Weaver III is $60 on my website - if you order before Dec. 6 I'll include the sample packet set for free - this combination is $75.00 plus shipping on my Art Fire store.)


BizzMcKill said...

I'm pretty happy with my selvedges. But then, I learned from the great Laura Fry. ;) I'm sure things would have been different if I attempted to learn from youtube videos like I did with spinning. And I am very grateful for having that opportunity to learn from you. A lot of people ask when I'm selling, "How long have you been doing this?" And I reply, "Under a year, but I had a great teacher."

charlotte said...

I read in an earlier blog post that you don't recommend tabby at the selvedges, and that you seldom use a floating selvedge. When do you recommend a floating selvedge? The reason I ask is that I've just woven 8-shaft twill runners with goose-eye pattern. I used a floating selvedge (extra threads weighted at the back of the loom), and the selvedges looked great - in the loom. When I cut down, the selvedges got bubbly and looked mice-eaten. Do you have any advice?

Laura said...

No, I don't have a plain weave selvedge when I'm weaving some other weave structure in the body of the textile. The take up rate between plain weave and almost every other weave structure is so different that it can cause all sorts of problems at the selvedge. So unless you wanted a seersucker like effect, I don't recommend plain weave selvedges unless you change the density to accomodate the difference in take up.

No, I don't use floating selvedges. Ever. They simply get in my way and prevent me from developing a good weaving rhythm. I know that many people swear by them - I swear at them! :^)

I don't weave large goose eye patterns for the very reason that when you reverse direction the two outside threads at the selvedge fall out of the textile.

There are hundreds and hundreds of other things that can be woven without the need of a floating selvedge so I ignore things like the large goose eye patterns.

If I want to weave something that will change the direction of the twill line periodically, I'll use a herringbone where the twill line is interrupted so that the selvedge ends *don't* fall out of the selvedge. The down side to threading that, however, is that you don't get a true plain weave - if you should want/need one.

Bizz, you took to weaving like a duck to water and you've worked hard on your skills. It was a pleasure to have you in the studio, especially during my broken ankle when you were my legs!

Hope the sale this weekend went well for you and I'll look forward to seeing you over the holidays. :)