Sunday, September 15, 2019

What Is the Difference Between Fulling and Felting?

Pictured above: a coat of fabric in silk noil and baby alpaca, 
woven in Deflected Double Weave and fulled for warmth and durability

Before I begin, please understand that the coat pictured above is a work in progress: I haven't finished sewing it!

Anyhow, many years ago I was talking with a felter-friend of mine, telling her how I "felted" a hand-knitted hat I had made. She corrected me, telling me that I had really "fulled" the hat -- not felted it -- because felting involves raw fiber while fulling involves fiber that has been knitted or woven.

Here's how the two terms are defined by (U.S. readers, remember that Brits spell fiber as "fibre.")

Felting, consolidation of certain fibrous materials by the application of heat, moisture, and mechanical action, causing the interlocking, or matting, of fibres possessing felting properties. Such fibres include wool, fur, and certain hair fibres that mat together under appropriate conditions because of their peculiar structure and high degree of crimp (waviness). Wool can produce felting even when mixed with other fibres. 

Fulling, Process that increases the thickness and compactness of woven or knitted wool by subjecting it to moisture, heat, friction, and pressure until shrinkage of 10–25% is achieved. Shrinkage occurs in both the warp and weft see weaving), producing a smooth, tightly finished fabric that is light, warm, and relatively weather proof. A common example is loden cloth, first produced in Austria in the 16th century.

There are a lot of mysteries and opinions (oh my, the opinions!) involving these two processes. Which soap to use? How hot should the water be? Machine wash or hand wash? Do you "shock" the wool by immersing it in cold water after using hot water? Can you heat the fiber in a microwave? And so on. 

I won't be addressing all of these questions; I'm talking about my own hand-woven fabric and how I went about fulling it. Here's the "before fulling" state.

And here's what it looks like after fulling.

And here's another view.

The colors in the photos vary because I used two different painted warps to weave the fabric in Deflected Double Weave. I dyed the silk noil in a range from teal to purple to turquoise and I dyed the baby alpaca warp in a range from lavender to periwinkle to mauve.

You might be thinking: I like the piece before it was fulled. And there's an argument for that, certainly. The main reason I fulled it was for texture: This was to be sewn into a coat and I needed a sturdy, warm fabric for that. I also just love the look of fulled handwoven or hand-knitted fiber: it acquires an organic, more natural look, less angular and tidy -- and to my eye, far more interesting!

Here's a photo of the back of the coat to give you a better idea of what I am going for.

The fulled fabric has a bit more eccentricity and quirkiness, in my view.

I've long pondered the question, "What makes wool felt?" The simple answer lies in the microscopic structure of the fiber. It has tiny scales on it that open with heat and soap and agitation (and pH, when you get really scientific about it) and then lock into each other as the agitation continues.

Here's a photo I found on Pinterest that gives you a microscopic view of a number of fibers. Unfortunately, I can't find where it's from because it's all over Pinterest, with no attribution.

See the scales on the coarse wool and fine wool (first and second fibers on the left)? And see the smaller less defined scales on the alpaca (third from left)? 

Many people will tell you that alpaca can't be felted or fulled -- but that's not really true. It's just that it takes longer to do so.

And I can testify to that. Without going into all the gory details, it took me several days of washing and sloshing my 8 yards of fabric in the bathtub, in the sink, and even in the washing machine. There's even some nudity involved but I won't go into that on a family blog ;o)

I just wasn't getting the results I wanted -- and then I remembered a spinner telling me that she used Murphy's Oil Soap to felt her wool. Murphy's is slightly basic, at a pH of about 11, and that change in pH helps the scales to open which in turn promotes their locking together.

So I tried Murphy's and yes, I did get the results I was after. Not perfect, but close enough. 

And I learned a lot in the process -- which is half the reason we fiber folk enjoy what we do! Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Story of a Scarf

I'll start with the basics: This is a 12-shaft weave, using three hand-painted warps in 60/2 reeled silk, at a sett of 60 epi, using an extended parallel threading, with a 120/2 spun silk weft.

Oh and it's not quite finished (what you don't see in the photo is the unplied fringe on the back of the mannikin).

I call this design "Pagoda" because the pattern looks like the multi-tiered roof of a Buddhist temple. See the the cascading pattern in the middle of the photo? And the colors remind me of Asian silk fabrics. Plus the cultivation of silk itself originated in China.

The story behind this piece is that it wasn't really planned at all!

It simply started with the yarn, which was undyed reeled silk from Habu. I purchased it for a bargain price when our guild was selling the yarns and equipment of a good friend, the late, abundantly creative Joy Duskin. I didn't even realize it was reeled silk -- which means silk that is thrown (or wound) straight from the cocoon, the most treasured silk of all. (Most of us purchase and weave with spun silk, which comes from incomplete pieces of the silk filaments and is less sleek and durable.)

I had never woven with reeled silk -- and this was in the gum, to boot! ("In the gum" means that the sericin from the silkworm's spit, which helps maintain the structure of the cocoon, has not been removed, so that the silk is stiff and has a matte finish. Silk can't be dyed in the gum. Also, removing the gum improves the luster, hand, and texture of the silk.)

The yarn sat in my sewing room for at least a year -- until I got together with two friends, Molly McLaughlin and Deb Kaplan. They both know lots about silk and Deb patiently showed me how to de-gum my skeins in hot water and soda ash.

This story is getting way too long, so let's cut to the dyeing: I wound two warps and hand-painted them with MX fiber-reactive dyes in two different colorways -- and THEN decided that they were too close in their hues. So I hand-painted a third warp. That's why you see a band of color in the center of the photo and different-colored bands on either selvage. I was planning an Echo design, which is typically threaded color A, color B, color A, color B, etc. For this scarf, using three hand-painted warps, the threading was A-B-A-B for about 4 inches, then A-C-A-C for about eight inches, then back to A-B-A-B for the last four inches.

Below is my design line, which I created on 8 shafts instead of 12, which left room to create a parallel threading 6 ends above the original design line. I chose not to put this on a network, just to see what happened.

Original design line on 8 shafts

The threading on 12 shafts: 
My original design line plus a parallel line 6 shafts above

In Fiberworks, here are the steps involved.

1) I expanded the number of shafts to 12 by going into the dropdown menu labeled "Tieup," clicking on "Shafts and Treadles," and increasing the number of treadles to 12.

2) Next, I clicked on the "Warp" dropdown menu, then clicked on "Parallel Repeat." I left the box checked that says "Add Shafts Above" (because I already created 12 shafts to work with), then I clicked on "Shafts shift by 6," and then clicked "Apply."

Next I created a classic Echo (also used for Rep) tieup, which is an ascending twill tieup with half the shafts up and half the shafts down, like so:

And then I created an advancing point-twill treadling, but that was all long warp floats and definitely unweavable.

Still, it was easy to solve, just by adding a parallel treadling. Using Fiberworks, this was done by clicking on the "Treadling" dropdown menu, clicking on the command that says "Extended Parallel," then putting the number "5" in the box labeled "Treadles Shift By," and then clicking on "Apply." (I shifted by 5 treadles instead of 6 as I had in the threading because I wanted to use only 10 treadles. So I divided 10 by 2 to get the correct parallel for the tieup.) This is the way Rep is treadled, on an extended parallel treadling. But the scarf isn't traditional Rep Weave, because I use only one weft yarn rather than the two (one thick, one thin) that characterize Rep.

And here's what the final drawdown looks like. (The red lines in the warp tell me where I need to shift my color arrangements from ABAB to ACAC, remembering that I'm using three hand-painted warps.)

Here's a closer look at the scarf itself.

And one more view...

I hope to enter this in an exhibit next year -- and I will let you know if and when it's accepted! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

How to Find Your Place in a Complicated Treadling (Or: Sometimes You Just Have to Unweave)

I recently had an email discussion with a friend who took one of my workshops -- who, after arriving home and returning to her sample, could not remember where she left off. She sent me an email, including a close-up of her sample, asking if I could help her find where she was in the treadling.

Has this happened to you? If not, you are fortunate and you may have a genius-level IQ. If it has happened to you, you may agree that weaving can be a lot like the little girl in the nursery rhyme: 

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Longfellow wrote that, by the way. Who knew?

Here is our exchange, below, beginning with a photo of my friend's sample. She was working on a network-drafted 8-shaft pattern, the kind of pattern that can make it very hard to figure out where you are in the treadling (or the threading, even more so). 

And here's a portion of the drawdown, giving you an idea of why it's hard to locate the exact place she left off.

So here's what I wrote to her:

Dear Debbie,

Unfortunately the only way you can really figure out where you are is to follow these steps. Trigger warning: These steps include unweaving ;o)

1) You have figured out approximately where you are, so have your treadling in front of you with the area you think you are (or areas, often) marked clearly.

2) Begin unweaving, marking down which treadle you're using for each pick.

3) Once you start to see a pattern (which is backwards, of course, but you know that), double check it against your treadling sequence (in step #1, where you've marked where you think you are).

4) Once you're pretty darn sure you've found it, start weaving forward. It will soon become clear whether or not you're correct! 

5) If you find you're incorrect, sigh deeply and/or curse, go back to step 1 and begin again.

Have you ever unwoven anything? Are you philosophically opposed to doing so? As for me: I do it all the time!