Saturday, October 20, 2018

Salvaging Your Selvages: Beating on an Open Shed

I want to call this a "Midway Through the Month Mini-Post," because I typically write a blog post every month and this is the second one I've written in just a few days. But I have an important point to make....

Beating on an open shed: Let's discuss.

All my weaving life, until just a few months ago, I would beat the weft on a closed shed. It just seemed more snug and secure and that was the way I was taught.

Some background: Weaving is ambidextrous, right? Both hands throw the shuttle, both hands beat the beater. But people are not ambidextrous, typically. So, because I'm right-handed, my right selvages were never truly even, while my left selvages usually looked better. And the opposite holds true: Left-handed weavers usually do better on the right selvage, because for this they're catching the shuttle with their left hand and pulling the weft across nice and even and tidy.

(You might ask why, but think about it: For the right selvage, you throw the shuttle with your right hand and then catch the shuttle with your left hand, which tends to draw in on the right selvage.)

I tried a lot of different remedies, including holding the selvage in a pincer grasp as I closed the shed. Yes, that's right. It worked pretty well but it took a lot more time and effort. And then one day, when I was teaching a workshop, we got into a discussion about beating on an open or a closed shed. The weaver I was talking with insisted that she always beat on an open shed -- that this was the right way to do things.

So I tried it on my next warp. I have to admit it did not come naturally after 20 years of doing things the other way. But I kept trying. And then I took a look at my selvages. Lo and behold...

Take a look at the right-hand selvage (or selvedge) in the photo at the beginning of this post. The warp is 20/2 cotton, which calls for precision when it comes to the selvages. They look pretty good, right?

I'm not writing this to brag about my selvages; the point is to advocate for beating on an open shed. It stands to reason, when you think about it: An open shed allows the weft yarns to wiggle about more and snuggle into place as the beater places them against the fell line. I think of it sort of like the "bubbling" that tapestry weavers do before they beat the weft in. And I swear that, when I beat this way, I can even see the weft wind off the bobbin after I've thrown the shuttle, as the beater moves toward the fell line. (I tried to capture this in a video but it requires some really close camera work.)

Another advantage to beating on an open shed, which also stands to reason when you figure you're pulling less on your selvages: There is less draw-in of the fabric, which puts less stress on the yarns at the selvage. Here's a photo of how minimal the draw-in is on my warp:

Too much draw in is just plain tough on the fabric. Weaving is more about gentleness, in my view -- unless you're a rug weaver!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading.


Liz aka Fibergeek said...

Totally agree with better selvedge when you beat on an open shed. I wish the myth about beating on a closed shed would die!

Denise Kovnat said...

Glad you agree. It would be interesting to know how many weavers know this!

Ettenna said...

I have always woven & also taught beating on an open shed. However if I lay my weft in at an angle, close the shed & beat I get less draw in.. thoughts?

Denise Kovnat said...

Ettenna, this is a mystery to me! Perhaps the key here is laying the weft in at an angle. My teacher always said that the ideal angle for this is 45 degrees -- but I find that I can't manage that, typically, because of the short depth between fell line and beater (as opposed to the width of the warp in the reed). So yes, a steep angle will give you lots of weft to adapt to wriggle in and out among the warp threads, don't you think?

Still, my experience has been that I get less draw in by beating on an open shed, given that I don't lay the weft in at a steep angle. Perhaps the actions of throwing the shuttle and beating are more individualistic than we realize. Or there may be other variables, such as the type of yarns, sett, who knows?

Ettenna said...

When the weft lays in the woven warp it does not lay in a perfectly straight plane. It curves around the warp threads. Therefore it needs extra thread or the edges will draw in. That is why a 45 degree angle works and beating on an open shed - the extra yarn is either locked in by closing the shed on the angled weft OR the extra yarn needed comes from the slack weft outside the warp. That is why you never hold it tight as you beat in the weft but rather let it droop off the selvage edge- so the extra weft needed can come from the excess thread between your selvage and the bobbin. Hard to explain - easier to illustrate. Also if your yarn is hairy you need to always have some angle so the yarn at the small end of the triangle formed at the selvage by the open shed does not "hold" your weft. If laid in perfectly straight the extra needed to curve around the warp threads cannot come from the extra between the selvage and the bobbin. I am sure you know all of this and I am "preaching to the choir" but if a new weaver sees it perhaps it will help them.
I find that if I am laying it in at an angle and still getting draw in that it helps to close the shed with the yarn held at the angle. There is experimentation involved as you don't want too much or too little.
I am always working on my selvages. I had someone recently tell me to move where I sit in relationship to the loom - for example a bit off center point to one or the other side. I haven't tried that yet - on the next warp!

Denise Kovnat said...

Thanks, Ettenna! I call this "Mindful Weaving."