Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Vive la Différence -- with Differential Shrinkage

Top photo: handwoven cloth in loom state

Bottom photo: detail of cloth after finishing

"Loom state" describes fabric that has not yet been finished or dyed. In the textile industry, such fabric is also called "gray" or "griege." 

The finishing process is particularly important to weavers because, as I like to say, "It ain't over till it's finished" (with a nod to Yogi Berra). Woven fabric isn't ready to use until it's properly washed. Unfinished or unwashed, it will retain some of the tension that it was under during the weaving process and thus won't feel or behave optimally.

Differential shrinkage takes the process one step further, creating a puckered or pleated fabric, using warm water, gentle soap and lots of agitation by hand or machine. With this technique, one block or group of yarns (such as the turquoise 18/2 merino in the photos above) will full and shrink while the other (the 10/2 cotton in gold) doesn't, creating lots of texture and visual interest.

Deflected Double Weave works well for differential shrinkage because of the plentiful floats and open spaces that alternate with blocks of plain weave. By definition, it has two layers that weave in and out of each other (but never on top of each other, hence the term "deflected").

When I posted some photos on Facebook -- after fulling to create differential shrinkage -- one weaver thought the fabric was stitched double weave. I explained that it only appeared that way because the layers of wool fuse together and the cotton relaxes, losing the gaps between blocks and appearing as if it were one layer.

Here's what the back of the fabric looks like before finishing -- that is, in loom state. (My apologies for the fuzzy image, but I was using my iPhone in reverse to photograph the underside of the fabric while it was on the loom.)

And here's what it looks like after finishing. The cotton blocks in plain weave look almost like they are one layer -- while, before finishing, there are vertical gaps in between the blocks (where the wool blocks are weaving on the other side).

Here are sections of the drawdowns (front and back respectively), which give you a better idea of how the blocks of wool (in blue) might fuse together in the finishing process, making the blocks of cotton (in gold) appear as a single layer. (The technical term here is "fulling" rather than "felting," because we are fusing yarn rather than raw fiber.)

I know there's probably some vibration between the colors in the drawdowns, because they are close to being complementaries -- which is what I wanted! I love the energy of combining opposites or near-opposites on the color wheel.

I proceeded to weave up a number of samples before I cut off the fabric and washed it -- so here are a couple of "before washing" and "after washing" photos.

Back of fabric before washing

Back of fabric (now upside down) after washing

My son, who took both photos -- thank you, Jake -- thought that it looked better BEFORE there was any differential shrinkage. I can see his point, where the fabric may look tidier and more elegant before fulling. After fulling, it might appear to some as messy and wrinkled.

But I like it that way! Differential shrinkage just appeals to me. And there's more to come, as I have maybe 3 yards left on the loom, keeping in mind that 3 yards will shrink down some.... I'm hoping to weave a scarf using these two patterns in sequence.

Thanks for reading!

Join Me for a 'Thread Talk' on October 5

 Above is my most recent post on Facebook, promoting a 10-minute "Thread Talk" I'll be giving during Spinning and Weaving Week...