Sunday, November 19, 2023

What to Do About Fraying Selvages...

 A brief intro here: I like to use lots of photos in my blog posts, because weaving is such a visual medium.

But this month's topic doesn't really require photos, because we can all visualize the problem -- and who wants to see a photo of a fraying selvage, anyway?

So with that out of the way, let us begin with my first text-only blog post ;o)

A weaving friend from the Potomac (MD) Fiber Arts Guild wrote me recently about a problem she was having with fraying selvages -- a problem that most of us are all too familiar with. What follows is my reply. I welcome comments from anyone and everyone who has any other pointers!


The problem of fraying selvages is so common -- and there are lots of ways to deal with the problem. (I won't use the word "solutions" here, because often you have to analyze what's going on and then try several different approaches before you've found a solution.) 

For starters, you can have problems with the yarn itself (that is, poorly spun yarn can definitely cause problems with selvages). This means you might have to add something sturdy like Sulky machine-embroidery thread as floating selvages, in that way avoiding abrasion of the real warp selvages.

Aside from that, here's what I recommend.

1) Floating selvages definitely will help protect your warp ends. I typically recommend two floating selvages, sleyed together in one dent, on both sides of the warp.

2) Fraying is often the result of pulling too hard on the selvage after you've thrown the shuttle (that is, you throw the shuttle to the right, for instance, catch it with your right hand, and pull in too tightly on the left selvage). That makes for lots of draw-in on the selvage. (I'm right-handed, so I have this problem often on the left selvage, because that's the one my right hand pulls tighter on as it catches the shuttle and straightens out the weft.) Try being more gentle, "laying in" the weft rather than just yanking on the yarn to set it straight. (That's what we weavers are often inclined to do, because we want to make everything straight and tidy, don't you think?)

The best way to diagnose whether you're pulling on the weft too much is to look at the beater as it hits the fell line. If your yet-unwoven warp-ends at your selvage stretch at an angle, so that the fell line is several dents inside your weaving width, then you've got too much draw-in and you're putting lots of stress on your selvages. 

3) Beat on an open shed. This technique, I've found, can also reduce the draw-in on the selvages because it allows for more weft yarn to snuggle among the warp yarns at the fell line (thereby creating less tension at the selvages). What do I mean by beating on an open shed? Step on the treadle to open the shed, throw the shuttle, and then beat with your foot still on the treadle and your shed still open. Only after that do you close the shed. (The more common way we've learned to beat is to step on the treadle, throw the shuttle, release the treadle, close the shed -- and then beat. Beating on a closed shed is harder on the selvages because, in my view, the weft has less room to wriggle up and down among the warp ends, snugging it in so tight that it pulls more on the selvages.)

4) Also, you want to think about how you weave your floating selvages. Here's a technique developed by Janet Dawson and I share it because I've found it helps reduce draw-in. Instead of throwing the shuttle over one floating selvage, across the shed, and under the opposite floating selvage -- and then repeating this figure-eight throw for every pick -- try this: With each throw of the shuttle, weave OVER one floating selvage, through the shed, and then OVER the opposite floating selvage. Then, with the next pick, do the reverse: weave UNDER your floating selvage, through the shed, and then UNDER the opposite floating selvage. This, in my view, also reduces draw-in because the traditional "figure eight" of the weft yarn creates just a bit more tension than the circular approach that Dawson recommends. Weaving "over/over" and then "under/under" your floating selvages is a gentler approach, given that the alternative, the figure-eight approach, puts more tension on your selvages (again, in my view).

5) Try using an end-feed-delivery shuttle, which allows you to tension the weft more precisely so that it's not delivered as tightly. Also, with an end-feed-delivery shuttle, the weft is fed directly from the end of the pirn rather than from the wide slit in the boat shuttle, where the weft is fed as it spins erratically around the bobbin. That means, with the end-feed-delivery shuttle, the yarn is delivered in more of a straight line. You'll also find that, with an end-feed-delivery shuttle, the weft glides more gently across the fell line. Here's a link to where you can find excellent end-feed-delivery shuttles:

6) Many weavers swear by using a temple, which tensions the cloth, helping to take tension off the selvages. (I don't use one, but that's just me.)

7) I've read discussions that delve into the intricacies of the warp-yarn twist versus the twist of the weft yarn as it turns on the selvages, where pick-by-pick the weft slowly untwists one of the selvages because of its opposing S or Z twist direction. This I cannot even begin to analyze ;o) but I do see how  it might create a problem. Again, if you suspect this is the issue you're dealing with, you're best off adding floating selvages using a sturdy yarn like rayon embroidery thread.

Whew! This is a big topic for a small detail. Many of us, at least when we first learn to weave, beat hard and pull on the shuttle hard. But I've learned that weaving calls for a more Zen-like approach, you might say, drawing on the shuttle just enough but not too much. As Aristotle famously said, "In all things, moderation."

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Great analysis!

dteaj said...

Hi Denise. Great topic and (almost) comprehensive list. It’s so obvious that I’m sure you just overlooked it, in the midst of examining more complex solutions: the angle of laying in the yarn makes a big difference.

Just fyi, in the first few inches of weaving of every project, I sample for angle of weft, type and heft of beat, need for floating selvage, fishing line selvedge, temple, etc. I check that those selvages are as close to the reed width as at all possible. Then, hopefully, there are no surprises during the actual project.


Denise Kovnat said...


As usual, you're right! I think the reason I left it out is that it never really works for me (insert smiley face here). That is, I'm looking for laying it in at a 45-degree angle, correct? Well, darned if I can achieve that. Maybe I'm just greedy, not advancing the warp enough to get that full 45-degree angle when I throw the shuttle. Also, it's tough to do on table looms and other smaller floor looms. Response, please?

dteaj said...

Well, here’s the thing. From my experience, the optimum angle differs depending on the fiber, width of project, type of weave – a whole bunch of stuff. So I sample and look at the thread as it lays in the cloth (is it a little loopy?) and the selvages (are they pulled in a little too tight?) The optimum angle is often less than 45 degrees for me.

One example of how it will vary. What are you weaving? Weft dominant? Angling may not be sufficient and it may be best to bubble the weft. Rugs are a good example of this. Warp dominant? The angle may be quite shallow, since it is the warp is doing the moving above and below the weft. Repp or plain weave ikat would be examples of this extreme.

And that’s just one variable. A drape-y thread will have more takeup than a stiff one.

I do try to advance the fell line often. Every inch or so. Sometimes I get lazy and the first place which gets affected when I do is, guess what, the selvedge. Advancing often allows for having a consistent angle of weft, among many other benefits. The shorter the distance is between fell and resting beater location the more important it seems to be to do this.

For table looms, I tend to push the thread with the back of one hand as it is coming out of the shed. That way the shuttle doesn’t have to pull the thread so close to the beater to get the right angle. Table looms are so hand intensive anyway that one more fast movement doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

This all sounds way more complicated than it is in practice. Just observe the weft carefully for the first couple of inches, then follow the pattern of angle and beat after finding the sweet spot.

Denise Kovnat said...

Thank you, Deborah! Yes, writing about weaving is far more challenging than demonstrating weaving. And yes, it makes everything sound much more complicated. Truth is, however, that these details (beat, avoiding draw in, sett, which shuttle to use, angle of weft, etc.) all add up and make the difference between good cloth and great cloth!

Sampling, in Search of Beautiful Cloth

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