Spinning is really relaxing. Weaving can be all kinds of things; exciting, tiring, frustrating, and, at its most fun, an intellectually challenging puzzle. Because the weaving process is often incredibly long I rarely think about the finishing work that will be necessary when I get through weaving. But the finishing work brings crucial qualities to the final piece, mainly what it looks like and how it feels to the human touch. The finishing process is especially challenging with my handspun churro pieces. Churro pieces, whether handspun or millspun, tend to be fuzzy looking things. My personal take is that I don’t like a fuzzy looking piece, I want every detail of yarn texture and design to show through. And fuzz can hide the results of a whole lot of my hard work.
Another aspect of my handspun pieces is that my yarns aren’t spotlessly clean. They usually have some lanolin, vegetable matter, and even some dirt. So I need to wash these handspun pieces. The good thing about washing them is that they also become something more of a unified fabric by going through the process. But washing the pieces means I have some extra, time-consuming processes to go through before I can have the kind of elegantly finished piece that I really need after all of my work. I don’t have to do nearly so much work for weavings made from our millspun yarns, but I hope you’ll appreciate the documentation of the finishing work involved in my handspun pieces.
Before anything else happens I have to tie fringes. But before I can even do that, I have to actually get to the end of the weaving. First I have to pull the knots off that I used to tie the warp to the apron. Then I have to remove the extra thick yarn I wove as “header” in preparation for weaving after tying the warp up to the apron. The “header” yarn is woven in only for the purpose of spreading the warp yarns apart, so that they will be distributed evenly, the way the reed distributes them, which is at eight threads per inch. Once the knots and the header yarn are gone, I’m ready to tie the fringe. Although there are countless options for tying fringe, most often I opt for a simple overhand knot with four threads in it.
For all of the reasons mentioned above, I feel obligated to wash any of my handspun pieces as part of my finishing work. I have been washing my pieces in the bathtub for years and can’t think of anyplace that would work any better for the task. I alternate washes with soap with just rinsing until the piece rinses clear. That can take a while. It’s time spent on my knees, which means it’s not my favorite thing to do. After the water in the bathtub is looking clear enough I can drain the tub and make a dash out the front door of our house to hang the piece on our ramp’s railing. This railing is very useful for a lot of things we do in the shop. It’s conveniently located and has an absolutely fabulous view to the west.
I know very well that ironing is one of those things that many people do their best to avoid in these modern times. And, I’m guessing people who have seen my day-to-day attire know that I am one of those people. But ironing wool is a real skill. Wool is amazingly manipulate-able, even after it has been woven into a very solid fabric. Where you apply heat and steam can have a major impact on the finished fabric. I am a persistent person, and will iron a piece until it is totally and completely flat. I started the ironing process with both pieces together, hoping that by ironing the upper layer I would help start the lower piece along. The pink piece turned out to be too big an ironing challenge, so I focused my efforts on the brown piece first.
Soon it became clear that the pink piece was not going to just iron out to a flat fabric. Although every yarn in the piece was of churro wool, the fleeces had widely varying characteristics and “pulled in” differently. It has to do with variations in the “springiness” of the fibers that make up the yarn, and it isn’t the first time I have run into the problem. The way to correct for the variations in the wool was to block it out, stretching it to it’s widest width. Simply put, blocking a piece is nailing the thing down, pulling it wherever it needs to be stretched out. I will iron it while it’s nailed down to get it utterly flat.
It helps to have the piece flat when you’re shaving it. We use hair cutters to do this process. In the second picture you can clearly see the difference that shaving the piece has. The design is now much more clearly visible.
We’ve been using the term “sanding” for shaving the piece again, this time with sweater shavers, to get it to be smooth to the touch, like really well finished wood. We can spend hours and hours doing this.
This is something I’m doing during all of these finishing steps. I am using tweezers to pull out every single piece of the vegetable matter that was spun into the yarn because it was just part of the fleece. These things can be almost microscopic, but are important to remove because they will attract moths. You can also feel the vegetable matter with sensitive fingertips even if you can’t actually see it.
Names, tags, pricing, database, etc.
Lastly, we have to give the piece a name and a price tag. And all that information goes into our multipurpose database. Often, naming a piece is a tremendous challenge for me, although sometimes a name can come to me early in the weaving process. The brown piece was named “Camp Moki” and has already found a home in Santa Fe, and the pink one is named “Rosa Fresca” and is still hanging here in the shop. You can see it here on our site.
I want to point out that the finishing process on these two pieces took about the same amount of time as weaving them did. But both Irvin and I really believe that finishing our pieces well is crucial, and add a level of quality that many other weavers don’t strive for in their work. So we do this stuff. And we wanted to let you know.