The final step of weaving your cloth is (usually) to give it a wash – wet finishing.
Depending on your fibre and intended use of the cloth you might have different aims for your wet finishing. Maybe you don’t want it to change much and just want to give it a quick and gentle soak and leave it to dry, just enough to get the threads to properly relax and re-drape after coming off the tension of the loom – some fibres won’t change much in the wash anyway, like acrylics or superwash wool.
Maybe you used handspun yarn and just want to set the twist, or want to give things a nice swish around to let the yarn bloom (puff up and close up the gaps), or you used a more delicate fibre like silk and don’t want to risk damaging it.
Or, at the other end of the scale maybe you want to really agitate everything and get the fibres to fluff and full. Fulling is the term for when you take a woollen item (woven, or other fibre-crafts) and felt it on purpose – all those rules about what you should not do when washing wool? Break them!
How much you break the ‘washing and care’ rules will determine how much change you see in your finished cloth. The more you full it, the more it will shrink, the less distinct each thread will be, but the more the threads will hold together, the thicker and firmer the cloth will be, and if you have a textured weave (like waffle-weave, or a pick-up stick pattern) the more the threads will pull in and change or form that texture.
Bear in mind, fulling works with non-superwash wool (or alpaca and some other animal fibres) – the sort that says handwash only, if it’s machine washable it might bloom but won’t full. Other fibre types might shrink and bloom or puff or change slightly but won’t neccessarily full.
It’s also fun to note that if you have multiple types of fibre in the one cloth, then you can get some really cool effects from wet-finishing it, as they will each react differently – called differential shrinkage – and this can create really interesting texture, ripples, ruffles, puckers, bubbles and squiggles in the finished cloth.
For my Houndstooth weaving workshop I was inspired by the look of woven tweed so I wanted something that would full when I wet-finished it. Also, a great point that Liz Gipson of Yarnworker often makes is that when you can full your cloth you can mostly hide any so-called ‘mistakes’ and still get quite practical and beautiful cloth. Because I wanted the workshop to be beginner friendly I wanted to be sure that no matter how much or little participants wove, or how well they thought they did, at the very least they could take their weaving home and full it and full it (even chuck it in the tumble drier) and end up with a piece of thick, stable, felt-like fabric that could for example be used as a trivet or cut into coasters.
I chose a feltable wool yarn from Ashford because it’s accessible price-wise and easy to source, and of course it works up well using the 7.5dpi reed that Ashford’s rigid heddle looms come with.
Once the cloth is off the loom, (and the fringe if applicable has been knotted/twisted etc. and any yarn ends have been trimmed to about 10cm) I will run some warm water into the sink or bathroom basin (depending on the size of the cloth) and add a little bit of wool wash (I use Delicates Wash from Tantech). If I just want it to bloom, I’ll swish it round, maybe gently pull on a slight diagonal to get the threads to wiggle round and even out any slight variation in spacing, then rinse in water as close as I can get to the same temperature as the wash water.
When I want to really full my cloth, as with the Houndstooth cowl, I will use a bit more wool wash (or even dishwashing detergent – here’s a good article on the Handwoven website about detergents for wet-finishing); and I also scrunch and squish everything, pull it out of the water and dunk it back in, maybe even rub it together as well. I do take care not to accidentally pull on any individual threads or on loose ends though. I then drain most of the water out, and add a little more detergent, and scrunch it round to really lather everything up (see photo at top), then rinse it all out. If you want maximum fulling, you can also switch from hot to cold water and back as you rinse it.
If you want to get really historical about it, you could watch this youtube video showing the traditional process of ‘Waulking the Tweed’ from Sgioba Luaidh Inbhirchluaidh (Inverclyde Waulking Group).
I’ve read you can also use the tumble drier if you want to get a most extreme result… I rarely use the tumble drier for my laundry (we have a good old Hills Hoist clothes line) so I’ve not yet experimented with the drier for fulling, I’ll have to make some samples and set them aside for the next time I use it.
Once dry I will usually use a blunt-ended tapestry needle to weave in any loose ends and trim them off but you may find with a heavily fulled cloth that you don’t need to – all the fibres are meshed together so well you don’t need to worry about threads pulling out, just trim them off flush, and go enjoy your fuzzy, fulled fabric!
One final important note – once you’ve achieved your desired amount of fulling, all future washing should go back to the recommended care as per the yarn label! The wet finishing process should be the harshest wash your item gets.