Saturday, October 31, 2015

Wet Finish

Once in a while I am asked how I wet-finish, especially when possum is involved. Between 2000 and, oh, 2006, I asked weavers how they do it, and over the years I combined and fine-tuned it to based on the space/equipment/physical-height available to me.

Because these weavers were based in New Zealand, the answers concerned mostly wool or wool-mix, which suited me then. And it works for my cashmeres, even though the vendor recommends a gentler finish because cashmere doesn't full like wool. But as I started using silks and may eventually get to all silk, and I also have to replace my washing machine soon, I have been thinking more about wet finishing of all kinds, so I'm recording this here for my sake, although I did this once before, and it hasn't changed much, and in my Japanese blog more recently.

(My washing machine is a top-loader with an opaque lid which doesn't suit my control-freak-ness, so I haven't used it for wools except the spin cycle, but as this machine has been dying a slow death I'm compelled to ponder the top-loader-which-suits-my-stop-go-penchant vs. front-loader-which-saves-water-and-apparently-takes-out-lint-like-there's-no-tomorrow question.

I am always open to any recommendations/variations/suggestions; thank you in advance. Here goes:

1) I fill the sink/bathtub/container with the hottest hot water from the tap, (mine is about 55C) and dissolve wool wash or shampoo; fill with enough hot water to immerse the piece completely. (Some folks use kitchen detergent but my yarns are seldom that greasy as most are commercially spun and dyed.) Turn off the hot water.

2) I drop the piece in hot water and let it absorb the soapy water in its own time - maybe 15-20 min. If sections refuse to sink, I push it gently to coax; if in a hurry, I push the piece down gently and evenly all over.

3) I press the cloth gently all over so the piece completely soaks up the soapy water, then agitate a little bit to help threads come together.

From here, all depends on the weave/purpose/desired finish.

4) I may agitate some more, or not, then gently squeeze the piece to get rid of soapy hot water, put it aside, discard the water and fill the container with the coldest tap water, then turn off the tap.

5) I immerse the piece in the cold water, and gently agitate evenly, but I may continue for some time. I'm mindful about keeping things parallel/perpendicular. Then gently squeeze the piece to get rid of water, put it aside, discard the cold water and fill the container with the hottest tap water, then turn the hot water off.

6) I immerse the piece, and agitate. This is where dye, possum or mohair start come out, but also merino/wool visibly starts to full, so I observe the cloth vigilantly. Also the piece may not remain folded but spread out, squeezed, bunched together, whatever it takes to full evenly, not have creases, and, fingers crossed, still stay rectangular. Depending on the weave/purpose/desired finish, I work vigorously. Also, as long as the water doesn't fall directly on the piece, I may keep the hot water running so water/piece stay hot. I squeeze the piece to get rid of water, put it aside, discard the water and fill the container with the coldest tap water, then turn the water off.

7) I immerse the piece in the cold water and agitate. Again, I may have the cold water running as long as it doesn't fall onto the piece directly. Sometimes I stay in stages 6) and 7) longer, sometimes I repeated them. When satisfied, I squeeze the piece to get rid of the water.

8) Depending on the piece, I may fold it, or roll it in an bath towel, or fold/roll and wrap it in a towel, then put it through a full spin cycle. Depending on the piece, I sometimes start with a gentler spin, but more often I just let it have it.

9) I unwrap the package, steam press, sometimes with a cotton press cloth, on both sides, then lay it flat on wool carpet. (Cut pile works best; unfortunately my living room is now tiny loop pile so I sometimes dry it in the downstairs workshop on the old living room carpet.) If I'm not happy with how I've pressed, I'll even press it while on the carpet. Then I leave it overnight, or however long it takes, to dry.

10) When I peel it off the the floor it should be pretty straight and wrinkle free. But if it contains possum, it will continue to shed.
The key is, I can't un-full, so I'd rather go slowly and repeat processes, and for me watching and feeling the cloth works best. To that end, I have wet-finished for a second time some pieces after they have dried completely.

Wet-finishing guru Laura Fry demonstrates a dryer method, reminiscent to me of ye olde community waulking; I don't have a surface I can do this without much lining with plastic lining and moving of furniture, but when I did experiment with a small piece on a small surface, I still couldn't see the whole piece which made me uneasy and I haven't tried it with a bigger one. Here's another resource from her.

So far I've been washing my silk-mix pieces in a gentler version of above method; cotton and cottolin pieces are put in laundry nets and through the hottest and the most vigorous wash cycle, steam-pressed and dried either on a tube rather then a line, or on the floor.

EDIT: As I mentioned in the comment, I learned to weave at the end of the era when most/all weaving yarns still had scales left on. I wash superwash merinos in the same way still, but perhaps I need to investigate for this reason as well.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


My goodness, has it been windy. I looked up some vids of mistral and sirocco, and Nelson has been pretty close, especially yesterday. They say we'll have a brief reprieve midweek, but it's going to be like this for a while. Hay fever has been especially hard on the eyes this year.

Anyhoo, I managed a little more weaving today; it seems I can manage about 20cm on Klik before backache sets in, although some days I've managed two sittings.

I had in mind the hellebore draft for this project, but after the first, sinewy piece, fragile warp and watery eyes, I opted for a simpler lift plan.
It's a twill in regular progression. (Is that the right description?) I have seven weft yarns in pale greens, yellows, and pinks. I would have loved an orange, but ones I had were too thick. Each color is used in a stripe of 30 picks; most stripes are woven in the lifting seen in the top two stripes. The lifting in yellow pops up occasionally, and the bottom two less so. I'm aiming for a cheerful piece suggesting a spring flower garden.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

11 More Weeks

Well, hello there.

I've been gardening a lot, cooking a bit, reading while recuperating, and not weaving much. And I copied this line from the previous post, because that is what I have been doing. I'm glad to report my cooking is improving; learning is never straight-forward for me and practicing is the best way to improve any skills, not reading endlessly about them; I think I've learned that from weaving. I noticed of late I've been able to emulate Ben's cooking a little bit "ending up with" a mixture of flavors rather than one or two ingredients dominating, but without making it all too complicated and mismashy.

It's been a while since I last read a van Gogh book but I've been reading online about his contemporaries, (some are a little earlier): Manet, Degas, (apparently another difficult person,) Cezanne, (ditto), Renoir, Pissarro, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, et al, and who were chummy with whom. On paper, I've been having a ball with Sarah Vowell's refreshing look at American history, and David Rakoff's musings on life as an expat and on modern life.

On another level, I've been envying their uber-cosmopolitan, cerebral, (and surprisingly more mobile,) life, the kind I aspired to when younger, the kind of life someone from Tokyo/Yokohama naturally imagines rather than an almost-rural suburban life in Nelson. I'm happy living this life here now, but I also wonder what I might have missed out on in terms of learning, and culture. Thank goodness for the Internet, then.

A while back I finished weaving the first cashmere mix piece and washed it, but to my dismay it was nowhere near as fluffy as the sample. I felt so disappointed after glaring at it for a week I did a second wet-finishing, which didn't improve the piece at all. I have started a second piece, a commission from Mom, using 100% cashmeres slightly skinnier than the sample, and to be on the safe side, I've increased the PPI.
Middle third of the sample is with the same merino weft.
The garden.

I've become philosophical. Our place won't look like we've been putting in efforts for at least another couple of winters. At the earliest. In four of the main parts we do put efforts in. I learned to be patient from weaving. And the garden is never ending. Now the spring wind has come, and I had a bad start to the hay fever season, (it's settled now,) I'm at the mercy of forces greater than myself on when and how long I can get out. We're expecting a La-Nina-cool/dry summer, so like last year it may blow until early winter, with blinding sunshine in between. Still, I was getting tired of the garden claiming so much of my time, energy and brain juice, I couldn't think of weaving when I've had half and whole days I sat on the couch unable to switch my thinking, so this can only be a good thing.

On the more cheerful note, here are some early-to-mid spring pics.
Pots evacuated for retaining wall treatment.
Had I stuck to my original color plans of almost 19 years ago, our entire garden, or at least a big part, would have been in purples and blues with enduring calm.
Said retaining wall, which has been treated twice, plus the only scented geranium that smells really lovely. The house will be washed by a professional and the exterior paint touched up by his mate, so our house will look pretty for the first time in several years. Or a decade. Maybe I can persuade Ben to help me spruce up the garden furniture, too.
Because of the wind, I've been bringing in flowers more than other years.
Not only have I bought not-blues and not-purples, but this year I even bought variegated.
I love tulips at every stage.
Every. Single. Stage.
One of the eight areas in our garden, and probably the area that should be the prettiest, but it's mostly veggies and here as it's the only flat bit. It's much smaller than it appears in the pic. Seedlings waiting on the deck.

11 more weeks of 2015 left. Goodness, time flies.