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.


Carol said...

Fascinating, Meg, I had no idea how much work went into this. What a process, but obviously necessary and well worth the trouble.

Meg said...

Yes, Carol, well-observed. This is part of weaving, but because it looks like washing, some woven pieces are not finished properly. Many modern books don't even mention it, so new weavers aren't told, but it's especially evident in sheep's wool and to me, some cottons. Until you wet-finish, or full, or, OK, wash, they look line nets off looms.

Meg said...

Another very important thing I keep forgetting, Carol, is I learned to weave towards the end of the era when all weaving wool had scales on, i.e. they were not superwash, and this process allowed the scales to do their things to fully full the cloth. Strictly speaking, many of the superwash yarns, Oz and Kiwi merino included, nowadays don't require this kind of vigorous process, and never full properly the way they used to. This make is easier for anybody to stuck their sweaters in the wool cycle, but slightly unsatisfying for weavers. Well, some weavers. Because the transformation IS almost magical.

Portia's Cloth said...

I was very happy with my 20+ years old top loading washer. I could soak things in it and open the lid to watch how the washing or fulling was going. Then one day it just stopped working. I did my homework, decided that I still needed a top loader as I think some front loaders can't be stopped part way through a cycle. I ended up getting a Fisher & Paykel one. The man who installed it told me it was a front loader in a top loader body. That means that it is quite economical with water but tends to leave a lot of lint behind in the economy modes. The other problem is that in the 20+ years since the previous one was built we have become more safety conscious. This means that if you leave something to soak for a while or just stop it and go to get the rest of the load that you forgot, it pumps the water out to make sure that no passing toddler drowns in it. It will only work when the lid is locked. This happens automatically and once the washing or spinning has started you have to stop it and wait for it to unlock, again to protect passing toddlers. There are as many passing toddlers at my house as there probably are at yours. It also makes strange noises, I say it sounds as though it is strangling the washing but as the lid is metal and locked, I can't see why it makes such strange noises

Meg said...

What is your F&P model? I wonder if I can check it out in Nelson. Our F&P is 17 years old and just after we bought ours, F&P came out with more environmentally better-behaved models, dryer in particular. Hyundai appears to be the best behaved of the top loaders available in Nelson, but all things being equal, I would like to buy NZ or Japanese brands, though they probably all come from the same factory in China. And no, no wee kiddies here. I wished all the safety features were optional. Ditto with medicine bottles.

Portia's Cloth said...

Hi Meg
I just checked, it's a 7kg Aquasmart model WLT70T60DW1, I was surprised to find I'd had it 6 years. I had a look at their website and there's a 7 kg Aquasmart 2 with a very similar model number but ends in CW2 instead of DW1. Probably the updated model. I like the low profile agitator in case I have a very large piece of fabric to process and the good news is that I've had very few problems apart from being annoyed by the safety features. It took me a while to work out that you have to turn on both the hot and cold taps even if you're doing a cold wash, something to do with getting the temperature to a certain level if the cold water is too cold.

Meg said...

Thank you so much for the details. I might go into town next week just to have a look see. Luckily mine is still working, although it squeaks loudly.