Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fulling and finishing the Estrella weaving project

I did the finishing work on the Estrella weaving project today. I am really tickled with how it turned out!!

First, I had to do a little bit of work with scissors and needle. I trimmed all the tail ends where I had started and stopped weft threads. Then I dealt with the couple of spots where I had repaired broken warp threads. I didn't actually break any threads in the weaving process, but I had snapped two in the warping process. At the time I just knotted them back together, and then I did a splice when I got to that spot in the weaving.

But that left me with a start and a stop, with a little gap in between them.

So I needle wove one of the threads back up the web, so the warp threads overlapped by about an inch.

After all the threads had been appropriately taken care of, it was time to wet finish the fabric. Before wet finishing, the fabric measured an inch sort of 10 yards long x 25" wide, which was larger than I needed. And it was kind of scratchy.

The solution? Fulling. Fulling the fabric exposes the wool to water, heat, and agitation in order to mesh the fibers together into their finished position, and to shrink and soften up the fabric. Before the invention of the fulling mill, one way Medieval folk did this was to put the fabric in a large vat of water. Then they added fuller's earth and stale urine to the mix, to scour away any remaining lanolin, dirt, and grease.

I skipped the fuller's earth and stale urine part. The roving I used already came with the lanolin scoured away. Besides...ewww. Because the next part? The fuller got into that vat, and stomped on the fabric.
For long amounts of time, if my experiments are anything like the historical reality. After a half hour of tromping around to some inspiring Irish jigs, my tub looked like this:

The water was blue with the extra dye that was rinsing out of the fabric. The fabric itself? Well, the fulling was starting to take place. The fabric had shrunk a half inch or so, and the fibers were fluffing and blending.
But I was sweating, my legs were beginning to ache, and my knee was giving out. This was harder work than it looked like! Medieval fullers must have had legs of steel, impressive stamina, and the patience saints.

I wanted to shrink up my fabric from 25" wide to 21" wide, to give the width I needed for my eventual sewing project. I decided that I understood why the Medieval folk invented the water wheel driven fulling mill as the first part of the fabric making process to be mechanized. And lo and behold, I had access to my own version of a fulling mill.

Yup. Another 15 or 20 minutes in the wash, and the fabric had shrunk down to the 21" width I needed, and was 8 yards 2' long. The colors had blended, the fibers had meshed, the fabric had plumped up and the surface had softened.
Done! (insert happy dance here) I tried laying the fabric out flat to dry in one long strip...

...but today was very very windy. It wouldn't stay put. So I brought it inside, and the finished fabric is currently on a drying rack over my tub. Do you see that cool stripe pattern that showed up? Not planned. It is a result of an inconsistency in how thick I did the various skeins of hand spun yarn. I like it, but it tells me that I need to work on my spinning some more.

Now, all I need to do is write up the documentation for the competition, and this part of the project is done!


  1. Don't forget that the docs are 5 page limit plus bibliography and appendices. I just had to re-organize mine to fit.

    And I still need to finish my other category.

    I LUV YOUR FABRIC!!! Way cooler than mine but you are much more accomplished weaver than I am. LOL!

  2. Yes, I still need to write up the documentation. I could fill a book! (But I won't. Really.)

    I look forward to seeing your weaving!!! I am really excited this year by having weaving as a category. I look on the A&S competition as an excuse create something to a deadline, and then get together and drool over all the pretties. And smoke out who else is playing in the same field, so we can compare notes and make contacts. How often do we as historic weavers take a chance to band together and create a display like this one will be? Not nearly often enough!