Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fulling hand woven fabric--What a Difference!

This is actually an older project, but I was talking about it briefly on Ravelry today. (I'm there as 'TangibleDaydreams'.) This was one of the first projects I wove with my hand spun yarn. The yarn is singles, from a merino wool and tencel blend roving that I picked up at the Griffin Dyeworks fiber retreat some years back. The colors were inspired by a summer family trip to the beach and ocean in Mexico. The pattern is an undulating twill design that I drafted in a workshop given by Sharon Alderman.

The interesting thing about this project to me is that I decided to see just what seriously fulling the woven fabric would do to it. So after I got it off the loom, wove in the tails, and twisted the fringe, I tossed it in the washing machine on hot and let the machine do its worst.

This is how it turned out. The fabric shrunk by at least half, and thickened up considerably. Where it had a lovely drape right off the loom (I was thinking shawl with it), it stiffened up after fulling. The pattern was partially obscured, but still showed through and gave a little bit of texture. The colors melded together.

Well, it wasn't going to be a shawl any more. But, it wasn't ruined. Instead, it turned into a seriously kick ass table runner, which I love love love. It is just the size of my dresser, so I have had it displayed there for several years now. The fabric wears like iron, and I suspect it will still be in good shape several generations from now.

(The spinning wheel in the picture is a great wheel from the 1800's that I have pressed back into service. The basket on the right comes from Prague, and has carded fleece in it that I'm gradually spinning for another project. The candle holders and the eagle sculpture were done by my father. And two of the stacked boxes on the left are hand made as well--one by a friend, and one by my grandfather.)


  1. It's hard to believe the two photos are of the same thing! Each so beautiful! Your weaving is just gorgeous.

  2. Thanks, SibStudio! The way wool reacts to water and agitation just fascinates me. The transformation is almost magical.

  3. Very interesting to see how the fabric changed. Is it caused just by the water and agitation, or is heat important?

    I used to work in pulp and paper mill - we would increase the tear strength of paper by refining it. I wonder it is at all like the change in your fabric. refining abrades the outer layers of the fibers. The fibers a like twisted ropes of cellulose - the broken outer layers interlock with each other, which helps the paper resist tearing.

  4. Part of this is the nature of wool. Wool fibers have microscopic scales on them. Heat helps those scales to open up a little bit. Water and soap make the fibers slip around with each other when you add the agitation. The scales catch on each other, and the fibers kind of velcro themselves together. As a result, the wool permanently consolidates into a smaller, more solid mass. The process is called felting when you use unspun fibers, and fulling when the wool has already been spun and made into a fabric--though some use those terms interchangeably.

    So, to make it short, yes it sounds like the process of interlocking bits is similar. But I haven't done much in the way of paper I couldn't say for sure.