In nearly every handwoven cloth’s existence comes the time when it is washed. This is an exciting moment. The fibers that relaxed a bit when taken off the loom are given even more freedom by the water and the transformation can be dramatic, so much so that Laura Fry entitled her excellent book on the subject of wet-finishing textiles, Magic in the Water. Because sometimes you’d swear, there must be.
But in some instances the dramatic transformation is not a good one. The woolen fabric felts, the cotton puckers, a yarn shreds in the wash making the textile look years old instantly. Because of this, in the past, I’ve had a tendency to delay washing my cloth. I don’t stop weaving, because there’s always a new idea to try, so eventually I have piles of unwashed cloth cluttering up the place.
Today, Selah, my co-teacher for the “Clothing from the Rigid-Heddle Loom” class we’re teaching at Madrona is coming over for a session of sewing up sample garments and to familiarize me with her very cool Asian-inspired vest pattern. It’s a bad idea to sew with unwashed fabric, so I consigned many woven-off warps to the washing machine yesterday.
To take a bit of the risk away, I do something that Daryl Lancaster recommended in The Weaver Sews. I cut three small samples: save one unwashed, hand-wash one, and machine-wash the last. This helps, but the truth is, the results you get from a small sample sometimes are different that what you get from the full length of cloth, which can tangle and twist in the washer.
So I always have a twinge when I put cloth into the washing machine. It’s like potters when they put work into the kiln, or dyers when the skein goes into the pot. For all your skill and care, you never know exactly what you’ll pull out.
I always feel like telling my cloth, “Good luck in there! Do me proud!”