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Finishing Tips for Handwovens

September 28, 2002

Daryl Lancaster

Daryl Lancaster Photo by Terry Henley

Our guild was very fortunate to have as our first guest of the season Daryl Lancaster. While people were arriving, Daryl entered the room very quietly and without hardly a word began to hang up beautiful vests, jackets and coats (that she had made) for us to look at, Shimmering gold, mint green, black and white, mustard, shades of purple. Each garment was entirely different, adding to the impression of one of the endless possibilities of handwoven finished garments.

Before beginning to speak Daryl invited us to rearrange the room so that we were sitting in almost a circle around the table where she stood. On the table were many samples.

Daryl began with a heartfelt expression of gratitude to the weaving community for all the support that she had received during her recent illness. She quoted, 'nothing bad ever happens to an artist - everything becomes part of their work.'

Daryl contrasted two very different experiences of a textile conference; in Cincinnati the garments and sewing were very poor and in Canada they appeared to have come from a master's class in sewing. After some consideration the reason is obvious. In the US it is a sad testament that nowadays handwork is not customarily taught in our schools (as it used to be). In Canada the teaching these subjects continues. That is why looking at the Canadian garments it is obvious that there is a basic skill and understanding of how to make garments.

Continuing with the idea that what is very hot in fashion today is the mixing together of techniques and fabrics from many cultures; they can be exquisite if done well. (e.g. take linen from Belgium, silk from India and shibori from Japan) So as a first priority it is important to have a good basic foundation before you try mixing, start with weaving and sewing something simple.

Daryl had been asked to talk especially about finishing. She asked, "What is the first thing to do after the weaving is finished? You have to wash it. And dry it. You need to know what is best for which materials, hot or cold water, for how long, which detergent or something to make it colorfast.

At this point Daryl stopped and asked for people to bring out the pieces of work that were brought for which materials there were questions about.(finished or unfinished) She looked carefully at each one and, in a short dialogue with each owner, listened attentively to the comments about the piece at hand She indicated that now she could organize the rest of the afternoon to give space for the possible learning and improvement for all.

For the rest of the day Daryl alternated between giving very precise technical information and, simultaneously, indicating a pathway that makes room for one's own personal artistic expression as a weaver. Fibers that come front a plant or an animal are living, they have energy. If you listen to your materials, she said, whatever kind they are, the materials will talk to you and you will know what to do with them. Some days you can go to your loom, try this, try that and nothing works. Perhaps it's not the time to weave, other times, it's the opposite. Everything comes out perfect. We are trained, as westerners, to be goal-oriented. E.g. I see something. I want that. I have to make that. I get started and I begin to stumble, hit a road-block. It's not working. Does that mean it's necessary to abandon the whole thing? Not at all, it probably means that it's time to find plan B or plan C. What else could this be? What inspires me? I look around, the yarns, the warps, a picture or ?? Do I ever just play at the loom, trying different warps and things, just for fun?

So if I'm going to weave cloth for a garment its useful to make as much as possible since it will be raw material to make something new. Supposing I have a lot of old yarn and want to use it but I have no idea what material it is or how much there is. You can use standard burn testing to find out what the material is.

Then you can use a McMoran balance to find out how much you have. After that, of course, you can go on to make plans for the weaving Carefully do all the necessary calculations and keep all information m a sketchbook -Including a swatch when its ready for future reference. When the piece is finished be sure to get rid of all dangling ends, overlapping at the selvedge for cloth or in the center for a finished piece (like a scarf) before washing. If you are unsure about shrinkage or whether the dye will run), safest is to start with a gentle, short, cold wash. Hot water will not hurt fabrics like cotton or linen but wool will tend to felt. Also, with hotter water, some dyes will tend to run. For colorfastness use a white vinegar rinse or a commercial product like synthrapol. For linen, it is good to iron it while it is still damp to have a nice sheen. Daryl gave us other information about methods to use to bulk up fabric, suggestions for seam finishing and deciding on the necessary sett on the loom.

It was a very happy and cheerful learning experience. To quote Daryl one last time, 'If something does not turn out the way you expected, it is your ideal that is wrecked, not the fabric. Take another look. This lovely material in front of me, what could it be?'

--Sara Briggs


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