So you're weaving along, and you look down and realize - your weaving looks like an hourglass. One side looks great, the other looks like it was woven by an over-tired two-year-old. Some picks look like they are choking the selvedge threads…others look like there’s a bubble-shaped force field between the warp and the pick.
Does any of this sound familiar? You are not alone, and despite your frustrations, this is a fixable problem that is not just about practice. Understanding that the topic of neat selvedges can inspire fierce debate and strong opinions, we offer these techniques that have worked for this weaver as a way (not the only way) to smooth your selvedges.
Because weft yarn travels over and under warp threads, it travels farther (and thus requires more length) than the measured width of the warp. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: cut a 10” length of string, pass it through a 10” wide shed and see if the yarn reaches the edge. So to account for this “take-up” in the weft, you need more weft yarn in the pick to make the weft lay flat and not pull the side in.
By “bubbling” the yarn (think sunrise, of sunset, or even create a mountain peak if you wish) you put more weft length into the shed so when beaten into place it will not pull on the edges.
This one can get a little controversial–some say never to touch the selvedge edge. When I started out weaving, I found it enormously helpful to hold the weft yarn against the selvedge thread while I created a 45-degree angle with my yarn from the fell line (serves the same purpose as the bubble).
Then when I beat, the weft yarn was perfectly placed around the selvedge thread and the extra length of weft yarn created by the angle gave me a nice, smooth selvedge.
The weaving teacher who told me never to pinch the selvedge offered this alternative—develop a feel for the weft yarn. As soon as you feel the slightest pressure of it connecting with the selvedge is when you stop pulling (note the angle of the weft – you still want extra length to accommodate take-up).
I do have to admit, this has become my preferred habit – it is also probably the most subtle and requires the most practice. If you’ve ridden horses and understand the sensation of feeling the horse’s mouth, through the bit and the reins, in your hands, this will be a familiar concept.
So try one, or all of these, and see how they work for you—and practice!