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How To Wet Finish Your Handwovens

by Sarah Resnick

Before and after wet finishing(above: on the loom vs. after wet-finishing. photo by Christine Jablonski)

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is: "How do I care for the piece I just wove?"  The answer varies based on the fiber content, so we will share based on each of our yarn types below.

How to Wet Finish by Fiber Type

Cotton

Our 100% cotton yarn is quite sturdy. This includes Mallo, Beam, 8/2 cotton, 8/4 cotton, and 8/8 cotton

You can machine wash and machine dry projects woven with these yarns with regular laundry soap and they will hold up very well through repeated washings. Because of its thick, slubby nature, Mallo does shrink quite a bit in the first wash. This makes your finished piece even softer and more sumptuous, but make sure to plan for shrinkage when you are designing your piece. Please also see our blog post on Sampling for Take-up and Shrinkage.

Cotton Linen Blends

Our cotton/linen blends (including Duet and our Italian Cotton Linen) are also suitable for a washing machine. You can wash them with regular laundry soap on delicate in cold water, or by hand. They can also go in the dryer, however the lifetime of a linen piece is preserved longer if it is line dried and then ironed. Which direction you choose is entirely up to you. Personally, I machine dry my pieces because I find it much simpler. Linen often comes out of the dryer a bit wrinkly, but a quick steam iron makes it soft and smooth. Repeated use and washing makes linen softer and softer over time.

100% Linen

Our 100% linen yarn can be washed in a washing machine on a delicate setting, or washed by hand, and you can choose whether you would like to machine dry or line dry. A quick dash under the iron will bring out the softness and beauty of linen.

Alpaca

Some of the darker colors of our alpaca yarn can occasionally bleed, so we recommend making sure to do your first washing in cool water. Because alpaca is a more delicate, animal fiber, we recommend hand-washing in the sink with some gentle soap suitable for wool garments. Let the alpaca cloth soak in the soapy water for a while, and gently rinse it until the water runs clear.  Squeeze the excess water out, or roll the item in a very absorbent towel and press to remove the excess moisture—never twist or wring. Lay flat on a towel to dry. You can use a warm iron if you’d like. Our alpaca comes out so delightfully soft after it is wet finished. 

Wool

With wool, you need to be most careful to avoid felting. Felting happens with sudden changes in temperature (ie: plunging into hot water), changes in PH (which can happen with soap), and agitation. For our Suffolk wool, we recommend hand washing gently with a soap that is suitable for wool, gently rinsing, and laying flat to dry. Unless, of course, you’re trying to felt your piece! In that case, hot soapy water and lots of agitation will be the name of the game.

Handwoven Silk

Our silk noil yarn shouldn't be machine washed. Hand-wash with a gentle soap, and lay flat to dry. A warm iron once it is dry will bring out the shine.

General Tips for Wet Finishing Handwoven Cloth

  • All of the yarn in our shop is dyed with high quality dyes that are meant to be as washfast as possible—we have few complaints about dyes bleeding with the first wash. However, sometimes dark colors do still bleed into light colors - dark blues and dark reds are the most likely culprits for this. We recommend doing an initial wash in cold water to avoid bleeding. Using a color catcher (looks like a dryer sheet, found in the laundry aisle of your grocery store) in the washer can also help arrest bleeding issues.
  • Most of the yarn in our shop is dyed with wash-fastness as a priority over light-fastness, as weavers typically make garments of home textiles that need to be able to stand up to repeated washing. This means that if you create a piece of art, you want to avoid hanging it in direct sunlight/using it as a curtain etc., unless some amount of fading is acceptable to you.
  • All fibers will change from their loom state once they have been washed, so what you see on the loom and how it feels once it's been finished will likely be very different—most often softer and lovelier after wet finishing than before!

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