Weaving 101: The Secret to Better Selvedges

New weavers always want to know the “secret” to good selvedges.

wine-red colored selvedge

Unfortunately there is generally no one right answer because there are a number of things that can go wrong during the weaving process that can have an impact on selvedges. For new weavers it is quite often a combination of things going ‘wrong’ that are the issue so even by fixing one thing, selvedges may still not be good.

Understanding the entire process and the principles involved in weaving will help — it’s the “secret” you need to improve!

The following are general guidelines to consider. Much depends on the particular circumstances – a densely packed warp or a loose one? Elastic yarns or inelastic yarns? Weave structure? Type of loom and shuttles?

Tip #1:

Beam the warp under consistent tension using good packing materials.  Make sure the warp is cylindrical, not cigar shaped. If the tension is too loose and packing material is not used (sectional beaming is an exception to the rule of packing material) upper layers can cut down into lower layers causing all kinds of havoc during weaving resulting in poor weaving tension, not just at the selvedges but within the body of the cloth.

warp beam

Tip #2:

Try to be consistent about using the correct amount of tension during weaving on the warp for the yarn being used. Too loose and selvedges will draw in, usually inconsistently. Too tight and selvedge ends may break.

Tip #3:

Do not weave too close to the beater/reed. As the fell approaches the reed the angle the warp threads open at becomes more acute putting stress on the threads and usually results in either broken threads or loops at the selvedge.

Tip #4:

Wind your bobbins well. So many weavers have never heard of winding a bobbin by building up a “hill” at one flange, then running the weft over to the other flange and building up a hill there, and only then filling in the valley between.

If this is not done the bobbin can jam in the shuttle cavity causing pulls at the selvedge and even broken selvedge threads from the repeated stress of the jams.  Do not create hills in the middle of the bobbin as the elevated areas will cause the weft below to catch and not wind off easily.

For very fine yarns I now use a modified method more akin to how an end feed/delivery pirn is wound. In other words, I begin by building up a ‘hill’ at one flange then with short reciprocating movements of my hand fill shallowly to the other flange, build a ‘hill’ and again with short reciprocating motions return to the first flange. Depending on how thin the weft is, there may be 3 or even 4 layers wound on in this manner.

Tip #5:

Don’t over fill bobbins. Bobbins that are too full will tend to rub on the upper layers of the shed which will in turn pull yarn off the bobbin which will then wrap around the spindle of the shuttle causing the yarn to jam and stress the selvedges.

Tip #6:

Leave a good angle on the weft and make sure it is loose in the shed when beating to ensure that it can take up across the width of the weaving and not cause excessive draw in. Learning how to hold and throw the shuttle well will help place the weft properly.

Tip #7:

Be consistent advancing and tensioning the warp. (See #2 above)

Tip #8:

Be consistent in beating. Some yarns behave better if beaten on a closed shed. My weaving rhythm is such that I tend to beat on a closing shed.

Tip #9:

Set the weft loops at the selvedge with good tension. There should be no visible ‘loop’ of weft. If a weft loop is consistently left at the selvedge eventually the outside ends, which are not taking up at the same rate as the rest of the warp, will get looser and looser.

There are some tools that might help with some of these i.e. a temple, floating selvedge or end feed/delivery shuttle and pirns. But they won’t necessarily fix all of the above issues. For example, none of them will help with a poorly beamed warp that has warp packing that doesn’t effectively keep the upper layers from cutting down into the layers below. A warp where the outside ends slide off the cylindrical roll cannot be fixed with these tools either. The only way to fix these issues is to beam the warp well in the first place.

Final note: The first step in achieving good selvedges is to develop good working skills.

The more the weaver understands the process, the better able they are to diagnose what the problem is. Then, and only then, can they change what they are doing in order to obtain the results that they desire.

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