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A Beginner's Guide to Finishing Your Handwoven Projects

  • 10 min read
Woven fabric (Photographer: Izzy Park | Source: Unsplash)
Photographer: Izzy Park

Starting a new weaving project is a delightful and rewarding experience, but the magic happens when you complete your handwoven piece with finesse. The finishing touches bring your handwoven creation to life, transforming it from a collection of threads into a functional and beautiful masterpiece. In this beginner's guide, we will explore essential techniques for finishing your handwoven projects, including hemstitching, machine stitching, knotting, fringe twisting, wet finishing, and pressing, to help elevate your handwoven projects to the next level.

The Importance of Finishing Handwoven Projects

Finishing handwoven projects is essential for ensuring durability, longevity, and a professional appearance. Various methods for finishing handwoven projects include hemming, adding trims, and incorporating hand-stitched details. These techniques enhance the project's aesthetic appeal and provide structural integrity.

Properly finishing handwoven projects is crucial because it prevents fabric fraying, unravelling, and distortion over time. It contributes to the item's overall quality and elevates its market value. Additionally, incorporating hand-stitched details adds a personalised touch to the project, making it unique and special.

Essential tools such as hand-sewing needles, thread, fabric scissors, and iron are required to finish handwoven projects effectively. Techniques like hand sewing and ironing are also crucial for achieving a clean and polished finish.

What are the Different Finishing Techniques for Handwoven Items?

Finishing your handwoven projects is an art, requiring attention to detail and a commitment to quality. Take time to master the following techniques; you're well-equipped to take your creations from the loom to a state of beauty and functionality.

1. Hemstitching

Hemstitching is crucial in securing the edges of your handwoven fabric, preventing it from unravelling and imparting a finished look to your project. Hemstitching is ideally performed on the loom as you weave for optimum results. Using a tapestry needle, follow the steps below to create a secure and stable border.

Hemstitching Video Credit: Kelly Cassanova on YouTube

Here's a step-by-step guide to hemstitching:

1. Prepare Your Needle: Thread the tapestry needle with a length of yarn or thread that complements your woven project. Ideally, this yarn is a length that continues from the weft of your project. We suggest a height of 3-4 times the width of your project.

2. Anchor the Thread (if not a continuous part of the weft): Begin at one corner or edge of your handwoven fabric. Needle weave the thread through at least 2 inches to create a secure anchor from inside the weaving towards an edge.

3. Weave the Thread:

Beginning of weaving:

  • Weave at least three picks. Leave a tail coming out of the right-hand selvedge that's 4 times the width of your project when weaving your first pick. Your hemstitch will be travelling from right to left.
  • Thread the tail onto your tapestry needle, bring it over a bundle of ends, and then down between those ends and the rest of the warp. Choose a number of threads for each bundle that evenly divides into your work so all bundles are even.
  • Pass your needle behind these four warp ends and through the loop created by the start of the tail. Pull tight.
  • Pass your needle over the front of the next set of ends and then down between those ends and the rest of the warp. Pass your needle behind this set of ends and bring it to the front of your work in the space between this and the last group. Pull tight. Note you are not making a loop or a knot—just wrapping these threads with your tail.Repeat until you reach the final bundle.
  • Secure the last group of warp threads by passing your needle through the loop created by the tail, creating a knot. Tuck the remaining yarn into your warp with your next pick of the weft.

End of weaving:

  • Throw final picks of weft ending at the left. Leave a thread four times the width of the weaving.
  • Thread the tail onto your tapestry needle and bring it over a bundle of ends (the same quantity as the beginning of weaving) and then down between those ends and the rest of the warp. Pass your needle behind this bundle and through the loop created by the tail's start. Pull tight.
  • Pass your needle over the front of the following bundle and then down between those ends and the rest of the warp. Pass your needle behind these threads and bring it to the front of your work in the space between this and the last group. Pull tight. As with the beginning of weaving instructions, you are not making a loop or a knot—just wrapping this bundle with your tail.
  • Repeat across the length of your warp until you reach the final bundle. Secure the last group of warp threads by passing your needle through the loop created by the tail. To firmly secure your hemstitch, needle weave the tail into your warp.

4. Cut off your project or advance the warp:If you are weaving one project on your warp, you can now cut the fabric off, ensuring you cut for at least the fringe length you, if not a little more (you can always cut more and tidy up off the loom).

2. Machine Stitching

Machine stitching is a reliable option for those who prefer a more expedited finishing process. A sewing machine equipped with a zig-zag or overlock stitch can effectively secure the edges of your handwoven fabric before folding the hem. Machine stitching is a time-efficient option, especially for larger projects. This is done off-loom, and it is my preference as to whether you sew your hems before or after washing, but be sure to zig-zag or overlock raw edges to prevent them from unravelling in the wash before you hem them.

Here is a step-by-step guide to machine stitching. Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end to lock the stitches in place.:

  1. Set Up the Machine: Ensure your sewing machine is set to the appropriate stitch for your fabric or yarn. Ideally, test a little on a handwoven sample made on the same warp.
  2. Iron/Press your fabric.
  3. Stitch the Edges: Run the machine along the edges of your handwoven fabric, using a zig-zag or overlock stitch to secure the threads.
  4. Wash and dry the fabric if desired to finish the hems.
  5. Cut apart items if required and proceed to ironing:Firmly iron or press fabric on an appropriate setting for the material. Fold and pin hems.
  6. Return to the machine:Secure your hem Using a straight stitch.
  7. Trim Excess Threads: Trim any excess yarn or thread after stitching.
  8. Wash and iron to finish if not already washed.

3. Knotting

Knotting is a versatile finishing technique for various purposes, such as joining fringes or securing loose ends. Square knots, overhand knots, and surgeons knots are common choices depending on the specific requirements of your weaving project. Knotting provides both functionality and a decorative touch to your handwoven items.

Knotting Video Credit: Kelly Cassanova on YouTube

Here's a step-by-step guide to simple knotting:

  1. Select the Right Knot: Depending on your project, choose an appropriate knot. Common choices include square knots, overhand knots, and surgeon’s knots (shown in the video above. You can use this knot to both tie on your projects or to finish your weaving).
  2. Practice on Scrap Yarn: Before applying knots to your finished piece, practice the chosen knot on scrap yarn to ensure you are comfortable with the technique and happy with the selected knot.
  3. Secure Loose Ends: Use knots to secure loose ends or join fringes as needed.

Once you’ve practised basic knots and are comfortable finishing your handwoven fabric, you can move on to experimenting with decorative knotting, which can help you achieve beautiful lattice-style fringes.

4. Fringe Twisting

Fringe twisting is a decorative and functional finishing technique often applied to the ends of scarves, shawls, or blankets. You can hemstitch on the loom by hand before this to create an even neater finish if desired.

Using a Fringe Twister Video Credit: Ashford Wheels and Looms on YouTube

Here's a step-by-step guide to fringe twisting:

  1. Smooth Your Fringe: You can iron if wrinkled or brush neatly with a comb/fork. Cut all of your ends to the same length using giant, sharp scissors. You could also use a rotary cutter to lay a clear ruler over the threads.
  2. Use Weight: Place the item on a flat surface with a weight, such as a heavy book, to hold it.
    1. Bundle in Even Numbers: If you didn't stitch on the loom, decide on the size of your bundles of threads. Make this an even number that divides equally into your project's count (e.g. 4, 6, 8)—clip half of each bundle in a fringe twister clip at about 1 inch from the end. You can also use your fingers, which will be a little more complicated and time-consuming.
    2. Use Both Hands to Twist: Counting twists, hold the fringe twister in one hand and twist with the other until the bundles start to kink.
  3. Tie an Overhand Knot: Remove the two bundles from the clips, and holding them tight, tie an overhand knot close to the end and let them twist together. Give a slight tug to get any kinks out.
      1. Repeat For the Next Fringe: Start your next fringe the same way, using the same number of twists you counted out in the first bundle.
    1. Clean It Up: When you have finished, adjust the knots so that they are even. Trim the ends.

5. Wet Finishing

Wet finishing is a crucial step to set the weave and enhance your handwoven project's overall appearance and feel. Gently wash your piece in lukewarm water with a mild detergent, being mindful not to agitate or distort the fibres. Rinse thoroughly and block the fabric to its intended dimensions. If you’re using coloured yarns we recommend using a colour catcher for at least the first wash. Wet finishing can also help to soften the hand and improve the drape.

Wet Finishing Video Credit: Kelly Cassanova on YouTube

Here's a step-by-step guide to wet-finishing delicate items once they are hemmed:

  1. Prepare a Bath: Fill a basin with lukewarm water and add mild detergent or specific fibre wash.
  2. Gently Wash: Immerse your handwoven fabric in the water, gently agitating it to remove any sizing or residue. If you wish to feel your (wool) piece intentionally, you can agitate more forcefully with additional soap or perform cold-hot-cold water dunks until it reaches your desired result.
  3. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse the fabric gently and thoroughly with clean water to remove detergent. If you're using a fibre known to feel, rinse gently and with a similar or hotter temperature to the water it was removed from to prevent felting.
  4. Remove excess water:Lay your woven item in a towel, then roll it up and press to remove excess water.
  5. Block to Shape: Lay the wet fabric flat on towels, shaping it to the desired dimensions. Allow it to dry completely.

For less delicate items, such as towels made from cotton:

  1. Ensure ends are secured and added to the washing machine.
  2. Choose an appropriate setting (e.g. cotton), and allow your machine to run a complete cycle.
  3. Items can be line-dried (this will give a crisp finish for linen) or, depending on fibre content, machine dried to maximise the shrinkage of cotton and to develop a softer finish. Note: It is good practice to line dry your items to ensure maximum longevity.

6. Pressing

After wet finishing, it's essential to press your handwoven project to remove wrinkles and give it a polished look. Use a pressing cloth to protect delicate fibres, and set your iron to the appropriate temperature for the yarn or fabric. Pressing improves the aesthetics and ensures the finished piece retains its intended shape.

Here's a step-by-step guide to pressing:

  1. Set the Iron: Adjust the iron to the appropriate temperature for the yarn or fabric used in your project.
  2. Use a Pressing Cloth: Place a pressing cloth over your handwoven fabric to protect delicate fibres.
  3. Press Gently: Press the iron over the fabric gently, removing wrinkles and creating a polished finish.
  4. Avoid Steam for Delicate Fibres: If your project includes delicate fibres, consider turning off the steam function on your iron.

Mastering these finishing techniques will empower you to elevate your handwoven projects. Whether you choose the precision of machine stitching, the artistry of knotting, or the decorative touch of fringe twisting, each method plays a crucial role in bringing your creation to life. Experiment with these techniques, refine your skills and enjoy the satisfaction of presenting a handcrafted piece that is well-crafted and beautifully finished.

More Tips on Finishing Your Handwoven Projects

Finishing handwoven projects involves more than just the techniques mentioned earlier. There's a lot more to learn, and that is why weaving is such an engaging and rewarding activity for crafters of all ages.

Woven fabric with fringe
Photographer: K15 Photos

Here are additional tips and insights to help you perfect the art of finishing your handwoven creations:

  1. Adding Embellishments:Consider embellishing your handwoven projects with embroidery, appliqué, and felting images directly into a woollen woven fabric or fabric paint. This allows you to personalise your creation and make it truly one-of-a-kind. Be mindful of the fibre content and weight to ensure the embellishments complement the overall design.
  2. Incorporating Lining:Adding a fabric lining can enhance aesthetics and functionality for items like handwoven bags or purses. A lining can add stability, hide loose threads, and provide a contrasting or coordinating backdrop for the woven pattern.
  3. Labeling Your Work:Add woven or sewn labels to your finished projects. These labels can include information about the materials used, care instructions, and even your name as the creator. This adds a professional touch and makes your handwoven pieces easily identifiable.
  4. Documenting Your Proces:Keep a weaving journal or create a digital documentation of your projects. Note the yarns used, sett (density of warp threads), pattern drafts, and any challenges or successes you encountered. This documentation can be a valuable resource for future projects and helps track your progress as a weaver.
  5. Experimenting with Finishing Techniques:Feel free to experiment with various finishing techniques to discover what works best for your style and the specific project. Each handwoven piece is unique; different finishing methods can produce distinct effects. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore and refine your finishing skills.

Remember, finishing a handwoven project is not just a technical necessity; it's an opportunity to showcase your creativity and attention to detail. By incorporating these additional tips into your finishing routine, you can upgrade your handwoven pieces and take pride in the uniqueness of each creation.

Mastering the Art of Finishing Your Handwoven Projects

As we explored the various finishing techniques in this beginner's guide, from the essential hemstitching and machine stitching to the decorative fringe twisting and the transformative wet finishing and pressing, it becomes evident that the finishing touches are not merely a final step but an art form.

Mastering the art of finishing handwoven projects is a journey of discovery and creativity. Each method contributes to the durability and functionality of your creation and its aesthetic appeal. Whether you choose the efficiency of machine stitching, the precision of hemstitching, or the artistic flair of knotting or fringe twisting, these techniques become the brushstrokes that complete your masterpiece.

As you navigate the handweaving world and experiment with different finishing methods, remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Your unique style, creativity, and personal preferences will guide you in selecting the most resonating techniques.

In the end, the joy of finishing a handwoven project lies in the tactile satisfaction of completed work and the knowledge that you have transformed a raw collection of threads into a functional and beautiful piece of art. So, embrace the learning process, relish the experimentation, and celebrate each finished project as a testament to your growing skills and passion for the craft. Happy weaving!

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