Selvedges. If you’ve woven any length of time at all, you’ve heard people fret over them, brag about them, or trade all sorts of miracle cures for making them perfect. Double thread the final slot! Always end in holes! Add a strand of fishing line to either side! And my personal favourite: stop after every pick of weft and tug each loopy edge tight with a fork! If one of these selvedge tricks works for you, by all means, enjoy it and enjoy weaving. But you don’t need any “hacks” to consistently produce clean, satisfying edges on your woven pieces.
What do you need? Focus, practice, and a spirit of experimentation.
Whether you’re weaving on a Cricket, a Flip, or any other loom, the basics of good selvedges remain the same: when you pass your weft through, do it at a slight angle or in a gentle “bubble” shape.This leaves enough length for the weft to travel over and under the warp threads. Be sure that the weft is snugly wrapped around the far edge of the warp before beating to prevent loopy edges. Beat evenly.
Simple enough, but while we weave, our minds wander. We start getting a bit sloppy, or picking up bad habits without noticing. Before we know it, half our scarf is fine and the rest makes us want to take a pair of sharp scissors to it. That’s where attention comes in. While you weave, be mindful of what you’re doing. Pay attention to your hands. Do you pull harder with your dominant hand? Many weavers do. Does this make a better selvedge for you, or a worse one? Can you copy it with your ‘off’ hand? Get curious about your habits!
How to Succeed: Turn off the TV, turn down the podcast, banish your cats or your children to another room (at least for a little while). Mute your phone so that it doesn’t interrupt your focus. Weave at a time of day where you have good energy and enough light. And be gentle with yourself! Getting stressed about your selvedges makes your body tense which translates into, ironically, bad selvedges.
Once you’ve taken some time to pay extra attention to your weaving? Keep going. Everything worth learning takes practice. For beginner weavers, the key is not only practicing weaving, but practicing all of the steps that lead up to it: measuring a warp, winding on, and lashing on with firm, even tension. Check that your warp separator is thick enough to do its job (if it isn’t, your warp beam will bulge in the middle like a cigar). Use your hand to feel for uneven tension when you are lashing on, and adjust before you start weaving. About 80% of your selvedge quality is determined by how good your set up is. You can still weave bad selvedges on a good warp, but you have to work really hard at it!
How to succeed: Aim for quick, satisfying projects that you can get off the loom in a few days or weeks. Put the extra-long, extra-fine tea towel projects on the back burner. The more you can practice warping inda dddrelatively short period of time, the better you will remember what you learn. Keep notes on what you did (solo warping? help from a friend? lashing on?) so that you can identify what makes a project turn out fabulously well and do more of it!
And finally, give yourself permission to experiment! …thoughtfully. Remember high school science, where you learned that you need to control all the variables in an experiment except for the one you’re testing? The same thing goes for weaving. There are many different ways of warping, winding, and lashing on that are all capable of producing beautiful selvedges. Trying different ones is the only way to figure out what’s best for you. But if you change several variables for every project, you’ll have no way to know which one did the trick! Was your tension better because you solo warped this time? Was lashing on in smaller bundles the trick? Or was it just that wool is more forgiving than the cotton you used last time? Make changes slowly and intentionally, and add the results to that notebook you started. Make your craft room your laboratory.
How to Succeed: Keep it simple. Weave similar projects with similar fibre so that you can see the impact of your techniques. Keep a notebook (have I mentioned that yet?).
Rigid Heddle looms are simple tools, but there’s a lot of art to how we use them. If you’re willing to put in some extra work up front, your projects will start to fly off the loom. Clean selvedges aren’t an end in themselves. They are, however, a good indication that a weaver has put conscious effort into mastering the foundations of their craft, from preparing the warp to throwing each pick.