I have a new towel design on the loom and it isn’t weaving as smoothly as I would like. It’s been a while since I’ve woven a brand new design and I’ve forgotten that it takes a bit to work out the quirks. I haven’t found my weaving rhythm with this design and the selvages are turning out bumpy and uneven.
The word ‘selvage’ – or ‘selvedge’ in British English – comes from ‘self’ + ‘edge.’ Selvages are the self-finished edges that prevent the cloth from raveling. They are the edges of the cloth where the horizontal weft thread loops around the last vertical warp thread.
A question every new weaver asks is, “How do I get my selvages even?” It’s natural to want to stop and fiddle with the threads to create smooth the edges.
The best advice I’ve read is: weave. Notice what happens at the edges, but resist the temptation to stop and tweak. Keep weaving and let your body grow so accustomed to the rhythms of weaving that you don’t have to think so much about what you are doing. Some of the bumps and unevennesses will work themselves out with practice.
Once the rhythms of weaving are more familiar, analyze what is happening at the edges and adjust your technique, not the selvages themselves. For example, if there are little loops at the edge of the cloth, throw the shuttle with a bit more force or give it a tug when you catch it.
There’s a kindness in this advice, an acceptance that it takes time and practice to learn a new skill. It takes a lot to remember the sequence of steps and coordinate the hand and foot movements. It won’t all be perfect from the get go.
And the truth is that even with yards of practice and good technique, there are still moments when something is off and the selvages are uneven.
As I weave this new project, growing frustrated with my selvages, I wonder about the edges of the self, the edges of my self. Is there some wisdom here for my own rough edges, those things I’d like to change about myself or where I’d like more flow?
Take email as an example. I’d love to have an empty inbox at the end of each day and I rarely do. I could berate myself for this (and sometimes do). But that doesn’t encourage change.
If instead I look with kindness and curiosity at my habits around email, I see patterns. I notice that I sometimes check email when I’m at loose ends, in transition from one activity to another. In these moments I want to read messages, but don’t want to take the time to respond. This is information I can work with and slowly develop new habits, such as taking deep breaths in those transitional moments or carving out time specifically for reading and responding to email.
The wisdom I take is to be kind to myself. Accept my rough edges, those parts of me I wish were different. If there’s something I’d like to do differently, look for the underlying issues. That’s the place to make adjustments.
These selvages remind me that the important thing is this: live. Don’t get overly caught up with the rough edges. Accept that life takes practice. I wouldn’t be perfect. There will be bumps and unevennesses. Accept these with the same grace with which I accept the unevennesses in my weaving.
My invitation to you: What do rough edges mean to you? How do you think about them? I’d love to hear.
Judy Murdoch says
What caught my attention about your post was the word “selvage” because selvage denim has become enormously fashionable. I thought the denim was made of some special weave (and perhaps it is) that commands premium prices. I know there’s an entire science behind how to prepare your selvage denim so you can wear it..soaking in different mixtures in your bathtub, drying it is special ways. It’s quite the thing.
So I appreciate your excellent explanation-it’s helped me understand what selvage means and it’s taken the mystery out of selvage denim (although it never held THAT much mystery for me–sounds an awful lot like the advice for softening the old Levi’s 501s though I just wore them as is and they eventually wore down through normal washing, drying, and everyday wear).
Marilyn Webster says
I’d never heard of selvage denim, Judy, so looked it up on Wikipedia. I guess on these jeans you can see the selvage if you turn up your cuff — the makers are maximizing the fabric by incorporating the selvage. It’s curious to me though that these jeans would need a special treatment to be able to wear them. To my knowledge, denim is always a twill — if you look carefully at your jeans, you should see little diagonals.