Separate Selvedges: Part One

Regular selvedge threads often get tight. The problem is solved by winding separate selvedge threads.  More than anything, you want to keep the selvedge warp threads from tightening up. By weighting them separately from the main warp they can weave and take up without getting tight.
It isn’t hard to do, and it ensures good-looking selvedges that weave without problems. It is more efficient to start with them as separate warps, rather than to find out mid-warp that your selvedge threads are breaking because they are too tight, or that they are becoming so close together that the shed can’t open, or that the wefts at edges are beating down too much as seen in the photo.
When to weight selvedge threads separately
I use separate selvedges for warps that are over 3-5 yards long. I also use them when I begin to weave if I find that the normal warp’s selvedge threads aren’t supporting the wefts as they turn at the edges.


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For separate selvedges, I make 2 tiny warps—one for each selvedge—often, with 4 threads for each. I determine the number of threads to use by the number of shafts in use. That is, if there are 4 shafts, I use 4 threads, if there are 8 shafts, I use 8 threads.  For more shafts, see my book Weaving & Drafting Your Own Cloth in the chapter on selvedges. They will not be beamed onto the warp beam with the main warp but will hang over the back beam behind the loom with weights providing the tension on them. These threads are made separately from the warp threads, may be different from the warp threads, and are sleyed closer in the reed. (More follows.)
How to measure the threads
Because they will take up more than the main warp, measure out the selvedge threads longer, say, 10% longer than the regular warp threads. Measure out 4 threads making only one cross—a thread-by-thread cross at one end. Be sure you separately make two of these tiny warps. Tie the crosses as usual and make ties at the beginning and end of the warps and at several places in the middle. It will be hard to make real choke ties because the warps are so tiny.
You can wind your little selvedge threads like a little kitestick, on a pencil, bobbin, or small tube, or make a chain. Or use a little piece of cardboard as in the previous post.
Put each little selvedge warp in a plastic bag to keep it from twisting and tangling during weaving.
What threads to use
I double the sett (epi) for the 4 selvedge threads in the outside dents of the reed. However, if the warp threads are too thick to double up, use thinner threads for the selvedge threads. With thinner threads, you can get them closer, and the selvedges look almost machine made. Be sure your threads are plied, smooth, and strong.
Threading the selvedges
Thread the selvedge threads one per heddle, one on each shaft: 4,3,2,1.
Putting the selvedges in the reed
You will put in more threads per dent for the selvedge threads. Since the warp will naturally draw in a bit, it is a good idea not to fight it, and to sley the selvedge threads more densely than the body of the warp to keep the threads from breaking.
I double the sett (epi) for the 4 selvedge thread in the outside dents of the reed.

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If the selvedges build up faster than the rest of the fabric, the threads may be too close together. Threads sleyed too closely may keep the weft from packing in. Also, the selvedges may build up faster than the rest of the cloth if they aren’t weighted enough.


How to weight the threads
I have found the “plastic bag and pencil” way to be satisfactory, and the cardboard, too. I use clothes pins to hold the bag and the warp at the knot together, which helps to prevent twisting.
The weights
I like to use nuts, washers or fishing weights for my selvedges. These “weights” are small enough that I can add or subtract them in small increments to adjust the tension. You can also use plastic bottles filled with the amount of water needed for the weight. As the selvedge threads get woven, the weights and their supply of thread rise up. When they reach the back beam, they need to be let down to just above the floor. A small bag of weights is more convenient than a bottle because it doesn’t have to be let down so often during weaving since it is smaller.
How much weight?
Six to fourteen ounces of weight are needed. I start with 6 ounces and add or subtract, as necessary. The way to know if you need more or less weight is simple. The fell of the cloth will be straight if the weight is correct as in the photo.

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If the fell of the cloth curves up at the edges towards the shafts (making a “smile”,) it means there isn’t enough weight. Sometimes, one selvedge takes more weight than the other does. Do whatever is needed so the fell is straight. 
It’s better to have the selvedge threads a little too loose than too tight. If too tight, the body of the fabric may pucker into the selvedges. It might not be noticeable until the cloth is washed.


If the fell of the cloth curves down at the edges towards the breast beam (making a “frown”.), it means there is too much weight as shown.
When to attach the weights
Weights need a loop of some kind so you can attach the selvedge threads. It can be a loop of string or a metal shower curtain hook.
How to attach the weights
See the next post.


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