Have you heard of differential shrinkage? It's a scary-sounding word, and googling it doesn't help - you get a very technical description of building construction principles. Yuck!
In weaving, differential shrinkage is actually a very simple idea. It means that some fibers shrink more than others when you wash them. And you can use that idea to create interesting textural effects in your woven fabric.
Combining a shrinking fiber like wool with a non-shrinking fiber like silk or cotton in a single piece of fabric can create interesting results. When the fabric is washed, the shrinking fiber will pull the non-shrinking fiber into puffs. The looser and more open the fabric is, the more susceptible it will be to this effect because the fibers have more room to move around. The tighter the fabric is, the less it will be able to shrink because the fibers are already very close to each other.
The first key to working with differential shrinkage is knowing which fibers will shrink and which won't. Wool is the most notable fiber that shrinks because it has scales that act like Velcro. Wool felts or fulls as heat, moisture, and agitation are applied to it. Some wools will shrink more than others - wool from Merino sheep felts easily, while wool from Southdown sheep is more resistant to felting.
I've also included Lycra and elastic in the list of fibers that shrink because when they are on the loom, they are stretched out to their longest length, and when they are taken off the loom, they can shrink, creating textured effects. Subjecting them to heat will make them shrink more - think of stretch denim that has gone through the dryer one time too many!
Fibers that Shrink:
Plant-based fibers don't shrink as much as wool because they lack the scales that cause wool to felt. Some animal fibers, like silk and mohair, don't shrink either. And many synthetic fibers like rayon, polyester, and tencel don't shrink.
Some wools have been through a process called "superwashing," which either removes the scales from wool or smooths them down. These wools won't shrink as much, but I do find that they can shrink up to 10%, especially if they are subjected to very hot water or put in the dryer.
Fibers that Don't Shrink (as much):
Sometimes we achieve differential shrinkage on purpose, and sometimes it's an accident. I've woven pieces where I used all wool, but the wool was all different breeds and/or brands of yarn that were spun differently. The differences in the wools and yarns meant that some shrank more than others. What I thought would be a basic striped rug was a wavy, rumply thing that would never lie flat.
Other times, I've woven things where I combined different fibers on purpose, knowing I would get a textured effect. The weaving in the top image is one example - the warp was cotton, and the weft was a combination of cotton and a wool/silk yarn. Of these three fibers, wool is the only fiber that will shrink substantially. On the loom, the cloth looked flat. But after a trip through the washing machine on the delicate cycle, I ended up with a boucle-like fabric. That's differential shrinkage in action!
There are lots of different textural effects you can achieve with differential shrinkage. You can create a fabric with allover texture, like I've done here, or you can create small areas of texture within a bigger piece of fabric. The possibilities are endless!
Textural Effects You Can Achieve with Differential Shrinkage
Not a weaver? You can also use differential shrinkage in crafts besides weaving.
If you're a spinner, you can ply a shrinking fiber with a non-shrinking fiber. I love to use plying silk, which is very fine, to create a textured effect in my plied yarn. When you wet finish your yarn, you can full the shrinking fibers to create a textural effect. Maggie Casey of Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins calls this "Boucle the Easy Way."
If you're a knitter, you can use differential shrinkage in felting bags, hats, purses, and other items.
If you're a felter, you can add effects with non-shrinking fibers to create dimensionality. You can also use different thicknesses of wool layers to create puckers and bubbles - this video gives a great overview of the how and why.
Lately, I've been using differential shrinkage most often in creating boucle-like fabrics like the one pictured at the top of this post and my autumn leaves ruana. It really is a fun effect!
After the Christmas presents are unwrapped, and the rush of the holidays has calmed just a little, do you ever feel like you're adrift? Like you don't have a project to work on? But you don't want to start a huge project?
This class is the solution!
I know Christmas seems a long way off right now, but it's really just around the corner, and so is this class!
Bring some bright fun colors into your winter with these flowers that will never fade. Come learn the basics of wet-felting with these quick and easy felted flowers. All materials will be provided, and beginners are welcome!
This class will be held December 27th at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio in Grand Junction, CO. Sign up here.
I hope to see you there!
Have you ever wanted to learn to weave? Or do you tend to think of weaving as something that should have stayed in the 70s? That's definitely what I thought before I started weaving - all the handwoven fabric I was seeing on Instagram reminded me of the weaving art teachers tried to steer me to when they learned I was interested in textile art.
Fast forward to today, and I'm totally hooked on weaving. I think you will be too. ;)
In this class, we will explore weaving techniques, plus play with a bunch of different types of yarn. There's no wrong way to do it!
Plus, I've taken the hardest part of weaving - setting up the loom - out of the equation, so all you have to do is play! This class will be a ton of fun!
This class will be at Black Sheep Handworx Studio in Grand Junction, Colorado on December 1st, 2018. You can find more details and sign up here.
Hope to see you there!
As you practice your fiber art skills, have you ever wondered about the craftspeople who came before you? The ones who figured out how to spin, the ones who figured out how to weave, the ones who figured out how to make fabric stretchy by interlocking loops of yarn with one another?
Unfortunately, their stories are lost to history, in part because textile production is so embedded in our culture that it began before humans had a written language. To add to the obscurity, many of the early tools used to produce and work with fabric didn't survive in the archaeological record. But the clues we do have are fascinating, and they indicate that spinning and weaving are very old indeed.
This Saturday, November 10, I'll be giving a presentation at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio. There's lots of interesting historical information about wool, fiber, sheep, and how it relates to us as fiber artists. Whatever fiber art you practice, there's something here for you!
In addition to the discussion, there will be demonstrations, explanations, and hands-on experiences that walk you through how wool is processed before it can become yarn, and how yarn is worked into cloth. The possibilities for customized cloth are endless!
You can purchase tickets at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio, or at 970tix. I hope to see you there!
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