Friday, March 11, 2011

Salvaging the Selvedge

When I first started dyeing wool and didn't really know any better, I kept the Selvedge on. I still leave it on -- not just because of my tendency to be lazy, but because usually it's good wool and sometimes, if you're lucky, it will give you a couple of interesting strips that are different from the rest of the wool. And, on occasion it's provided me with that little bit of extra wool needed for a rug.

If you've ever tried to run the selvedge through your cutter, you've no doubt regretted it some of the time. In my experience it tends to pull to one side, cause the handle to be tough to turn, make you think you are going to break something, or worse: all of the above. But since I still can't get past the idea of wasting that 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch, I persist.

Usually I start cutting at the opposite side of my piece of wool, leaving the selvedge for last, and hoping that my last cut will just barely miss the tricky part. But with my new cutter head (that cuts twice as many strips), this is working out less and less often for I had to come up with a new plan.

My new method of 'salvaging the selvedge' is to cut my piece of wool starting with the selvedge edge....

The trick is to take your time and not try to rush this first pass through the cutter....and as you can see, the end result is a perfectly usable strips -- even the first (proper selvedge) strip is usable on this wool and can provide some sought-after texture.

But the selvedge is not always a perfectly flat extension of the rest of the piece. Sometimes just a small section of it is flipped and folded back. There was a piece in my pile that had this happen.

So I started cutting, and slowed when I got close to that part, folding it back to run along the guide and holding it down with my left index finger. I carefully hold it flat as it enters the cutter head, making sure that the wool is still straight and that the little blip doesn't fold back and get caught.

After the wool passes through the cutter, it will likely fold back on it's own.....

But not to worry.....all of the remaining strips are in perfect condition.....

Even though there is a white thread running along the edge of this wool, the 2nd (quite usable) strip has a different weave and texture from the rest....and can add a hint of contrast to your work. A little planned imperfection....

And not all wool is perfect. Sometimes after dyeing, the selvedge has shrunken a little or a lot less than the rest of the yardage and it's a wavy, ruffled mess.

When this happens, I usually opt for the simpler solution of ripping off the afflicted section. And then I 'fix up' the first strip (with the torn edge along one side), by running it through the cutter a second time....running the cut edge along the guide.

The resulting strip looks just like all of its cousins, once the fuzz is trimmed.

Please note....if you are ever cutting wool and your handle doesn't seem to want to turn, STOP -- don't force it. Chances are that something is caught -- and if it's causing one of the plastic spacer rings to go out of alignment. If this happens, then you can chip, split or break one or more plastic spacer ring(s) -- which will have a detrimental effect on how easily and smoothly your wool feeds through the cutter and you will likely cut wonky strips until it is repaired. My suggestion is that you try to get the wool out of the cutter as quickly as possible -- which usually means cutting it off as close as possible to the intake and making less than a (very slow and cautious) 1/4 turn of the handle, to remove all of the wool.

Luckily this has never happened to me or mine....but ever since I used a cutter that had big chunks missing from its rings, I've been a lot more careful. It's important to baby our tools....