Notes from the Fell: Finishing Tips

Finishing projects doesn't have the same appeal to many of us as starting projects. Here are some tips from Tom Knisely that may change your attitude towards finishing.

Tom Knisely Nov 28, 2021 - 12 min read

Notes from the Fell: Finishing Tips Primary Image

Slowly removing a spacer woven in after the scrap yarn header makes hemstitching on the loom much easier. Photos by Tom Knisely.

I don't think I'm alone in this: At the beginning of the year I want to clean up what is left over from the year before. This past December I even tried finishing a few projects just so I wouldn't have to look at them in my studio in the new year. Read Tom Knisely's approach to finishing his projects in a thoughtful way from Handwoven September/October 2021. He often plans his finish before he starts, and he has some great tips to ensure a great finish. Good luck in your own finishing adventures! -Susan

Be honest: Do you have a pile of UFOs sitting in your studio just waiting to be finished? What is a UFO? Why, that is an Un-Finished Object. We all have them, so you are in good company. I have towels waiting to be hemmed and a few scarves that need twisted fringes. I even have a partially hemmed rug. I really should finish hemming it, but I keep telling myself that it makes a good example for teaching new rug weavers how to roll and sew a hem.

Although finishing a project might be my least favorite part of the weaving process, I never underestimate the importance of correctly finishing a project to make it beautiful and useful. When planning a new project, I take a moment to think about how it will be used and cleaned. For instance, fringe on a baby blanket could be a choking hazard—a rolled hem or even a crocheted edge would be a better finish. Besides eliminating the choking hazard, a hemmed or crocheted edge won’t get entangled during frequent laundering as fringe might. You also may not want to have loose fringe on a kitchen towel. Imagine the lint and fluff left on your glasses as a result of cotton fringe on your towels. Fringed towels look pretty but may prove to be impractical.

On the other hand, fringe on a scarf or shawl seems like an obvious choice. The warp ends can be left as they are, or you can knot, twist, or braid them for a decorative finish. It’s come to be the expected choice for a scarf or shawl. You can even embellish fringes with beads to give them a little bling and add some weight. For a man’s scarf, though, I often forgo the long fringe. When I make a scarf as a gift for one of my buddies, I cut the fringe to a 1-inch length after securing the first and last few picks with small overhand knots or hemstitching. I use a rotary cutter with a self-healing mat and a guide to help me cut a nice straight edge. Depending on the fabric, I think this is a better finish for a scarf than, say, a rolled hem that could be a little bulky at the ends.


There is a lot to consider when finishing a project, so here are a few tips for making trouble-free fringes and hems.


Tom’s treadling sequences for plain weave and twill.

Tie-On Methods

Let’s start at the point where you are tying onto the front apron rod. I use two methods of attaching the warp ends to the apron rod. I either tie directly onto the rod with 1-inch bouts of warp ends, or I lash on the warp using a nylon cord that passes back and forth from the apron rod to groups of warp ends that have been tied with an overhand knot. Both methods work equally well, but I prefer to lash linen, rayon, and Tencel warps. Rayon and Tencel are both slippery yarns, and linen warps are sometimes very wiry, making these threads more challenging to tie directly onto the apron rod.

Make Room for Fringe

If I am planning fringe for a project, and I began by tying my warp onto the apron rod, I spread the warp with scrap yarn 2 or 3 inches above the knots. The length of warp used to tie onto the apron rod and up through the spreading materials will become fringe for one end of the scarf. If I have decided to lash the warp to the apron rod, however, I start the scrap yarn 6 to 7 inches above the knots. This unwoven area becomes the beginning fringe.

When I have finished weaving the piece, I weave a few picks of scrap yarn next to the last pick of the scarf to act as a weft protector. The scrap yarn holds those first and last picks of my scarf in place until I can get to tying knots or twisting fringe.

Hemstitching Helper

When I plan to secure the edges with hemstitching, I have a trick that helps with the beginning portion of the project. After spreading the warp with scrap yarn, I insert a smooth and slippery cord about the size of a bulky-weight yarn. This cord acts as a spacer between those beginning scrap yarns used to spread the warp and the first few picks of the project. I simply open a plain-weave shed and throw a single strand of the spacer into the shed. Then I gently beat the spacer against the scrap yarn header.

Generally, I use the weft thread for hemstitching, so after placing the bobbin into the shuttle, I pull out a length of thread that is three to four times the width of the project. This is the hemstitching thread. I am right-handed and find it easiest to stitch right to left, so I leave the weft tail on the right side of my work before my first pick. If you are left-handed, start by leaving the tail on the left side and work your hemstitch left to right. After weaving several picks of weft, I thread the long tail of yarn onto a needle, but before I begin hemstitching, I gently pull on the spacer cord from the opposite side of the warp to create a small gap between the scrap yarn and the first several picks of the project (see header photos, previous page). This small gap helps guide the needle as I hemstitch. I do not pull the spacer completely out or the gap will close, defeating the purpose.

Rolled-Hem Hints

To prepare for a rolled hem, I use doubled picks to indicate the fold line. I first weave 8 picks of plain weave ending on the 2-4 shed. Then I weave 10 picks of plain weave beginning on the 2-4 shed. This puts 2 picks together. Not only does this help me recognize the fold line, but it also helps with the fold. If you are using a floating selvedge, simply go around your floating selvedge to anchor the pick and pass the shuttle back into the shed. If you are not using a floating selvedge, go around the last warp end at the selvedge to catch it, and then pass your shuttle back into the shed. After the 10th pick, which will end on the 1-3 shed, repeat the process by going around the edge warp end and back into the shed. This will create two fold lines that will be a cinch to see and will help you fold an even hem line.

If you are weaving a twill project with hems, try weaving 8 picks of a standard 4-pick straight twill. Repeat the last pick and then reverse for 12 twill picks. This changes the direction of the twill so that when the hem is rolled, the twill lines will go in the same direction (see photos below). On the 12th pick, you will be on the 1-2 treadle. Double that pick, and you will be on your way to weave the pattern sequence with a twill hem. Having the doubled picks in the hems helps my tired, aging eyes quite a lot when I am standing at an ironing board rolling a hem.


Use Tom’s method of treadling a twill hem, and you end up with a hem that perfectly lines up with the rest of the cloth.

Cutting the Line

To designate a cutting line between towels, I often weave a couple of picks of a contrasting color. To prevent my fabric from raveling, I like to use a fabric glue called Fray Check. The clear glue can be applied to the fabric’s edge after it comes off the loom or squeezed thinly along the cutting line between towels while the warp is under tight, even tension. I allow it to dry completely before cutting. Fray Check is water soluble, so be sure to hem your work before wet-finishing your fabric.

Another option is to use fusible thread, something my friend Lorraine told me about. She suggested I try weaving a few picks with it between towels. The spool fits nicely in a boat shuttle eliminating the need to wind a bobbin. Off the loom, you can press the edges with a hot iron to melt the fusible thread. Be sure to use a pressing cloth, so the thread doesn’t melt onto the iron. When cool, cut the towels apart and roll and press the hems for stitching, securing them with pins or clips.

Choose a Hemming Method

I jokingly tell my students that they need to suffer for their art’s sake, as in “Always hem with a dull needle and at night by lamplight.” I prefer handstitched hems, although there are times when a machine-stitched hem fits the bill nicely. When considering hand versus machine stitching, here is something to think about. If two towels were being judged in a competition and both were contenders for a first-place ribbon, the hand-hemmed towel would most likely be awarded the prize over a machine-stitched towel. It just adds a little finesse to a project that has, up to this point, been completely handmade. That said, I am grateful for the clothes on my back that have been serged and sewn by machine. If my handwoven Scottish tweed jacket was sewn by machine, I suppose that old Singer machine is just fine for my kitchen towels.

Whatever your finishing preference might be, do your very best to complete the project from beginning to end. I’m doing better this year with fewer UFOs hanging over my head.

As always, happy weaving.