Chenille shibori

Silk chenille – woven, dyed, discharged.

This was hard to photograph because of the way it responds to the light. An intriguing cloth, and I’ll need to think a while about where to take it next.

Process overview:

Weaving: Silk chenille for warp and weft, sett 15 ends per inch. Monks belt threading on 4 shafts. The warp has block sizes of 6, 12 and 24 ends.

The chenille was woven in plain weave (blue weft in the draft). I wove floats in the monks belt pattern using a strong cotton thread as weft (red in the draft). I experimented with 6, 12 and 24 picks of chenille between each pick of cotton. For the second half of the sampler I only lifted one pattern shaft with the cotton, giving a mix of plain weave and floats.

Dyeing: Immersion dyed with Lanaset dyes, which dye protein but not cellulose fibres. This photo shows the varied spacing and the monks belt blocks of the cotton weft. The chenille was a rich chocolate brown and not as uneven as it appears in the photo – the cloth hadn’t been pressed after dyeing, and the light caught the texture. Simply adding colour made the cloth much more attractive than my earlier samples.

Gathering the cloth: The cotton wefts were used to gather the cloth into pleats. I pulled and knotted pairs of wefts, trying to make the gathering as tight as possible. The idea is that the next stage of the process mainly impacts on the exposed cloth, with the interior of the pleats  protected from change.

Discharge: Discharging removes dyed colour. I used thiourea dioxide (TUD) and a process from Shibori – creating color & texture on silk by Karren Brito (one of my favourite books, although it took some time for me to warm to it). TUD is pretty straight-forward to use, but you need to use protection including a proper respirator mask since a byproduct is stinky sulfur dioxide. I do it in the garage with doors and window wide open for ventilation – waiting for a good opportunity was the slowest part. First our next-door-neighbours were having a christmas gathering in their backyard (we have a good relationship and I’d prefer to keep it that way, not skunk out their guests!), the next day was too hot to move, then came rain…

Finishing:   Each end of the cloth had 20 picks of 20/2 silk. Straight off the loom I oversewed by machine using a three stitch zigzag (it takes 3 stitches to the left, then 3 to the right) using a silk sewing thread. I went over each end 3 times. The dye and discharge worked on all the different silks.

After discharging I handwashed, used fabric softener in the final rinse, and air dryed flat. I used a folded blanket to pad the ironing board surface, and pressed both sides. Although the result is big enough for a scarf I see it as a sampler and have simply cut the ends short at the machine stitching line, to see how it wears.


A few views of the results. There are areas of greater and lesser definition in the patterning. Where the gathers were widely spaced the discharge solution was able to penetrate more, more colour was removed and the effect is much softer. There was more difference on the two sides of the cloth than I expected.

At this point there are no worms. The fabric has gone through a lot of handling, so I’m hopeful there won’t be later problems. The fabric drapes well, but feels heavier than you expect. First impression is that it’s borderline for a scarf in Sydney’s climate. The hand (feel) still isn’t as soft as I’d like. I’m considering putting it through a machine wash and dry (once I’ve mustered enough courage!)

I did long overlaps of the yarn ends when changing bobbins. There’s no sign of worming, but there is a visible difference following the dyeing and discharge which I think no-one else would see. Still, I’ll try tieing the core-yarns next time.

Su Butler’s book-on-CD Understanding Rayon Chenille arrived today – a Sunday, from California to Sydney just 8 days from order to delivery, so impressive work by Village Spinning & Weaving and the US and Australian postal services! I’m looking forward to reading that while I ponder what to do next. I like what I’m getting so far, but I don’t feel I’m getting the best from this yarn yet.

Related posts:

29 November – first silk chenille samples

5 December – plan for second sampler

12 December – progress and general chenille information

3 Responses to “Chenille shibori”

  1. 1 Life Looms Large December 20, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    You’re definitely making progress!! I like the direction you’re heading.

    Good thought on machine washing and drying. I haven’t tried it yet on my chenille scarf, but I’ve heard that it makes a huge difference in softness and drape.

    I’ve heard another mention of some one actually weaving a jacket out of silk chenille, so as you’re discovering, it can be tamed. Unfortunately, I don’t know any details on how she wove it or anything.

    Weavers’ Guild of Boston is holding a morning workshop in Feb that covers warp painting of rayon chenille. (I know it’s not silk chenille – but I suspect that the chenille aspect is what makes it tough to dye.) I include that just to indicate that there is a process…not to torment you. (But also, possibly other readers might be able to get to the workshop.)

    Thanks for working this through and sharing your process with all of us! I have a giant white cone of chenille that I always thought I’d be able to dye….so I’m watched in an extra-interested way!!


  2. 2 fibresofbeing December 20, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Wow – what a wonderful calendar of workshops the guild has! I’ll admit to a certain level of torment, moderated a bit since I’m booked into a few classes locally in 2010 including warp painting ( – the dyeing classes filled quickly, but I think some others are still open).

  3. 3 Life Looms Large December 22, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I am really lucky to live in an area with several weaving guilds offering great workshops. (It startled me for a second to see “Summer School” and “January” on the same page….definitely the opposite of what I’m used to.)

    I was just reading the beginning of Mastering Weave Structures by Sharon Alderman. There are two passages that are relevant to things you and I have discussed and tried to figure out.

    One thing she said was that when trying to sample a yarn or group of yarns to see how they behave together, a 12 inch sample (or 30 cm) is about the minimum she’d trust.

    She also said that when she wants to simulate how a fabric will hold up to wear and laundering, she washes it several times with a set of terry cloth towels to see if it abrades and how it wears.

    I think I lucked out on my scarves because my samples were too small. We’ll see how the whole thing holds up under use!


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