Rayon Chenille Shawl shrank badly in the wet finish process

I need some advice and to know if anyone has ever encountered this. I have woven with chenille a few times but never before used the machine to wet-finish, just a little steam. I tried it this time, because I wanted to give this as a gift and "do it right". The result was desolating! I made sure the water was just warm and set the machine on delicate, only let it agitate a little, then checked and found that the  whole project had shrunk to the size of a door mat! Has this ever happened to anyone else? Su, if you read this, I have followed your book for every project, to the extent that I can, and I reviewed it this morning after this devestating failure. I know you say in your book that Rayon doesn't shrink but only retracts yet it retracted 50%? I make sure not to measure or wind my warp under tension, never let it sit under tension on the loom and weave with as little tension as possible to get a clean shed. My weft is 8/2 Tencel, the chenille was around 900yds/lb and I sett it at 12 epi (which was recommended by the shop and I've always used before) and was purchased in a skein after space-dying; I bought it from my reputable local shop and its something they always carry. No one else I've talked to has used a machine wet-finish, though.

I have now blocked it back to about 57" but I was disenhearted to read that this will probably cause the threads to simply break later. Is there any salvaging this shawl? It was just plain weave but I put a lot of work into the fringe (braided and beaded)  and it was supposed to be a gift for my mother-in-law.

Thanks for any help.

Nan E.



I wet finish in cold water with just a tiny amount of liquid detergent. I agitate without putting anything in to mix in the detergent. Then I submerge everything and let it sit. I agitate for only a few seconds, set the machine to drain and spin, then refill with water for rinse, agitate only a tiny amount and then drain and spin. I have never had your 50% shrinkage problem so I am suspecting that you did not have your sett up high enough and having a signicantly finer warp in comparison to your much thicker weft. I also noted that you weave with little tension but that is not so good if you have a soft warp beam. It appears your yarn is shifting around. That said I used my same materials, rayon thick and thin yarn 2400 ypd. and 1400 ypd. rayon chenille sett at 20 epi and ran all seven yards through a delicate wash cycle, cold water, and then completely dried it in the dryer. For my shawls and scarves sett at 16, I do the minimal agitation method and line dry.

There doesn't seem to be any distortion among the threads; it's not sleazy by any means and was rather stiff and "hard" coming off the loom so I thought it would be good to wash it. It was literally like a rug coming out of the machine. I am utterly confused. And that was after a minute or two of aggitation; I was so nervous, I checked on it. I note that you use cold water; I was told to use warm. Perhaps it was too warm, though I tried to be careful about that, too. Maybe it's my water. We have hard water and I believe there is softener in the filter system; I see "do not add softener!" other places but have not seen a reason given.

 I don't know what you mean by a "soft" warp beam? I wove this on a Leclerc 36" standard Artisat floor loom. What is a soft beam? The brake is fine and I get no slippage on this loom, which is why I chose it for chenille.

The shawl is back up to about 61"at this point, drying pinned out between two drying racks in my loft with a wood fire going (can't believe it's cold enough for this today but it is!) and seems to be drying. I certainly don't dare put it in the dryer.

Thanks again for your reply.


That was my first thought, too, planttapestry; but from the remains after the knots in the fringe, it certainly seems to be rayon binder or a synthetic. At least I braided the fringe. And having examined this, it, too, is much smaller in diameter than when it went into the machine and yet contains no tencel. There was definitely shrinkage, not just shifting in the threads, although that must have occurred as well. Oh well. Another learning experience. After 15 years, I thought I was beyond this kind of disaster but I guess not.


I have been weaving for close to 40 years and still have things that surprise me...and not in a nice way. :( You might try rayon chenille again in a finer size. I generally only use 1450 or 1300 yards per pound RC for scarves. Anything fatter seems too fat for scarves to me. At this size it is generally agreed that 16 epi is about right for set. When I wet finish RC I use the washing machine, warm water wash/rinse, then into the dryer until dry. Gentle wash and rinse. If the machine doesn't have gentle spin, stop it spinning when the water is mostly spun out. Care instructions are then to hand wash warm water, dry in dryer or dry clean. Cheers Laura

This yarn could have been designed/spun for knitting (because it was skeined) and not spun for weaving, which would require more twist/strength for being worked under tension. If the yarn was loftier, and the sett more open, wouldn't that allow for far more take up than one would expect?

I do remember in working with chenille that your sett is way tighter than one would think. You can't be deceived by the fluffiness. And if it feels stiff when it came off the loom, it should feel great when it came out of the dyer!

The only exception I had was some cheap rayon chenille (lion brand?) that stayed stiff no matter what. It was not a weaving yarn, it was a knitting yarn. We also had some mill end stuff that got passed around several weavers before someone finally just threw the cones away. 

So sorry to hear about this unsuccessful experience. Can the material be made into some other type of gift so it won't shrink back upon itself during the next washing? What about sachets or pillow covers? Maybe convert it to vest fronts with a plain (commercial) fabric back?


Thanks for the support. This is why I still consider myself an amateur. I am sure a lot of things contributed to this failure. I'll approach my next chenille project with a lot more caution. I am learning a lot of details about the machine finishing process that I wish I'd known before I put this fabric in my machine at all.


But it was also from a processor/dyer that uses mill ends, I now understand. It was certainly not cheap, unfortunately. Lots of others weave with it. Not sure where this will go. As I said, live and learn. Thanks for your reply. The dryer actually seemed to make the problem worse and I quickly aborted.


HI Nanefire...sorry to be late to the party.  I suspect several things contributed to your unfortunate problem.  First of all, NO rayon chenille should ever be sett at 12 epi.....rayon chenille should be set based on the size of the CORE yarn, and a 900ypp chenille probably has a core about the same size as a 6/2 or 8/2.  That would required a sett of from 15-24 epi.  If you sett too openly you are asking for a huge amount of shrinkage.  Secondly, you used Tencel as the weft and Tencel does tend to shrink a lot.  You mentioned you wove plain weave but did not include the pick count per inch, so I am just guessing that is was not more than 12-14 ppi, and that would have contributed to your shrinkage as well.  Rayon will retract when subjected to heat and agitation, and it will go back to the size that it is allowed to go to...if there is not enough structure to keep it from retracting, it will continue to do so until it is stopped.  It will eventually elongate again as well, but not enough to save your shawl.  You blocked the piece, and I am guessing you did so when it was wet and that can and most likely will result in broken threads down the road.  Also, if the piece is laundered by the new owner, she will get the shock of the shrinkage all over again.  If you want to save the shawl, I would launder it as I suggest in the book, warm water and just a couple of minutes of agitation, then put it in the dryer.  I know you are concerned about that, but drying it, i.e. heat and tumbling action, makes the rayon retract to its smallest size.....and when dry you can lay the piece out and see what you have.  This is really the only fix that will be permanent.  It may be that this is a disaster project...we all have them from time to time and it is very disappointing.  But better to learn what happened and make it right than to put a bandaid on it and then have the same thing happen again.

You mentioned softened water...that is not a problem but adding fabric softener is.  Fabric softener puts a coating on the yarns and does not allow the pile in the chenille to blossom.  It also leaves a very flammable coating on the yarns.  Rayon is already relatively flammable, so adding something making it moreso is a problem.  

I am sorry you have had this upsetting experience, but better to move ahead and learn.  I have been BEGGING retailers to change their epi suggestions for chenille for over a decade and they just won't do it.....that causes problems for the weavers, especially those less experienced and leads to precisely the problems you are having now.  I would suggest you use a finer chenille for garments, use a closer sett and then wet finish in warm water and machine dry.  This is the best way to get chenille to have that luxurious quality we all love it for!  Let me know if you have further questions....



I appreciate your long comment, Su. I'd already figured out that this project was just a catastrophic storm of mistakes...a huge learning experience. I am now re-examining everything I think I know about all fibers, but especially rayon. I always assumed that I was doing okay with chenille because my few other projects never wormed, even after use. At least I don't sell anything. I'll definitely take your advice on a much closer sett for chenille in the future.

Sort of an aside, but you're the first comment I've ever seen suggesting that Tencel shrinks much at all. I assumed that the different rates of shrinkage were a big part of my problem. The shawl didn't shrink a hair in width, by the way.

Again, thanks. I'm moving on...


I think I just repeated the same series of mistakes with the rayon chenille shawl I attempted. I read to set it close, like the core thread, or use ypp to determine the sett. Did that, but couldn't beat the weft in at the ppi I had planned. The shawl was hugely long, but soldiered on with finishing the fringe using braiding. 

The weave structure was a networked twill. The combo of that structure and my inability to reach anywhere near my target ppi made the piece look a bit warp faced. I wavered on washing it, but decided it could use a little shrinkage, so tried a woolen wash in warm, and then on to the dryer for 10 minute increments. Whoa! 50% shrinkage, pretty much in both directions (same chenille warp and weft). And worming. Ugh! 

Definately a learning experience and on a positive note, I used up a bunch of chenille in my little wayward experiment (ends of cones I got from another weaver). I am just laughing at myself that I repeated this scenario so perfectly.

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