Actually, I've learned a lot, especially from all the helpful comments on my "Placemats?" post. There were so many positive responses to the textured look that tracking gave to the placemats, that I had to stop and think about this for awhile. Just why was I disappointed with how they can out? Two things have come to mind: preference and expectation.
As Taryl pointed out, much of how we react to things (in this case my placemats), has to do with differences in taste. If truth be told, I would have to say that my personal tastes run toward casual. I like a comfortable, welcoming, country natural look. So in one way, the tracking appealed to me. But as Valerie mentioned, not everyone likes the casual look of such a fabric. The intended recipient of these placemats is pretty much opposite to me in taste. Her preference is for the more formal, classic look. My dismay stemmed from the fact that the end result didn't meet my expectations.
Bspinner commented, "Amazing isn't it how what we put on the loom isn't always what comes off?" As weavers we know this! So why should I be surprised that my weaving sometimes surprises me? The unpredictability is one of the things that keeps weaving interesting to me. I love what Bonnie said, "I think of it as a gift from the yarn." Well put!
On the other hand, I agree with Alison, that it would be nice if we could predict and exploit. Is that possible I wonder? I have an idea in my head that if I can gain enough experience and knowledge about weave structures as well as yarns, then I'll have a greater degree of control in planning my weaving projects and their outcome. Even if this is true, I realize that the element of the unplanned outcome will still be there from time to time.
So what have I learned about tracking?
It only occurs with plain weave and only after the fabric has been agitated in water.
Textil pointed out that the sett is a factor. The more open the sett, the more room the threads have to twist. My sett (16 epi) did result in a somewhat open weave. Even after washing it is not a dense cloth.
Peg confirmed that the yarn also has a lot to do with it. In fact, she recommended Peggy Osterkamp's third volume in her "New Guide to Weaving Series", Weaving and Drafting Your Own Cloth.
It just so happens that I recently purchased this book, though I really haven't had a very close look at it yet. As Peg pointed out, on pages 166 to 169, there is an extensive discussion on tracking, including what causes it and how to prevent it. In reading this section, I learned that in order to prevent tracking in this fabric, I should have set it before washing and drying.
The process of setting the fabric is referred to as "crabbing," which uses heat to shrink the yarns by relaxing their inherent twist. Once set, the fabric can be washed without tracking occurring. Peggy's book describes two ways for the handweaver to do this in the home setting: in a washing machine with the hottest water available and without agitation; or with damp pressing cloths and a very hot iron. The idea is that tracking won't occur if the item is never washed in hotter water than was used for crabbing. Commercial cloth is boiled while under tension, something which probably isn't convenient for most of us, though the book does describe how to do this.
For my placemats, the tracking is permanent, though pressing can help temporarily, especially if the fabric is pressed while still damp. Peggy did mention that after subsequent washings the tracking should be less, and indeed, Kim confirmed this with her own experience.
So, how do they actually look with the dishes I wove them for?
From a distance it isn't noticeable.
Close up it is still there, though subtle after pressing. Then too, Jacqui reminded me that if the fabric were smooth and slippery, it would be less suitable for placemats.
Still, I'm not sure if these particular placemats are suited to the dishes. However, perhaps I'll just let the recipient decide. I know that she'll appreciate that I handwove them with love. Hopefully, that is the important thing in the end.