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Hand Weaving


What is Weavingwhat is weaving

What is a Loomwhat is loom

What is Tapestrywhat is tapestry

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Weaving is the textile art and craft that involves placing two threads or yarn made of fiber onto the warp (parallel threads to the selvedge) and weft (perpendicular threads to the selvedge) of a loom and turning them into cloth. This cloth can be plain (in one color or a simple pattern), or it can be woven in decorative or artistic designs, including tapestries.

The majority of commercial fabrics are woven on computer-controlled Jacquard looms. In the past, simpler fabrics were woven on other dobby looms and the Jacquard harness adaptation was reserved for more complex patterns. The efficiency of the Jacquard loom makes it more economical for mills to use them to weave all of their fabrics, regardless of the complexity of the design.

Fabric in which the warp and/or weft is tie-dyed before weaving is called ikat. Fabric decorated using a wax resist method is called batik.


In general, weaving involves the interlacing of two sets of threads at right angles to each other: the warp and the weft. The warp's many threads are held taut and in parallel order by means of a loom. The weft thread crosses the warp in some over/under sequence. The nature of that sequence gives rise to many possible weave structures from the simplest plain weave, through twills and satins to complex computer-generated interlacing.

Both warp and weft can be visible in the final product. By spacing the warp more closely, it can completely cover the weft that binds it, giving a "warp-faced" textile. Conversely, if the warp is spread out, the weft can slide down and completely cover the warp, giving a "weft-faced" textile, such as a tapestry. There are a variety of loom styles for hand weaving and tapestry. In tapestry, the image is created by only placing weft in certain areas, rather than in the weave structure itself.


There are some indications that weaving was already known in the Paleolithic era. Neolithic textiles are well known from finds in pile dwellings in Switzerland. They are made of flax or tree bast, wool has only been attested since the Bronze Age. Plain weaves and tabbies predominate.

Enslaved women worked as weavers during the Sumerian Era. They would wash wool fibers in hot water and wood-ash soap and then dry them. Next, they would beat out the dirt and card the wool. The wool was then graded, bleached, and spun into a thread. The spinners would pull out fibers and twist them together. This was done by either rolling fibers between palms or using a hooked stick. The thread was then placed on a wooden or bone spindle and rotated on a clay whorl which operated like a flywheel.

The slaves would then work in three-woman teams on looms, where they stretched the threads, after which they passed threads over and under each other at perpendicular angles. The cloth was then taken to a fuller.

The mechanization of weaving leading to an industry-scale operation took place in the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Numerous innovations took place taking the home-based artisan's activity from a labor intensive; man-powered undertaking to mass-production under the steam power.

Weaving in Colonial America

Weaving was not allowed by the British in Colonial America. Colonists were supposed to send unfinished goods like cotton and flax to Britain and buy finished cloth back from England. Nonetheless, many people wove cloth in Colonial America.

In Colonial times the colonists mostly used cotton and flax for weaving because the English would not send them sheep or wool. They could get one cotton crop each fall. Flax was harvested in the summer.

In preparing wool for weaving, colonists would first shear the sheep with spring back clippers. This was done while keeping the sheep's feet from touching anything so it would not try to break free. They would try to cut the wool off the sheep in one big chunk because that way they would get long fibers. Sheep-shearing was done in the spring so that the fleece would re-grow in time for the winter.

After shearing, wool would be washed in hot water to get out the dirt and grease (lanolin), then carded, at which point it would be ready for spinning into yarn.

A card is a set of two brushes rubbed against each other with the fiber in the middle. The process of carding lines up all the fibers in the same direction, making the wool or cotton ready for spinning.

Cotton was harvested from little stalks. The cotton ball is white, roughly spherical and fluffy. Its seeds had to be removed before carding, a difficult and time-consuming process. (later a "cotton gin" was invented which took a lot of the work out of seed removal). After carding it would be ready for spinning.

Linen is made from flax fiber. To prepare flax for weaving, the stalks would be beaten with a scutching tool to crush them, and then pulled through a heckling comb to get it ready for spinning. A scutching tool looks like a paper cutter but instead of having a big knife it has a blunt arm. A heckling comb is like a brush with metal bristles that you pull flax stalks through.

After they spun the yarn, it would be dyed with berries, bark, flowers, herbs or weeds, often gathered by children.

With the yarn made, they would prepare the loom. The strings on a loom run in two directions. The yarn that is attached to the loom is called the warp, and the woof or weft is woven through it. The woof is wrapped around the shuttle, and woven alternately over and under the warp strings.

A plain weave was what most people liked in Colonial times. Almost everything was plain woven then. Sometimes designs were woven into the fabric but mostly designs were added after weaving. The colonists would usually add designs by using either wood block prints or embroidering.

what is weaving

Warp is the set of lengthwise threads attached to a loom

Weft or woof is the yarn which is shuttled back and forth across the warp to create a woven fabric. In North America, it is sometimes referred to as the "fill" or the "filling yarn". The words woof and weft derive ultimately from the Old English word wefan, "to weave". It has given rise to the expression "woof and warp", meaning literally a fabric (the warp being the lengthwise threads, under and over which the side to side threads—the woof—are woven).

The weft is a thread or yarn of spun fiber. The original fiber was wool, flax or cotton. Nowadays, many manmade fibers are used in weaving. Because the weft does not have to be stretched in the way that the warp is, it can generally be less strong.

The weft is threaded through the warp using a shuttle. Hand looms were the original weaver's tool, with the shuttle being threaded through alternately raised warps by hand. Inventions during the 18th century spurred the Industrial Revolution, and the hand loom became the more robust spinning frame with the flying shuttle speeding up production of cloth, and then the water frame using water power to automate the weaving process. The power loom followed in the 19th century, when steam power was harnessed.


A loom is a machine or device for weaving thread or yarn into textiles. Looms can range from very small hand-held frames, to large free-standing hand looms, to huge automatic mechanical devices.

In practice, the basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads. The precise shape of the loom and its mechanics may vary, but the basic function is the same.

The earliest weaving was done without a loom, but in general the supporting structure of the loom is called the "frame". The frame provides the means of fixing the lengthwise threads, called the "warp", and keeping them under tension. When producing a long piece of material, the warp threads are wound on a roller called a "beam", and attached to the "cloth beam" which will serve to hold the finished material. Because of the tension the warp threads are under, they need to be strong, and the strengthening process (using flour and water paste) was called "dressing". The warp was originally made of flax which makes linen until the spinning process was refined enough to provide strong cotton yarn.

The thread that is woven through the warp is called the "weft" or "woof". The weft is threaded through the warp using a "shuttle", which carries the weft through separated warp threads. The original "hand-loom" was limited in width by the weaver's reach, because of the need to throw the shuttle from hand to hand. The invention of the "flying shuttle" with its "fly cord" and "picking sticks" enabled the weaver to pass the shuttle from a box at either side of the loom with one hand, and across a greater width. The invention of the "drop box" allowed a weaver to use multiple shuttles to carry different wefts.

With the hand freed by the use of the flying shuttle, the weaver can operate the "lathe" suspended from the frame. The lathe holds the reed comb used to beat (compact) the woven weft.

Rather than having to lift each thread individually, alternate threads can be separated by introducing a bar between the threads: the gap created is called the "shed". While an inserted bar only presents one orientation, alternating sets of threads can be lifted by connecting them with string or wires called "heddles" to another bar, called the "shaft" (or "heddle bar" or "heald"). Heddles, shafts and the "couper" (lever to lift the assembly) are called the "harness" — the harness provides for mechanical operation using foot- or hand-operated "treadles". (Multiple harnesses can be used, connected to different sets of warp threads in a "draw-loom".)

"Sleying" is the process of threading the warp yarn through the reed. Usually one speaks of "sleying the reed". You "set" (verb) the warp at X ends per inch and then you can say that its "sett" (noun) is X ends per inch.

Types of Looms

The earliest looms were probably vertical Warp-Weighted Looms, with the warp threads suspended from a branch or piece of wood and weighted or attached to the ground. The weft threads would be pushed into place by hand or a stick that would eventually become the shuttle. At first, it was necessary to raise and lower every warp thread one at a time, which was a time-consuming and laborious process. Basic techniques, such as the insertion of a rod, were developed to produce a shed, the space between warp threads (perhaps every other thread would be alternately raised and lowered), so that the weft thread or shuttle could pass through the entire warp at once.

On a horizontal Ground Loom, the warp would be strung between two rows of pegs. The weaver would have to lean over in order to work, so pit looms were developed, with the warp strung over a pit, so the weaver could sit with his or her legs underneath and would then be on a level with the loom.

Frame Looms followed basically the same principles as ground looms. The loom was constructed out of sticks and boards attached at right angles (producing a box-like shape), which meant that it was portable and could even be held in the weaver's lap. Frame looms are still in use today, usually as a portable, less expensive, and compact alternative to a table or floor loom.

Backstrap Looms, as the name implies, are tied around the weaver's waist on one end and around a stationary object such as a tree, post, or door on the other. Tension can be adjusted simply by leaning back. Backstrap looms are very portable, since they can simply be rolled up and carried.

Foot-Treadle Floor Looms

Handweavers today tend to use looms with at least four "shafts" or "harnesses". Each shaft contains a set of "heddles" through which yarn can be threaded (and attached, through a variety of mechanisms, to the front and back beams of the loom), and by raising the harnesses in different combinations, a variety of patterns can be achieved. Looms with two such shafts are called "rigid heddle" looms and variants with eight or more shafts are available.

The shafts on a Floor Loom are controlled by a series of foot pedals (called "treadles"). This is an important development, since it keeps the weaver's hands free to manipulate the shuttle and it is easy to raise and lower warp threads in selected combinations. As the material is woven, it can be wrapped around the front beam, as unwoven yarn is unrolled from the front beam, so length is not limited by the size of the loom. A Table Loom is similar, but, as the name suggests, it is smaller and equipped with levers rather than treadles, since it is made to sit on a stand or on top of a table.

The first Power Loom was built by the Englishman Edmund Cartwright in 1785. Originally, powered looms were shuttle-operated but in the early part of the 20th century the faster and more efficient shuttle-less loom came into use. Today, advances in technology have produced a variety of looms designed to maximize production for specific types of material. The most common of these are air-jet looms and water-jet looms. Computer-driven looms are now also available to individual (non-industrial) weavers.

The Jacquard Loom is a mechanical loom, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801, which used the holes punched in cardboard punch cards to control the weaving of patterns in fabric. The loom enabled even amateur weavers to weave complex designs. Each punch card corresponded to one row of the design and the cards were strung together in order.

Each hole in the card corresponds to a hook, which can either be up or down. The hook raises or lowers the warp thread so that the weft will either lay above or below it. The sequence of raised and lowered threads is what creates the pattern. Each hook can be connected to a number of threads, allowing more than one repeat of a pattern. A loom with a 400 hook head might have 4 threads connected to each hook, giving you a fabric that is 1600 warp ends wide with four repeats of the weave going across.

The Jacquard loom was the first machine to use punch cards to control a sequence of operations. Although it did no computation based on them, it is considered an important step in the history of computing hardware. The ability to change the pattern of the loom's weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming.

The term "Jacquard loom" is a misnomer. It is the "Jacquard head" that adapts to a great many dobby looms such as the "Dornier" brand that allow the weaving machine to then create the intricate patterns.

Jacquard looms, whilst relatively common in the textile industry, are not as ubiquitous as dobby looms which are usually faster and much cheaper to operate. However unlike jacquard looms they are not capable of producing so many different weaves from one warp. Modern jacquard looms are computer controlled and can have thousands of hooks. And inevitably, unlike Jacquard's original invention there is now no need for the use of punched cards - instead the patterns are literally computer controlled. The threading of a jacquard loom is so labor intensive that many looms are threaded only once. Subsequent warps are then tied in to the existing warp with the help of a knotting robot which ties each new thread on individually. Even for a small loom with only a few thousand warp ends the process can take days.

A Dobby Loom is a loom in which each harness can be manipulated individually. This is in contrast to a treadle loom, where the harnesses are attached to a number of different treadles depending on the weave structure.

Dobby looms allow a variety of complex weave structures on one threading. A Jacquard loom is an example of an adaptation to a dobby loom. The harnesses can be controlled by a computer or a series of pegs which allow them to rise or fall.


Tapestry is a form of textile art. It is woven by hand on a weaving-loom. The chain thread is the carrier in which the colored thread is woven. In this way, a colorful pattern or image is created. Most weavers use a naturally based chain thread made out of linen or wool. The threads can be made out of silk, wool, gold or silver, but can also be made out of any form of textile.

The term is commonly (though incorrectly) applied to embroidered items made in canvas work or needlepoint, probably because this type of embroidery mimics the woven effect.

Historic Development

Tapestry has been known in Europe since the early fourteenth century. The first wave of production originated from Germany and Switzerland. Over time, the market expanded to France and the Netherlands. By the 16th century, Flanders had become the center of European tapestry production.

By the end of the 16th century, the Northern Netherlands became the most important producers of tapestries, and Delft and Amsterdam became the most important tapestry cities.

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