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Textile Weaving Terminology

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever tried to weave something? Ever heard of the terms warp and weft? Do you know what a selvage is? In this lesson, learn some terms used in the process of weaving textiles.

What is weaving?

Do you have a favorite winter scarf or fuzzy sweater? Such clothing items might be woven of wool or other materials. Weaving is the process of interlacing vertical and horizontal threads threads at right angles to create a textile. People around the world have practiced weaving for centuries, and they use it to create many kinds of textiles. By varying the way threads are woven, different surface appearances are created.

Man weaving on a handloom in India, circa 1873
man using a loom

As with any specialized activity, there are words related to the weaving process and equipment, as well as words that relate to specific kinds of woven goods and surfaces.

Equipment and Process Terms

First, let's discuss a few fundamental terms. A loom is piece of equipment used to weave textiles. It can be as simple as a wooden frame handloom or as complicated as an electronically-controlled modern industrial loom. The width of the loom determines the width of the textile.

A weaver uses a loom to interlace two kinds of threads, called the warp and the weft. Warp threads are vertical threads that run the length of the textile. They're attached to the loom during the weaving process. The weft threads are those that run horizontal. They pass through the warp threads to form the weave pattern.

Looms are basically a series of frames with parts that hold the warp threads in place while other move, allowing the weft threads to cross through. A warp beam is a cylindrical bar around which the warp threads are wound before weaving begins. it holds them in place during the weaving process. A shaft or harness is a frame that moves up and down.

Diagram of a loom. The cylindrical warp beams are to the far left and far right. This loom has two harnesses. They are the high vertical structures.
Diagram of a loom

The shaft or harness has many heddles, wires with holes that hold selected warp threads to create a pattern when the weft threads cross it. In order to design a more complex image, a weaver can utilize many harnesses at once, all with heddles.

Details of heddles with warp threads being strung through them.
Detail of heddles

A shuttle is a wooden device with a pointed end that holds the weft threads. On a hand loom, the weaver passes the shuttle through the warp threads to do the actual textile weaving. Some looms also have treadles, foot pedals the weaver uses to help power the loom.

Weave Pattern and Textile Terms

A weave is the structure of woven textile. It can be varied by interlacing threads in different ways, usually through skipping a certain number of warp or weft threads. Using different weaves can make textiles heavier, stronger, smoother, or given them a lustrous appearance. It can also create different surface patterns.

The simplest weave is a plain weave in which each warp and weft intersect with no skipped threads. They form a simple criss-cross pattern. This is one of the most common weaves and creates a long-lasting fabric. You'll sometimes also see it called tabby or linen weave.

Twill is a type of weave that creates sturdy fabric with distinct diagonal lines running through it. To make a twill weave, two or more weft threads go over two or more warp threads and then under two or more warp threads. This process offsets the pattern and creates the diagonal lines. Cotton is often used in twill weaves, so look closely at your favorite jeans. Denim is a cotton twill textile.

Detail of black denim showing diagonal pattern found in twill
Detail of denim textile

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