Weaving: History & Types

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  • 0:00 Weaving
  • 1:00 The Loom
  • 2:06 Types of Weaves
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Do you have a favorite shirt or a pair of denim jeans? Ever wonder how it was made? Chances are, it was created from woven fabric. In this lesson, we'll explore the history and different types of weaving.

Weaving

We wear woven fabrics every day, just like people have done for centuries. Weaving is a process used to create fabric by interlacing threads. Ancient examples date back 12,000 years. Woven fabric fragments composed of natural fibers like linen and wool have been found in places as diverse as Egypt, Peru, China, and Turkey.

Weaving uses two types of threads: the warp and the weft. The process begins with the warp threads, which are stretched tight on a frame and run vertically to the fabric's intended length. Weft threads are laced over and under and run horizontally to the warp threads. By working the warp and weft threads at right angles, a weaver can create fabric materials like cloth, carpets, or tapestries.

Before we discuss weaving, there's one more thing we should mention. The weaving process can also be used to make baskets, but for the purpose of this lesson, we'll concentrate on fabrics.

The Loom

Weaving requires a device called a loom, a metal or wooden frame used to hold the warp threads. All of the earliest types of looms were operated by hand. The simplest loom, a frame loom, is a wooden device used to hold warp threads tight.

Hopi man using a vertical frame loom to weave a rug, ca. 1901
vertical frame loom

Like many indigenous peoples from the Americas, the Hopi man in this image is weaving a rug on a vertical loom suspended by ropes from the joists of the roof and weighted down by heavy stones.

Floor looms are larger and more substantial than frame looms and feature a bench where the weaver can sit. People use these to make large pieces of fabric.

Watercolor image of Burmese silk weaving on a floor loom, 19th century
floor loom and silk weaving

In this watercolor image, a Burmese weaver is making silk fabric on a large floor loom. The onlooker in bright red is wearing the type of cloth the weaver is making.

Weaving became an industrial process thanks to the English inventor Edmund Cartwright, who designed the first mechanical loom built in 1785. Mechanical looms allowed larger pieces of fabric to be made more quickly and helped to usher in the Industrial Revolution and the production of woven goods in factories.

Types of Weaves

By changing how the warp and weft threads interlace, you can create different kinds of weaves. A plain weave, sometimes known as homespun, is a straightforward method of weaving where every warp and weft thread meets at a right angle, resulting in a very strong fabric.

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