What is Weaving in Textiles?

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  • 0:03 Woven Textiles
  • 0:38 Weaving: Definition
  • 1:08 Weaving Process
  • 2:32 Weave Types
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Textiles are some of the most important products created by societies around the world and across time. In this lesson, we'll explore how textiles are woven and learn about some basic types of weaves.

Woven Textiles

Some things are practically defined by how they are made. Say that you wanted to make cookies. How would you make them? The most common answer is that you'd bake them, even though recipes for no-bake cookies do exist.

While cookies are exceptionally delicious, they are not exceptional in the close connection between process and product. Just like in the production of textiles, or human-made cloths or fabrics. Although there are multiple ways to make textiles, these products have almost always been associated with a single technique: weaving.

Weaving: Definition

Weaving is essential to a great number of textile cultures, so let's get a little more familiar with the process. Technically, weaving is defined by the interlacing of two individual strands of yarn or thread at right angles. This pattern creates a strong, yet flexible structure that holds the individual threads in place, thus creating a solid cloth or fabric. Even today, most textiles are woven, usually by machines that create an incredibly tight structure, but the process is essentially the same as hand weaving.

Weaving Process

So, how does weaving work? The process of weaving begins with a fiber, a long, thin material with a certain amount of structural resilience. Fibers can be naturally occurring, like cotton or wool, or can be synthetically produced, like nylon. When multiple fibers are spooled together, they create a yarn or thread, which is then woven together into fabric.

As we said earlier, weaving itself involves two independent strands of yarn or thread, interlaced at right angles. That means that one set of strands will always be horizontal, while the other set will always be vertical.

  • The vertical strand is called the warp
  • The horizontal strand is called the weft

The most common device for interlacing the threads is a loom, that holds the warp taut, used throughout history and around the world.

The first step in the weaving process is to lay out and attach the warp to the loom, and then insert the weft. Most looms are large, upright, and heavy, so some cultures developed other methods of weaving.

For example, many Amerindian cultures of North and South America used backstrap looms, which anchored the warp between a solid object like a tree and a harness worn by the weaver. Other cultures simply wove using their fingers as the loom. Finger weaving is complex and not always as efficient for large-scale textiles, but can be used to create some intricate patterns.

Weave Types

Woven strands can be interlaced in different patterns. The interlacing pattern of the warp and weft is called the weave of the fabric.

There are many different weaves, but three stand out as the most common by far:

A plain weave is a simple over-under-over-under pattern where the weft goes over one strand of the warp, under the next strand, over the next one, and so on. This is a simple but strong weave used in a variety of fabrics, including chiffon and taffeta.

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