Weaving is the textile art in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads, called the warp and the filling or weft (older woof), are interlaced with each other to form a fabric or cloth. The warp threads run lengthways of the piece of cloth, and the weft runs across from side to side.
The manner in which the warp and filling threads interlace with each other is known as the weave. The three basic weaves are plain weave, satin weave, and twill, and the majority of woven products are created with one of these weaves.
Woven cloth can be plain (in one color or a simple pattern), or it can be woven in decorative or artistic designs, including tapestries. 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.
The ancient art of handweaving, along with hand spinning, remains a popular craft. The majority of commercial fabrics, in the West, are woven on computer-controlled Jacquard looms. In the past, simpler fabrics were woven on dobby looms and the Jacquard harness adaptation was reserved for more complex patterns. Some believe the efficiency of the Jacquard loom, and the Jacquard weaving process makes it more economical for mills to use them to weave all of their fabrics, regardless of the complexity of the design.
In general, weaving involves the interlacing of two sets of threads at right angles to each other: the warp and the weft. The warp are held taut and in parallel order, typically by means of a loom, though some forms of weaving may use other methods. The loom is warped (or dressed) with the warp threads passing through heddles on two or more harnesses. The warp threads are moved up or down by the harnesses creating a space called the shed. The weft thread is wound onto spools called bobbins. The bobbins are placed in a shuttle which carries the weft thread through the shed. The raising/lowering sequence of warp threads gives rise to many possible weave structures from the simplest plain weave (also called tabby), through twills and satins to complex computer-generated interlacings.
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 warpfaced textile such as rep weave. Conversely, if the warp is spread out, the weft can slide down and completely cover the warp, giving a weftfaced textile, such as a tapestry or a Kilim rug. There are a variety of loom styles for hand weaving and tapestry. In tapestry, the image is created by placing weft only in certain warp areas, rather than across the entire warp width.
There are some indications that weaving was already known in the Palaeolithic era. An indistinct textile impression has been found at Pavlov, Moravia. Neolithic textiles are well known from finds in pile dwellings in Switzerland. One extant fragment from the Neolithic was found in Fayum at a site which dates to about 5000 BCE. This fragment is woven at about 12 threads by 9 threads per cm in a plain weave. Flax was the predominant fibre in Egypt at this time and continued popularity in the Nile Valley, even after wool became the primary fibre used in other cultures around 2000 BCE. Another Ancient Egyptian item, known as the Badari dish, depicts a textile workshop. This item, catalogue number UC9547, is now housed at the Petrie Museum and dates to about 3600 BCE. 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 finished cloth was then taken to a fuller.
Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897) points to numerous Biblical references to weaving in ancient times:
Textile weaving, using cotton dyed with pigments, was a dominant craft among pre-contact tribes of the American southwest, including various Pueblo peoples, the Zuni, and the Ute tribes. The first Spaniards to visit the region wrote about seeing Navajo blankets. With the introduction of sheep and wool by Europeans, the Navajo adopted the new source of thread and the resulting woolen products have become very well known. By the 1700s the Navajo had begun to import yarn with their favorite color, Bayeta red.
Using an upright loom, the Navajos made almost exclusively utilitarian blankets. Little patterning and few colors were characteristic of almost all early blankets, except for the much sought after Chief's Blanket, which evolved from the 1st Phase, few wide bands, to the 2nd phase, wide bands with squares on the corners to the 3rd Phase which made more and more use of patterns and colors. The Navajo also traded for commercial wool, including the uniforms of soldiers, to reweave into intricate multicolored blankets called Germantown.
Under the influence of European settlers at trading posts, the local Navajos began to weave blankets and rugs into distinct styles. They included "Two Gray Hills" (predominantly black and white, with traditional patterns), "Teec Nos Pos" (colorful, with very extensive patterns), "Ganado" (founded by Don Lorenzo Hubbell), red dominated patterns with black and white, "Crystal" (founded by J. B. Moore), oriental and Persian styles (almost always with natural dyes), "Wide Ruins," "Chinlee," banded geometric patterns, "Klagetoh," diamond type patterns, "Red Mesa" and bold diamond patterns. Many of these patterns exhibit a fourfold symmetry, which is thought to embody traditional ideas about harmony.
Weaving was a strictly local enterprise until later in the period, when larger weaving operations sprung up in places like Brugges, in Flanders. Within this setting, master weavers could improve their craft and pass skills along to apprentices. As the Middle Ages progressed, significant trade in fine cloth developed, and loom technology improved to allow very thin threads to be woven. Weaver's guilds (and associated craft guilds, like fullers) gained significant political and economic power in some of the bigger weaving cities.
In Colonial times the colonists mostly used wool, cotton and flax (linen) for weaving, though hemp fiber could be made into serviceable canvas and heavy cloth also. They could get one cotton crop each fall, but until the invention of the cotton gin it was a labor-intensive process to separate the seeds from the cotton fiber. Flax and hemp were harvested in the summer, and the stalks rendered for the long fibers within. Wool could be sheared up to twice yearly, depending on the breed of sheep.
A plain weave was preferred in Colonial times, and the added skill and time required to make more complex weaves kept them from common use in the average household. Sometimes designs were woven into the fabric but most were added after weaving using wood block prints or embroidery.
Another important step forward was the invention in France of the Jacquard loom, enabling complicated patterned cloths to be woven, by using punched cards to determine which threads of coloured yarn should appear on the upper side of the cloth.
Natural dyes were used until just before the Civil War, when artificial dyes started to come into use.