Although weaving sprang up independently in different parts of the world and was early known in Europe, its high development there in the Middle Ages was brought about by Eastern influences operating through Muslim and Byzantine channels of culture. Byzantium became a center of silk weaving in the 6th cent. In the 9th cent. Greece, Italy, and Spain became proficient. In Flanders a high degree of skill was attained by the 10th cent., especially in the weaving of wool. Flemish weavers brought to England by William the Conqueror and later by Queen Elizabeth I gave a great impetus to the craft there, and Lancashire became an important center. Tapestry weaving was brought to a high art in France. In colonial America weaving was a household industry allied with agriculture.
The 18th-century weaving and spinning inventions marked the transition from the old era of domestic craftsmanship to the tremendous, organized industry of today. The factory system of machine weaving produces quantities of standardized material for mass consumption; the result is a loss of the distinctive elements of quality and design. Some of the finest silks, velvets, table linens, and carpets are still woven on handlooms.
The first step in weaving is to stretch the warp, or longitudinal, yarns, which must be very strong. The weft, woof, or filling crosses the warp, binding the warp threads at either side to form the selvage. The three essential steps after the warp is stretched are: shedding, or raising every alternate warp yarn or set of yarns to receive the weft; picking, or inserting the weft; and battening, or pressing home the weft to make the fabric compact. In most primitive weaving these operations were performed by the hands alone, as in making rush mats and baskets. Gradually frames for holding the warp evenly stretched and devices for throwing the weft came into use (see loom).
Woven fabrics are classified as to weave or structure according to the manner in which warp and weft cross each other. The three fundamental weaves, of which others are variations, are the plain, twill, and satin. In plain weave, also known as calico, tabby, taffeta, or homespun weaves, the weft passes over alternate warp threads, requiring two harnesses only. The relatively simple construction suits it to cheap fabrics, heavy yarns, and printed designs. Variations are produced by the use of groups of yarns, as in basket weave and monk's cloth, or by alternating fine and coarse yarns to make ribbed and corded fabrics, as the warp-ribbed Bedford cord, piqué, and dimity and the weft-ribbed poplin, rep, and grosgrain. The second primary weave, twill, shows a diagonal design made by causing weft threads to interlace two to four warp threads, moving a step to right or left on each pick and capable of variations, such as herringbone and corkscrew designs. Noted for their firm, close weave, twill fabrics include gabardine, serge, drill, and denim. Satin weave has floating or overshot warp threads on the surface which reflect light, giving a characteristic luster. When the uncrossed threads are in the weft, the weave is called sateen.
Pile fabrics have an additional set of yarns drawn over wires to form loops, and may be cut or uncut. Warp-pile fabrics include terry and plush; weft-pile, velveteen and corduroy. In double-cloth weave two cloths are woven at once, each with its warp and filling threads, and combined by interlacing some yarns or by adding a fifth set. The cloth may be made for extra warmth or strength, to permit use of a cheaper back, or to produce a different pattern or weave on each surface, e.g., steamer rugs, heavy overcoating, and machine belting. Velvet is commonly woven as a double cloth. In swivel weaving, extra shuttles with a circular motion insert filling yarns to form simple decorations, such as the dots on swiss muslin. Figure weaves are made by causing warp and weft to intersect in varied groups. Simple geometric designs may be woven on machine looms by using a cam or a dobby attachment to operate the harnesses. For curves and large figures each heddle must be separately governed. The Jacquard loom attachment permits machine weaving of the most complicated designs.
See M. E. Pritchard, A Short Dictionary of Weaving (1956); A. Albers, On Weaving (1965); R. Brown, The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book (1978).
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.