weaving, the art of forming a fabric by interlacing at right angles two or more sets of yarn or other material. It is one of the most ancient fundamental arts, as indicated by archaeological evidence. Discoveries in the early 1990s in the Czech Republic point to a possible origin in the Paleolithic period some 27,000 years ago. Moreover, the earliest literatures often mention the products of the loom. In primitive cultures weaving was practiced mainly by women.
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 Weaving Process
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).
Types of Woven Fabrics
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).