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Know your Weave

2015-04-23 18:03:17 GMT

Basic Weaving Components and Make Up

Weaving in its most basic and elemental form, is a method of fabric production that interlaces two distinct threads (a thread is a yarn made specifically for use in a machine. Yarn itself comes from the Old English Gearn ) at a right angle.

The longitudinal threads are called the Warp and the horizontal threads are known as the Weft or Woof. This is important…if you only learn one thing…this should be it!! The word Weft comes from the Old English wefen meaning “that which is woven”.


The manner in which these threads are woven affect the qualities that the fabric has and its is this (the way that it is woven) that is known as the weave. The drape of the cloth , that’s is how the fabric lays and conforms on complex or uneven surfaces is primarily determined by the weave used. Another outcomes of the weave style include smoothness, its susceptibility to crimping and the level of porousness.

Although there are many methods for weaving, the coming of the Industrial age introduced the loom (a machine which holds the Warp threads and interweaves the Weft threads). In a Loom, one Warp thread is called an End and one Weft thread is called Pick.

The Warp threads are held in place through an eye called a Heddle. The Warp threads are raised and lowered using a harness which controls the heddles. The harnesses themselves can be regulated via various systems such as Cams, Dobbies or a Jaquard head. This raising and lowering of the Warp threads via a mechanised system allowed for many more types of weave, most of which were developed in the 19th Century in Northern English Mills…which leads us nicely into a brief history of Weaving!!

A Brief History Of European Weaving

Early History

Although evidence has emerged suggesting that weaving may be as old as 9000 years old, by 3600 B.C.E it had become commonplace within the Fertile Crescent, with Flax (a linen) being the dominant yarn. By 2000 B.C.E Wool had replaced Flax for other cultures using a weaving system.

The Weaving of Silk had become a developed skill first in China around 2700 B.C.E before moving onto Korea around 200 B.C.E and finally Japan as late as 300 A.D.


Silk Squares from yours truly!

Medieval Weaving

By 700 A.D. weaving had spread around the globe, including Islamic innovations such as tread peddle loom, which allowed for a peddle to operate the heddles. In Africa, the politics of fabrics began to appear, as the light Cotton was for wealthier people and Wool for the poorer.

Medieval Europe also had distinctions of class denoted by cloth. Due to the colder climes of Europe it was the diametric opposite of Africa, with wool for the richer person and linen and nettle cloth for the lower classes.

Introduction into Europe

Cotton was introduced to Sicily and Spain in 800 A.D. Cotton diffusion to the rest of Europe via Northern Italy came with the Norman conquest of Sicily in the 11th century. With the introduction of horizontal looms into Europe in the 10th and 11th Centuries and the proliferation of weaving, the art moved away from a family based rural practice to a specialized urban product. Guilds were developed to regulate the craft and trade, such as London’s oldest company, the Weavers Guild which was founded in 1130.

In the 13th century a systematic change came about with the introduction of the ‘putting out’ system. Under the new system merchants would provide wool to the weavers who would then sell it back to the merchants. The supply of wool and the industry as a whole became dominated by the merchants. In East England this prosperity was reflected in the emergence of wool towns such as Norwich and Burt St Edmunds. Wool had once again become a political issue.

The Huguenots

Flanders had established itself as a centre of the fabric trade by dint of its merchant prowess, with certain Flanderers moving to England as early as the  11 Century setting up the Wool business in Worstead. Louis XI had designated Lyon as the centre fro the silk industry in France by Royal Decree in the late 15th Century. With the religious persecutions of the late 17th Century, 50,000 Huguenots moved to Britain, move specifically to Spittlefields in London and the traditional home of silk weaving in the UK - Macclesfield - a tradition which remains intact today, bringing with them their superior weaving skill and international trade links.


A Huguenot weaving from 1830

The Industrial Revolution

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Industrial revolution to the weaving process. In 50 short years, the fabric industry went from being a niche, craft based product to a mechanised large scale behemoth, with towns and cities of unprecedented scale growing up around the industry.

The History of Industrial weaving needs its own in depth article….but we will do our best to present a concise overview here.

The first innovation came in 1733, with John Kay’s flying shuttle. Before this, wide looms often needed an expensive apprentice to help the shuttle get to the end of the loom. This allowed for not only a reduction in staff, but also a vast increase in the size of the loom.

Other key figures and innovations included The Cartwright Brothers, who mechanised the actual weaving process between 1785 - 1792. By the early 19th Century the process power weaving had become commonplace and by the 1850′s it had become semi - automate, and Joseph Marie Jacquard who developed the Jacquard Loom.

The new scale of production was a catalyst for the growth of the mill towns in the north of England such as Stockport and Manchester, as well as further technical and scientific progress, via the necessity of metal works for the looms and chemical alternatives to expensive natural dyes which drove the burgeoning chemical industry of the latter 19th Century (and perhaps even the computer. Charles Babbage was much inspired by the system used in the Jacquard loom).

The Industrial Revolution took Weaving from this


to this……


Types of Weave (and a few fabric examples!!)

Basketweave also known as Panama


An all round fabric, it is known for its distinctive chequered patterning, formed by a basic criss-crossing of more than one thread. This method is also known  as a Panama weave and is used for light/mid weight woollen suiting.



Named after the eponymous label, this fabric is known for its striped double ribbed texture. Traditionally made from silk, its has a very soft handle and shiney appearance. In the USA the term has an expanded meaning to include any silk shirtings.

Dobby (see also Pique - also a dobby fabric)


The derivation of the word Dobby is a corruption of Draw Boy - the boy who used to control the warp thread. Dobby cloth refers to the loom upon which it was produced. Often containing a geometric pattern, this fabric is also commonly used in Polo Shirts as well as shirting.



Not often seen any more, this luxury fabric is often woven in silk. The background weave is often Taffeta (from the Persian for Twisted Fabric), with a supplementary pattern laid on top.


A common casual shirting material made with a basket weave, the Oxford is often gets it checked appearance via the use of a white thread. The Oxford can be further categorised into three styles, from least to most formal as below:


Plain Oxford - The least formal it has a coarse texture and often uses a heavier thread and a looser weave than the more formal versions of the Oxford. 


Pinpoint Oxford - Similar to the plain Oxford, the Pinpoint commonly uses a finer thread and a higher thread count.


Royal Oxford - This Oxford does not use the simple basket weave of the other Oxford cloths and has a distinctive elaborate weave. This cloth like the other Oxfords irons well and is also resistant to creasing.

Pile Weave


This technique actually encompasses many textiles in use within the garment industry today, including Velvet and Corduroy, but employs the same basic idea throughout. The basic method employs looping the warp thread over a metal rod. When the rod are removed the pile can either remain (as in a Terrycloth) or be sheared (as in Velvet or Corduroy - essentially a ribbed velvet).



Developed in Lancashire and using cotton, the Pique weave was an attempt to imitate quilting from Marseilles (hence its alternative name of Marcella - a corruption of Marseilles). Often associated with white tie attire, its ridges hold more starch and therefore produce a stiffer front.

Plain Weave 


Poplin - an example of a plain weave

One of the three most fundamental weaves (along with Twill and Satin), a balanced plain weave (as opposed to a basket weave which is a riff on a plain weave) is a fabric in which the warp and weft are made of threads of the same weight and the same number of ends per inch as picks per inch. Fabrics made from this weave include but is not limited to Poplin, taffeta, grosgrain and chiffon. Plain weaves generally have good stability but are prone to crimping.

Satin Weave


The name Satin is a derivative of the the Chinese town Quanzhou via its Arabic name Zayton. In essence a modified Twill (see below), with Satin produces a very flat, very well draped fabric. The satin weave also allows for a very tight weave and has a very shiney lustre to it.



Twill is one of the primary weaves of garment construction, and encompasses a wide range of fabrics including Denim, Tweed, Chino and Gabardine. The Twill weave is formed by a series of diagonal ribs formed by the Warp thread being passed under then over two or more Weft threads. A step is employed to create the characteristic diagonal orientation. Due to the method of construction, Twills have a front and back side, unlike a Plain weave that has the same finish on both sides.

Leno weave


This technique produces a sheer but durable fabric. Manufactured by entwining two Warp yarns around the Weft, the technique also encompasses the Japanese Karamiori cloth.

Thus concludes our basic guide to weaving. We do hope you enjoyed. Look out for further posts elucidating the qualities and etiquette’s of different fabrics, as well as a closer look at the many facets of wool. See you next time!!