Weaving, one of the oldest technologies practiced by humans, is the interlacement of two or more vertical and horizontal elements. The result of this action is that the individual elements form a shallow three-dimensional plane, which is usually flexible. In its simplest form, known as plain weave, the first warp (the vertical element) goes over and under each weft (the horizontal element); the second warp goes under and over each weft; and this sequence is repeated throughout the cloth. When the warp and weft are similar in size, and show up in equal amounts in the fabric, the cloth is known as a balanced plain weave. However, the scale of the elements and their density can vary, creating fabrics that show more warp or more weft.
The path that the interlacement of the threads takes can also vary. Weavers, historians, and others interested in weave structure, have developed systems for describing the various forms of interlacement-plain Twill Weaves, satins, and double cloth are some of the most common families of weave.
The first weavings were probably done through manual manipulation of the elements. Mat weavers in Nepal still create products using their hands and working on the ground. Looms were developed in all parts of the world to make the process of weaving easier and quicker. A loom holds the vertical warp threads under tension so the weft threads can be inserted with ease. The pot-holder loom that children use is such a device. The wefts are then inserted by manually going over and under the tensioned warps. Eventually looms were modified to aid the separating of the warp threads so the weft could easily be inserted in the resulting triangular space, known as the shed.
In most instances, when looking at a woven cloth, one will see the warp and weft crossing each other in a perpendicular manner. There are structures, however, where the 90-degree intersection is modified and leans one way or another, such as in the group of weaves known as deflected warp or weft. There are other processes that make planes of cloth, such as beating bark fibers or meshing animal fibers together (felting), that do not have the inter-lacement of elements found in weaving. Even when woven cloth is modified (shrunk and matted in a process called fulling or felting) until it loses the appearance of inter-lacement, the structure is still embedded in the fabric.
Some planes of fabric are made through the looping of single elements, using processes such as crochet, knit, and knotting. There are other two-element processes (including plaiting or braiding, macramé, and twining,) that differ from weaving in the manner of the interconnection of their elements.
Weaving, which can have more than one vertical or horizontal element, usually results in a plane of fabric that looks two-dimensional, but is actually a three-dimensional form. The strength and flexibility of this plane make it perfect for creating clothing, shelter, and furnishing fabrics. In recent times it has also been used as an art form.
Burnham, Dorothy K. Warp and Weft. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980.
Emery, Irene. The Primary Structures of Fabrics. Washington, D.C.: The Textile Museum, 1966.
Oelsner, G. Hermann. A Handbook of Weaves. Translated and revised by Samuel S. Dale. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1952. Original edition was published in 1915.