Weaving is an ancient textile art and craft that involves placing two threads or yarn made of fibre onto a warp and weft of a loom and turning them into cloth. This cloth can be plain (in one color or a simple pattern), or it can be woven in decorative or artistic designs, including tapestries.
The majority of commercial fabrics are woven on computer-controlled Jacquard looms. In the past, simpler fabrics were woven on other dobby looms and the Jacquard harness adaptation was reserved for more complex patterns. The efficiency of the Jacquard loom makes it more economical for mills to use them to weave all of their fabrics, regardless of the complexity of the design.
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.
In general, weaving involves the interlacing of two sets of threads at right angles to each other: the warp and the weft. The warp's many threads are held taut and in parallel order by means of a loom. The weft thread crosses the warp in some over/under sequence. The nature of that sequence gives rise to many possible weave structures from the simplest plain weave, through twills and satins to complex computer-generated interlacing.
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. 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 only placing weft in certain areas, rather than in the weave structure itself.
There are some indications that weaving was already known in the Palaeolithic. An indistinct textile impression has been found at Pavlov, Moravia. Neolithic textiles are well known from finds in pile dwellings in Switzerland. They are made of flax or tree bast, wool has only been attested since the Bronze Age. Plain weaves and tabbies predominate.
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 cloth was then taken to a fuller.
The mechanization of weaving leading to an industry-scale operation took place in the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Numerous innovations took place taking the home-based artisan's activity from a labour intensive; man-powered undertaking to mass-production under the power of steam.
Weaving in Colonial America
Weaving was not allowed by the British in Colonial America. Colonists were supposed to send unfinished goods like cotton and flax to Britain and buy finished cloth back from England. Nonetheless, many people wove cloth in Colonial America.
In Colonial times the colonists mostly used cotton and flax for weaving because the English would not send them sheep or wool. They could get one cotton crop each fall. Flax was harvested in the summer.
In preparing wool for weaving, colonists would first shear the sheep with spring back clippers. This was done while keeping the sheep's feet from touching anything so it would not try to break free. They would try to cut the wool off the sheep in one big chunk because that way they would get long fibers. Sheep-shearing was done in the spring so that the fleece would regrow in time for the winter.
After shearing, wool would be washed in hot water to get out the dirt and grease (lanolin), then carded, at which point it would be ready for spinning into yarn.
A card is a set of two brushes rubbed against each other with the fibre in the middle. The process of carding lines up all the fibres in the same direction, making the wool or cotton ready for spinning.
Cotton was harvested from little stalks. The cotton boll is white, roughly spherical and fluffy. Its seeds had to be removed before carding, a difficult and time-consuming process. ( later a "cotton gin" was invented which took a lot of the work out of seed removal.) After carding it would be ready for spinning.
Linen is made from flax fibre. To prepare flax for weaving, the stalks would be beaten with a scutching tool to crush them, and then pulled through a heckling comb to get it ready for spinning. A scutching tool looks like a paper cutter but instead of having a big knife it has a blunt arm. A heckling comb is like a brush with metal bristles that you pull flax stalks through.
After they spun the yarn, it would be dyed with berries, bark, flowers, herbs or weeds, often gathered by children.
With the yarn made, they would prepare the loom. The strings on a loom run in two directions. The yarn that is attached to the loom is called the warp, and the woof or weft is woven through it. The woof is wrapped around the shuttle, and woven alternately over and under the warp strings.
A plain weave was what most people liked in Colonial times. Almost everything was plain woven then. Sometimes designs were woven into the fabric but mostly designs were added after weaving. The colonists would usually add designs by using either wood block prints or embroidering.
Weaving as a business is classified as an industry based on its purpose. It can be in the manufacturing industry as a textile product (NAICS Code 314999) if what is produced is a new product to be sold. It can be in the arts industry if the weaving is considered to be a work of art (NAICS Code 711510), rather than a product.
There are a variety of ways people make money from weaving. Some sell their product locally, at trade shows or via the internet. Others sell original patterns or kits they have designed themselves. And, still others teach weaving. The best way to learn more about the viabiiity of any of these business models is to participate in Professional Resources, subscribe to magazines that are related to your interests, and read books that give more in-depth information about the business.