Weaving and the Loom

Weaving and The Loom

Once fiber was spun, the next logical step was weaving. Weaving is the technique of taking two threads or yarns and interlacing them at right angles to form a fabric. The vertical threads are called the warp and the horizontal ones are called the weft. The way the warp and the weft interlace is called the weave. 

Humans have woven and continue to weave, all kinds of materials for all kinds of purposes. Woven thatch makes a great roof for a structure, woven reeds make great baskets and can even be made waterproof. But it is woven fibers made for clothing which we are really interested in here.

There is some evidence weaving may go all the way back to the Paleolithic Era (some 2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 years ago). There have been indistinct textile impressions found at the Dolní Věstonice site in modern day Czech Republic. This site dates to around 26,000 years ago.

 Artist rendition of burial of three youths at Dolni Věstonice.

Artist rendition of burial of three youths at Dolni Věstonice.

This site has yielded a wealth of artifacts from the Gravettian period (roughtly 29,000-22,000 years ago). Numerous clay objects, including clay floors have been found which have woven fabric impressions on them. These may have been made from baskets, woven mats for sitting, or even some form of clothing.

In 2013, a piece of cloth woven from hemp was found at the site of  Çatalhöyük and dated to around 9000 years ago. Another fragment of cloth was found at the site of Fayum dating to around 7,000 year ago. 

We do not know the exact point of origin or the direction of travel of this technology. It just seems to have been in nearly every early civilization around the same time. We do know that slaves, usually women and children, were the likely weavers. 

In Medieval Europe the trade of woven cloth was an important part of the economy. The availability of thread or yarn was ever the factor that limited the output of the weaver. During the Middle Ages, the spindle was replaced by the Great Wheel, and thus more thread and yarn became available to weavers, increasing their outputs and availability in the marketplace. 

The Loom

The word "loom" comes from an Old English word "geloma" which means tool or machine. There are many different kinds of non-mechanized looms still in use around the world today: back strap looms, pit looms, pegged looms, draw looms, warp-weighted looms, and hand looms, to name a few. 

 Keren woman in Northern Thailand weaving with a back strap loom.

Keren woman in Northern Thailand weaving with a back strap loom.

 Indian woman using a pit loom. Photo credit to Ganga Studio blog.

Indian woman using a pit loom. Photo credit to Ganga Studio blog.

Edmund Cartwright built and then patented a power (or mechanized) loom in 1785 building on the improvement of John Kay's 1733 Flying Shuttle. Kay's Flying Shuttle allowed the weaver to not only work faster, but to weave a wider than arms length piece of fabric. 

 Cartwright Power Loom.

Cartwright Power Loom.

Loom technology continued to advance until the first appearance of the modern industrial loom in 1942. Modern industrial looms can weave 2000 weft insertions per minute!

If you think back to what we learned about some of the weaving goddesses you can understand why they were so important to each culture. Knitting, which will discuss in the next lesson, while the perfect technology for some things, was not efficient for producing yardages of cloth to make clothing. Weaving is what helped us clothe ourselves.