Many different varieties of weaving technology exist to turn spun thread into fabric. The simplest hand-powered looms have been in use for thousands of years and remain popular among hobbyists, artisans, and history buffs. Mechanical looms came into use during the Industrial Revolution, and simple mechanical looms still produce a great deal of coarse but useful cloth. Computerized looms are a more recent development, and produce higher-quality cloth as well as cloth with very intricate patterns.
Every type of weaving technology works by weaving two sets of threads together. Warp threads run along the length of a bolt of fabric. Weft threads are woven back and forth between the warp threads. Typically, heddles are used to pull some part, most often half, of the warp threads up or out so that each pass of the weft travels between two sets of warp threads. Although some weaving can be done using a simple wooden frame, most weaving technology is based on looms.
Inkle looms are very small looms that became common in medieval Europe and are used mostly to weave decorative pieces, such as belts or trim. These looms are warped by hand and use small lengths of string in place of typical heddles to hold the warp threads. A weaver adjusts the pattern produced by an inkle loom by manually shifting the position of some of the warp threads, and weaving itself is done entirely by hand. Cards can be used to twist and re-position some of the threads to create more complicated patterns.
Most hand looms are more complicated than inkle looms and employ at least two different groupings of heddles. These heddles hold groups of warp threads. A shuttle passes the weft thread back and forth between the warp threads. On this type of loom, the heddles can be used to lift different sections of the warp thread in order to produce more complicated patterns in the finished cloth.
Powered looms appeared in the middle phases of the Industrial Revolution. They were initially quite crude and lacked the ability to weave fibers that tend to be somewhat uneven, such as wool. Cotton, however, was available and has very regular fibers. The first powered looms used the same principles as simple hand looms. This type of weaving technology did not improve the quality of cloth on the market, but vastly increased the quantity.
Modern industrial looms employ the same basic principles of warp and weft, heddles and shuttles. They use software and sensors to monitor the weaving, however, and can produce high quality cloth. Mechanized weaving technology allows for the creation of very intricate woven patterns at low prices. Older types of weaving, however, have remained popular among hobbyists, and some fine hand-made fabrics, such as Harris Tweed, continue to command a great premium price.