What Are the Different Types of Weaving Technology?

Gregory Hanson

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.

Warp material runs along the length of the woven product and weft threads are woven between the warp material.
Warp material runs along the length of the woven product and weft threads are woven between the warp material.

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.

Modern industrial looms employ software and sensors to produce high quality cloth.
Modern industrial looms employ software and sensors to produce high quality cloth.

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.

A hand loom is a manually operated fabric weaver.
A hand loom is a manually operated fabric weaver.

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.

The flying shuttle, developed in the early 18th century by British inventor John Kay, allowed weavers to work quickly on large looms without an apprentice to pull the weft thread through the warp.
The flying shuttle, developed in the early 18th century by British inventor John Kay, allowed weavers to work quickly on large looms without an apprentice to pull the weft thread through the warp.

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Discussion Comments

Rundocuri

Industrial looms have revolutionized textile production, though the items made by them lack the character of those made with an old-fashioned weaving loom. Whenever I get the chance at a craft show or fair, I buy items that are made by a traditional loom for their craftsmanship and beauty. These features can't be duplicated by modern technology.

Spotiche5

@raynbow- I agree with you, and I actually think that the items made on a traditional loom are of better quality than those made on a powered loom. I think that the attention to detail and the slow process of a traditional weaving loom serves to create textiles that are beautiful and durable.

On the other hand, textiles made using a power loom do not seem to be as well-made, in my opinion. This is probably because they are mass-produced instead of being made one piece at a time.

Raynbow

Using a powered loom is more efficient, though it can't compare to using a traditional loom if you like the historical effect of weaving. I was recently at a craft event where a weaver showed visitors how a loom actually works. There is just something historic about this traditional weaving equipment that has been used for hundreds of years.

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