What Is Hand Weaving?

Tara Barnett

Hand weaving is the art of producing woven textiles by hand using any of the many weaving techniques in the world. Weaving produces textiles by interlocking two yarns, typically in a perpendicular relationship. This is contrasted to knotting and looping techniques that create fabric out of a single piece of yarn, as is the case in knitting or crochet. There are many different hand weaving traditions in the world, and any weaving technique that is not automated or industrial is typically considered hand weaving, even though many weaving looms might be considered machines. The tools, materials, and techniques used in hand weaving all impact the look of the finished fabric.

A floor loom is a large scale hand loom used to weave large projects like blankets and tapestries.
A floor loom is a large scale hand loom used to weave large projects like blankets and tapestries.

Some of the most basic elements of hand weaving involve the interaction of the warp and the weft threads that lie perpendicular to one another and typically interlock. By changing how the warp and weft threads interact in terms of going over and under one another, a weaver can create textiles with different properties. The colors of the warp and weft threads can also have a large impact on the look of the final object, and with careful planning regular patterns like plaid or stripes can emerge.

Making a tapestry using a non-powered loom is considered hand-weaving.
Making a tapestry using a non-powered loom is considered hand-weaving.

There are many techniques used for hand weaving from many different cultures. Different tools can create different types of textiles. Rigid heddle looms, for example, can be used to create textiles in which the warp and the weft interact in fairly regular ways according to a plan. Tapestry weaving and saori, on the other hand, often use different weft colors as a way of expressing an image or idea. Depending on the fabric being made, weaving can be highly complex and intricate or fairly straightforward.

In addition to the weaving of fabrics, it is also possible to weave other objects like baskets, chairs, and rugs. These projects often use similar skills but different materials and techniques. Basket weaving, for example, often involves a circular construction rather than a flat warp and may be performed entirely without tools in some cases. Considerations of how these objects are used also have an effect on the way they are constructed, and many involve special techniques to create waterproof or highly durable objects.

While traditional yarns made from animal and plant fibers are often used for hand weaving, there are also art projects that use unique materials to create woven works of art. Working with metals is one popular example, but even more unusual materials like spider silk or feathers can be woven to create interesting artwork. Hand weaving is not only a craft, but also an art form, and can be adapted to express various artistic intentions.

Many cultures use hand knitting techniques.
Many cultures use hand knitting techniques.

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Discussion Comments


@bythewell - Handweaving was once the only real way of getting good fabric though, aside from leather which was a whole other skill. And weaving is extremely difficult to do well so it's no wonder that so many cultures hold it in high esteem.

We even seem to go through little weaving fads in modern times, as people rediscover different ways to make ancient crafts.


@croydon - I wonder if that's why there is quite a lot of mythology and magical lore associated with weaving and wool. There are gods and goddesses specific to weaving in almost every culture with a pantheon, and they are usually considered to be quite powerful. And there is the whole idea of life being controlled by the three fates, weaving patterns into the loom of the world and cutting the threads of human life at their own whim.

That's pretty intense lore for a craft that is often associated with grandmothers and hipsters these days.


I've always been thrilled to weave wool into fabric, because it just seems so unlikely that one comes from the other. I'm not very good at it yet and I only use a knitting loom to make simple things like scarves and hats, but just knowing that something solid is being made from a simple thread seems almost like magic to me.

I'm looking forward to being able to make more complex items as well. Although I do think that a knitting loom has the disadvantage of being neither a proper loom or a pair of knitting needles so it doesn't have as much scope for invention as the other kinds of weaving tools.

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