Factors That Make the Fabric
Fiber - Different types of fiber have inherently different
characteristics that will affect the drape, shrinkage, etc. of the final
fabric. i.e. linen vs. wool, coarse longhair wool vs. fine merino.
Elasticity and shrinkage - Much of elasticity is determined by the
fiber, but some yarns feel "bouncier" than others depending on
how the fiber is spun. A more elastic yarn will relax off the loom and
draw the weave tighter together. When combined with a less elastic yarn
or one that doesn't shrink, effects like seersucker can result.
Thickness - A weave's characteristics change depending on the
relative thickness of the warp and weft yarns. Thinner yarns tend to
bend around thicker yarns. Interesting effects can be added by
alternating thick and thin yarns or adding thick yarns in a repeating
Density - Yarn density can affect the drape of the fabric and how
closely the weft can be packed.
Twist - Overspun yarns can be used to create effects like crepe.
Underspun yarns can be used in a weft for softness and drapability.
Unspun filaments like silk or metal threads can be used for their sheen.
Twist direction - Singles yarns all spun one direction tend to
"track" in some finished fabrics. Singles yarn spun the
opposite direction for the weft can lock the warp & weft together
more tightly. Twist direction can affect how light bounces off the
Ply - Plied yarns may affect the thickness and strength of the yarn
as well as its "balance" or tendency to twist.
Color - The most obvious way to modify the appearance of fabric
without changing the weave structure is to use different colors. Stripes
and plaids went in and out of fashion but the concepts are pretty
universal as weaving embellishments. Dyeing occurred at the fiber stage,
the yarn stage, or the fabric stage (I can find evidence for all three
in Medieval/Renaissance Europe).
Type of Loom
Width of loom limits width of cloth. Professional looms were probably
standard widths because cloth widths were standardized for trade
Warp tensioning method (weights, ratchet, spring, etc) can affect
what sorts of yarn work best as warp.
Warp spacing method (header band, reed, etc) can determine the
density of warp threads. The spacing between warp threads may determine
whether it is warp-faced or weft-faced or balanced.
Number of shafts can limit the types of weaves possible on that loom.
Some looms have special features like large-eyed heddles or draw
cords to make more complex weaves
Some loom types:
- Warp Weighted
- draw loom
- Horizontal tapestry
- rigid heddle
- Inkle (string heddle)
- tablet/card weaving - produces a twined structure, not discussed
in this class.
Surface Pattern - many weaves' main attribute is that they change the
appearance of the fabric.
- If the weave varies for different sections of the fabric, the
light will create a pattern (i.e. damask)
- Floats can be used to create a pattern (many examples - twills,
- The threads under a section of floats can bunch together
(honeycomb, M's and O's, "lace" weaves)
- On a horizontal loom threading the reed unevenly (i.e. skip a
dent, then put four threads in the next dent, etc) can be used to
produce lacy fabrics with groups of threads.
- Supplementary warps and wefts can be added for additional effects
- Other elements can be added to the fabric in the weaving process
or afterwards (yarn or locks of wool for pile, knotted carpet pile,
Durability & Strength - weaves with more intersections of warp
& weft are more durable. More intersections also make for a stronger
Drape - weaves with fewer intersections or a looser weave drape
better. Too loose a weave can make the fabric sleazy.
Elasticity - Some weaves have more stretch than others, both
warp-wise, weft-wise and on the bias. Elasticity can be a good as for
clothing which should be shaped to the body, or bad as when durability
of shape is needed, such as for a hanging tapestry.
Dyeing - dyeing in the cloth was only done for certain grades of
cloth. High-quality garment cloth was usually dyed earlier... as fiber
Napping and shearing - Medieval fabric was often brushed with teasel
combs to bring up a nap. The nap was then sheared off, creating a
velvet-like effect. Modern wool and cotton flannel are similar to napped
& sheared fabrics.
Washing - Washing fabric after it is woven can be critical to the
final effect of the fabric. Fabric shrinks when taken off the loom and
Tentering - Some fabrics were stretched back out to almost their loom
width after washing. Tenter hooks are put into the selvedges of the
fabric and used to stretch it's width. They were also sometimes used in
dyeing fabric by the piece.
Fulling - Wool fabrics (and some cotton fabrics) were fulled by
agitating them in hot and cold water until the fibers matted together.
This thickens the fabric and makes it less likely to ravel. Fulling is
often confused with felting, for which one starts with loose fiber
rather than woven or knitted fabric.
Pressing or Mangling - Linens especially were mangled to produce a
flat appearance and bring out the sheen of the fibers. Other fabrics
were probably pressed with hot glass, iron, or stone to set the weave.