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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 pattern.

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 fabric. 

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 purposes.

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:

Vertical Looms

  • Warp Weighted
  • Two-beam
  • Tapestry

Horizontal Looms

  • Ground
  • Backstrap
  • Foot-treadled
    • counterbalance
    • countermarche
    • jack
    • draw loom
  • Horizontal tapestry

Band looms

  • rigid heddle
  • Inkle (string heddle)
  • tablet/card weaving - produces a twined structure, not discussed in this class.

Weave Type

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, brocade, etc)
  • 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 (brocade, velvet)
  • Other elements can be added to the fabric in the weaving process or afterwards (yarn or locks of wool for pile, knotted carpet pile, discontinuous wefts)

Durability & Strength - weaves with more intersections of warp & weft are more durable. More intersections also make for a stronger fabric.

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 or yarn.

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 washed.

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.

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created February 4, 2002

Last updated February 18, 2003