Warp and Weft

I previously wrote about early methods of weaving but omitted any mention of the main tool that was used for this, the loom. If you take a selection of bits of wool or any form of string and attempt to create a fabric from them you’ll soon discover that it’s not easy. In fact it’s not really possible without some sort of frame to hold at least one lot of fibres still so you can weave the other fibres through them.

This frame is the loom. There are many formats that essentially provide the means to both keep one set of fibres still and stretched, the warp fibres and then weave another set of fibres at right angles through them – the weft fibres. The earliest evidence for the production of fabric in this way is the presence of loom weights. These weights keep the warp fibres stretched

Ancient greek vase showing two women working a warp weighted loom.
Greek vase depicting two women working on a warp weighted loom.

and taut so that the weaver can produce the cloth. The stones or weights are used to manipulate the warp threads to allow the weft fibre to be passed across them. This also provides the means to change the way in which the weft is threaded through the warp. The main pattern used is known as ‘tabby’ or the typical basket weave format. This is where the weft is passed under one thread and then over the next. I posted some diagrams showing the different weaving patterns previously.

Screen shot from silent video showing the use of a warp weighted loom to produce a carpet.
Screen shot from the video showing the production of a carpet using a traditional warp weighted loom. 1956
Norwegian film made in 1956 showing the production of a carpet.

This video was produced in 1956 when warp weighted looms were still being used in Scandinavia. It is on the YouTube channel of the Norwegian Folk Museum. It shows the production of what I think it s a carpet using the weighted warp process on a wooden frame. It’s long at 26 minutes and I may spend some time trying to decipher the text but well worth a look. Unlike much of the stuff on this type of weaving on youTube – this is the real thing.

The loom stands almost vertically to allow the weights to stretch the fibres taut and the cloth is woven from the top downwards. This position also means that very wide looms can be used that are operated by more than one person. Ancient Greek vase paintings show two weavers, usually women, side by side working on a warp weighted loom. This allows the production of wide pieces of cloth. In addition the warp fibres can be wound round the weights and as the cloth is created it can be wound up at the top and additional fibre can be unwound from the weights.

It’s worth remembering that these looms were in use during what is knows as the new stone age – neolithic period, before metal was used in any functional capacity. It is tempting to think that all their technology was stone but there was significant development of textiles and the means to produce and manipulate them.

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