A history of weaving
Weaving is among the earliest crafts that people developed, with evidence of woven textiles as far back as twelve thousand years ago. Prior to this the idea probably originated with the weaving together of twigs and branches in the building of shelters from the elements. Originally small communities would have woven textiles for their own needs using simple hand tools and techniques. As civilisations grew more complex, specialised weavers began to appear, using more advanced tools such as looms, which were invented several thousand years ago and appeared in the art and literature of ancient civilisations such as Egypt and Greece.
In Europe during the medieval period guilds were established to regulate the weavers trade and in Britain places such as Norwich established a reputation as a centre of weaving. During the late seventeenth century Huguenot weavers arrived in Britain escaping persecution on the continent and the skills they brought with them helped to advance weaving in the UK. The Industrial Revolution saw hand weaving with looms replaced by powered looms and the Jacquard loom invented in France during the early nineteenth century enabled more complex patterns to be woven using punched cards. However the arts and crafts movement renewed interest in traditional weaving and during recent decades hand weaving has grown in popularity both as a hobby and among artists and craft makers.
Tools of the trade
The weaving together of yarn to produce textiles is done on a loom, which though they vary in size and complexity all have the same basic function of keeping the vertical warp threads in tension, whilst the horizontal weft threads are woven through using a shuttle. Looms dating back thousands of years include back strap looms, in which warps are stretched between two sticks, and warp weighted looms, which use weights to keep threads in tension. Although powered looms are now used for large scale textile manufacturing, there are weavers continuing to use hand looms and traditional craft skills to make high quality textiles.
Weaving is done using yarn, which can be made from either natural or synthetic fibres. Some weavers prefer to spin their own yarn, but most people buy their yarn from craft materials suppliers. Although you could use yarns such as linen or cotton, the qualities of wool make it a good yarn to work with, both for warp and weft. Wool is available in a variety of textures and thicknesses and you should select something suitable for what you are going to weave. For the weft you might like to chose a number of different colours to use within your design, unless you prefer to purchase undyed yarn and dye it the colour of your choice.
Before you start weaving on a frame loom you have to add the warp thread, using suitable yarn such as wool. This involves taking a long piece of yarn and tying one end around the bottom of the frame, before looping it under and over the top of the frame and then the bottom of the frame. Repeat this process about a dozen times or more as required and then tie the end at the top of the frame, cutting off excess yarn.
Select suitable yarn, called weft threads, such as wool, for weaving across the loom. Take a piece of wooden dowel slightly wider than the frame, insert it above where the yarn crosses and pull down to ensure there is tension in the warp. Pull yarn though the space created, called shed, from right to left and above it weave the shed stick though the warp and then pull it down. Turn the shed stick to create a new shed, though which to put the yarn back though from left to right and after removing the shed stick use it to push down the weft. Repeat this weaving process to create your textile.
Tips and tricks
Rather than purchasing a frame loom, you could instead make your own. One option is to take a suitable wooden picture frame and remove the glass along with any backing board, to provide you with a ready made frame. To construct a small frame select four pieces of wood, each approximately two cm thick and three cm wide, two of which are about thirty cm long and two about forty cm long. You could use longer sections to make a larger loom.
Form the frame by placing the shorter lengths of wood on top of the longer, so that they meet at the corners. Holding the wood in place using a clamp, drill a couple of holes through the wood at each corner, where they overlap and hammer dowels though the holes. Fist dipping the dowels in wood glue will help to hold them in place and after wiping away excess glue, sand them down for a flush finish. To make a shed stick, take a piece of wood a few cm wider than the frame, about four cm wide and half a cm thick, then round and smooth either end and the edges using sand paper.
Ideas and inspiration
In addition to providing you with a sense of creative achievement, weaving your own textiles can be a therapeutic activity. However before you start weaving you should plan what you are going to do, so as to reduce the chances of making mistakes later on. For example you should consider what the textile you are going to weave will be used for and select a yarn which has suitable characteristics. It is also worth spending some time coming up with an appropriate design for your weaving pattern and it is a good idea to calculate how much yarn you will need in order to weave the amount of textile that you are intending to make.