thread to cloth, weaving

Designing for Weaving

I am writing a series of posts describing the process of weaving. The first post discusses how woven fabric differs from knitted fabric. Last week I talked about looms. Before actually getting into the physical process of putting a warp on the loom, I wanted to say just a little bit about what goes into designing woven cloth. (You can also see a video version of the this blog post on Youtube.)

Before beginning, I have an idea of what I want to make. Kitchen towels will have different parameters than a baby blanket or a rug. First I want to decide what yarn to use. How thick do I want it to be? How often will it be washed? Does it need to withstand hard wear or need to provide warmth? These questions will determine what type of yarn I choose. For a kitchen towel, it needs to be fairly thin, but absorbent, and also be easy to wash. Therefore, cotton or linen somewhere around 8/2 or 10/2 in size would be a could choice. For a blanket, however, I want it to be warm and soft, so wool makes a good choice. But, if it’s a baby blanket, I want it to be easily washable so I might go with a larger cotton yarn instead. Once I have selected a yarn, I also need to decide on the size and shape of the finished object.

Some thread wrappings. (Used to create some plain weave yardage.)

Next, I want to consider patterning and color. Am I using a weave structure to create a pattern? Or am I using different colors in my warp and weft yarn to create stripes or plaid designs? If my design is mainly based on color, I may use some tools to design the warp. For instance, I can make a thread wrapping to play with stripes using the actual yarn. Or I could paint or use colored pencil to quickly try out ideas. With paint, I can even add “weft” to try to approximate what the actual cloth will look like.

Paintings of different design ideas. Trying out ideas with paint is much faster than with thread wrappings.
The warp on the loom.
The finished tablecloth.

On the other hand, I may be creating a patterned weave. There are many books and magazines that contain pattern drafts. I can select from one of them or design my own from scratch. Or, I can take an existing design and tweak it.

Overshot pattern.
8-shaft twill variation.

To understand a woven pattern, I will generally use a notation system called a draft. A draft is just a concise method of saying which shaft each thread is on (the threading), which shafts are connected to which treadle (the tie-up), and which treadles are pressed to create the pattern (the treadling). As seen in the example draft, I can use many treadling variations with one threading to create different patterns.

This is just a short overview of what goes into designing woven cloth, but hopefully it provides a window into the process. Next week I will begin talking about how the warp goes on the loom.

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