Weaving Cloth 101: Form Follows Function

Posted by on Apr 11, 2014 in Weaving | Comments


In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is following a road that branches. Not knowing which road she should take, she asks the Cheshire Cat sitting nearby which branch to follow. He asks her where she is going and she confesses she doesn’t know. He observes that in that case, it doesn’t matter which road she takes.

When I begin to design a new textile I have a firm objective in mind. I know the function the textile is to serve (tea towel, scarf, blanket) and with that end result in mind I begin to make choices.

Scarf woven with painted warp

Understanding the nature of the textile and the function it is to serve makes choosing appropriate materials easier.

Not all yarn is created equal. Some fibers are combed, some carded. Which preparation has been used will affect the behavior of the spun yarn.

How much twist has been used to spin the fibers and then ply them will also affect the behavior of the yarn and, ultimately, the textile.

Learning about the inherent characteristics of the fibers, then how they have been prepared for and spun is a good idea. Knowing your materials is essential to making appropriate choices.

There are many reference books on fiber and fabric science, which will provide good background information, especially if you come to weaving without knowledge of basic spinning techniques.

Develop a nuanced understanding of different fibers and the best use for each type of wool in Craftsy’s FREE mini-class Know Your Wool, taught by author and wool expert Deborah Robson.

Colorful Woven Men's Scarves

Once my material choice has been made, I look at color and design.

Weaving combines colors in much the same way pixels form images – little points of color. Different weave structures will allow different amounts of color to show on the surface of the textile. Understanding color theory will help make effective combinations in the cloth.

Choosing a weave structure will also affect the function of the cloth as will the density (epi/ppi). Weave structure and density go together and balancing these will make a textile that will drape if it needs to, or withstand wear and tear when appropriate. For example, a shawl need not be as sturdy and it should also drape more than a length of upholstery.

Holding the function the cloth is to serve firmly in mind while going through the process of choosing fiber, color, weave structure and density will make it easier to decide which road to take.

Rayon Painted Warp - Weaving on Craftsy.com

Weaving samples is a good way to gain understanding of how all these elements play together.

For me sampling is not a waste of time or yarn – it is the way I gain an understanding of the essential nature of the yarn I’m using and how the colors, weave structure and density will be balanced in the final finished cloth. It is never a waste to learn something new. As we lay down layers of knowledge we become more confident in what we are doing and the choices we make so that our projects will come closer to “perfection” than we could possibly come without that background.

I chose weaving as a career without knowing how to weave. But I saw something in the craft that intrigued me. I understood that there were no definite answers in terms of weaving cloth — that everything depended on the choices made along the road to bring the yarn from individual threads to whole cloth.

I have been textile weaving for nearly 40 years and still learn things. Every time I change something in terms of my choices, I learn something new, which I find terribly exciting. Every day I go to the studio and have the opportunity to make fabric that someone else will select to enhance their life in some way. I make functional textiles and hope that, in the end, those textiles will be used and loved, and that they will bring joy to the wardrobe or home of other people. I hope they will enjoy using them as much as I loved making them.

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Do you follow a similiar process for developing textile designs?