HUH?: WOVEN TEXTILE TERMINOLOGY

Vertical loom in All Roads studio

Vertical loom in All Roads studio

Textiles! We love us some hand woven textiles but do we know the process behind the terminology that is thrown at us? Hand woven, desk loom, foot loom, yarn dyed, hand spun, loom woven. Huh?! We've enlisted Janelle Pietrzak, All Roads Design, to help break down some textile terminology.  Janelle's background is in textile development/sourcing for fashion brands and has transitioned into a full time textile artisan.  She's done some awesome collabs with the likes of Clare V., Suno, and Ace & Jig and produces a home decor collection for Anthropologie.  We know you've seen her work now let's tap into her textile brain. Take it away Janelle!

Having worked in textiles professionally for 13 years, I am happy to share some knowledge regarding the many different options in creating, both functional and not.  Since textiles make up the majority of life, I find it less than entertaining when the wrong terms are used to described textiles, especially in superfluous product copy as sales pitches.  I fully support educating customers in a way that isn’t full of gimmicks or catch phrases.

Starting with the most basic technique, a simple knot or a loop - one can create a fabric or object that can provide shelter or assist with basic daily life.  I learned about technical fabric construction through immersion, by sourcing fabrics for apparel for fashion design companies like Anthropologie and BCBG.  As a full time textile artist and designer, I have come to learn more about how color works, texture and am continue to further my knowledge in fibers.  The main technique I employ is weaving, so I will discuss weaving a bit more, but I can’t talk about textiles without a quick mention of knots and loops.

Macramé is a series of knots.  The knots can create a pattern, or be random.  Most macramé that you might be familiar with is the chunky rope wall hangings or plant holders that has made a huge comeback in interior design and art.  Macramé can also be used for fine applications like jewelry, accessories or clothing. Macramé knots can even be used to create vessels, or objects for utilitarian uses.

Knitting and crocheting are series of loops.  Often the loops are created with needles, but there are now artists and craftspeople who use their arms, broomsticks or even larger implements to knit large chunky fiber or ropes.  Knitting and crocheting can also be utilized to create garments, accessories, utilitarian objects and even fabric yardage. Knitted and crocheted fabric or garments have stretch due to the loops.

Weaving is the intersection of two yarns at right angles (or any fiber, metal, reed, stick, etc.).  Unless you are weaving with a stretchy fiber, like elastic, weaving does not stretch.  The yarns that run vertical in the fabric, the length of the yardage, are called the warp. The yarns that run horizontal are called the weft.  A loom is a device for holding the warp yarns at a fixed tension.  A loom can be a machine controlled by electricity and computers.  A loom could also be a block of wood, or two trees that the warp yarns are wrapped around.  Weaving is very primitive, but it is also very complex.  Obviously we know that textiles are a massive industry, as we are surrounded by textiles - carpets in our house, our bed sheets, towels in the kitchen, the clothes we wear or the seat covers in our automobiles. 

(a side note from Harper...assume we are referring to yarn dyeing which is when the yarn is dyed prior to weaving. This is the case with stripes, ginghams, plaids, other special effects, and denim. The other option would be piece dyeing which is dyeing the fabric after weaving which is usually used for solid colored cloth)

A very simple method of weaving is on a frame loom.   In my studio, I have frame looms of many sizes.  The dimensions of the frame loom limit the size of the completed textile.  Weaving on a frame loom has advantages of a quick set up and portability.  Tools are minimal. 

Backstrap weaver in Guatemala (photo courtesy of Proud Mary)

Backstrap weaver in Guatemala (photo courtesy of Proud Mary)

The next step in advanced weaving technology might be the backstrap loom.  This loom gives the weaver more length to the warp, thus added capability to weave longer fabric.  The backstrap loom is worn by the user.  One end of the warp is tied to a tree or a post, and the working end is strapped around the weaver.  The weaver stands far away from the tree as possible, in order to hold the tension of the warp threads. Set up is fairly quick. Patterns can be woven, if the warp yarns are hand manipulated.

Japanese floor loom in Janelle's studio

Japanese floor loom in Janelle's studio

A floor, or table top, loom offers the weaver even more options.  The heddles and shafts of the loom allow the weaver to create patterns in the textile much quicker than backstrap or frame looms.  Many yards can be woven, which is a plus.  The drawback of these advanced looms however, are in the set up.  Dressing a loom can take hours or days, and could require more tools and equipment to aid the process.  Within floor and table top looms, there are even more options - the number of shafts affect the limitation of patterns that can be created.  Even though a floor or table top loom is advanced technology, weavers who use them are often called “hand weavers”. 

(a side note from Harper...artisan-made textiles are made with the backstrap loom, floor loom, or vertical loom using their hands to manipulate the weft across the warp fabrics to create the cloth)

Machine looms at Cone Mills in NC

Machine looms at Cone Mills in NC

Electric or Power looms are used in factories to create massive amounts of yardage.  This is the highest level of manufacturing.  Electric looms can be operated by actual people who turn on the looms and monitor the weaving, even switching yarn colors to create stripes or patterns.  Electric looms can also be operated by computers, creating complex patterns with many many different yarns and constructions.

So there is an introduction to fabric/textile production from a craft level, to large scale manufacturing. Of course, there are variations, like new technology that can does things like increase speed, create intricate patterns and jacquards. There are even computerized machines that knit whole garments without seems or pieces.  This is just a briefing, but I hope it was a bit informative.

AND now you know! So, the next time you are told a garment has been "loom woven" you'll know better than to buy into the gimmick.  Of course it's loom woven. All fabric is woven on a loom silly!