Weaving is acknowledged as one of the oldest surviving crafts in the world. The tradition of weaving traces back to Neolithic times – approximately 12,000 years ago. Even before the actual process of weaving was discovered, the basic principle of weaving was applied to interlace branches and twigs to create fences, shelters and baskets for protection.
Weaving is one of the primary methods of textile production and it involves interlinking a set of vertical threads with a set of horizontal threads. The set of vertical threads are known as wrap and the set of horizontal threads are known as weft. Weaving can be done by hand or by using machines. Machines used for weaving are called looms. Loom originated from crude wooden frame and gradually transformed into the modern sophisticated electronic weaving machine. Nowadays weaving has become a mechanized process, though hand weaving is still in practice.
20,000 – 30,000 years ago early man developed the first string by twisting together plant fibers. Preparing thin bundles of plant material and stretching them out while twisting them together produced a fine string or thread. The ability to produce string and thread was the starting place for the development of weaving, spinning, and sewing. Stone Age Man’s early experiments with string and thread lead to the first woven textiles. Threads and strings of different sizes were knotted and laced together to make many useful things. Finger weaving, lacing and knotting together of threads by hand, is still used today by many weavers.
During the Neolithic Era mankind developed great skill in weaving cloth. Every household produced cloth for their own needs. Weaving cloth remained an activity associated with the family unit for thousands of years. By the 11th century many of the weaving patterns used today had been invented. Skilled weavers developed highly specialized cloth. During this time the task of weaving cloth began slowly to move away from the family unit into specialized work places. Cloth weaving became a mechanized industry with the development of steam and water powered looms during the Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1815). The invention of the fly shuttle removed the need to have a weaver place the weft thread into the warp by hand.
John Kay of Bury, England, first discovered flying shuffle in 1733 which speeded the process of weaving and the production was almost doubled. A fly shuttle is a long, narrow canoe-shaped instrument, usually made of wood, which holds the bobbin.
The Jacquard Machine was developed in the early 1800s. This revolutionary machine used a punch card mechanism to operate the loom and is credited as the basis of modern computer science. A textile woven on a loom with a Jacquard Machine can have very complicated patterns.
The technological innovations in cloth production made during the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the role of the weaver. Large volumes of inexpensive cloth were now readily available. Weaving had been changed to a manufacturing industry. Textile workers were among the founders of the modern labor movements.
Today most of our textile needs are supplied by commercially woven cloth. A large and complex cloth making industry uses automated machines to produce our textiles. However, there are artisans making cloth on hand looms, in home studios or small weaving businesses, who keep alive the skills and traditions of the early weavers.