What are warp and weft in textile weaving

When entering the textile world, there are several terms we need to learn, as they are essential for making any project with fabric. Two of these concepts are “warp and weft”, which are useful both for working with fabric and also for making your own.

Let’s go ahead to find out what these “warp and weft” words mean.

What are warp and weft in textile weaving

History of weaving

Fabric is one of the most important inventions in our history. It had a fundamental role in the survival of the early humans, as it was used for making clothes, and therefore protecting us from the cold, the sun, the rain and even from insects.

They were made from different sources. The first clothes were made with leather from the animals cavemen hunted. Then, they discovered fibers from different plants that could be harvested and processed into threads.

In movies and series, we can see women from different cultures weaving fabric and tapestry. In ancient Asia, manufacturers bred silkworms, which produced strings of this soft, highly valued material to make clothes.

Fabrics didn’t only have a protective function, but also a social role. In medieval times, noble women wore plenty of dresses with dozens of layers, while plebeians had only one or two dresses with a single layer.

Besides, colors also represented social status. Purple was a very expensive pigment, produced by some special seaweed that was collected from the bottom of the ocean. That’s why only royals or nobles could wear it.

Nowadays, the function of fabrics and clothing seems to be more related to aesthetics and status rather than protection and comfort. Besides, the price of clothes and fabric composition may give you a classy or cheap look from people’s point of view.

However, despite the type of clothes or fabrics you are wearing, most of them are made exactly the same. The threads, made of different materials, are woven on a loom to make a roll of fabric, later used to create items of clothing.
But what do warp weft and loom have to do with this process?


What are warp and weft?

When looking at a piece of fabric, we can see that there are thousands of threads crisscrossing all along the surface. Some of them go horizontally and others vertically.

Depending on the item of clothing, the weft and the warp may be the vertical or the horizontal. To identify them clearly, let’s go to the manufacturing process.

How is the textile manufacturing process?

The warp and weft definitions are more clearly described when analyzing the making of textiles. Either industrially or homemade, the fabric is made with a tool called “loom”.

The loom is a squared structure with lots of tiny holes on the top and bottom planks. Through these holes, manufacturers place strings of thread and make them tense from top to bottom.

The threads will resemble the strings of a guitar, held tightly. Depending on different techniques, manufacturers may place one thread per hole, or maybe they can place one thread every two holes, or even two threads per hole.

These vertical threads make the warp of the fabric, and they make up its structure. Then, what is weft?

What are warp and weft in textile weaving

After the warp is placed in the loom, manufacturers start the weaving process itself. For this step, they grab new thread strings and start weaving it along the warp threads, passing it on top of one thread and below the following.

Again, depending on the pattern the manufacturers may go over every other thread, or every two or three warp threads. These new threads that are woven along the warp comprehend the weft.

Weft and warp threads are not the same, as the warp needs to be stronger to tolerate the tension produced by the loom, and also hold all the weft threads in place. This can give each fabric different characteristics based on its stretchiness.

Fabric stretchiness

There are four types of fabric based on how stretchy they are:

  • Rigid fabric
  • 1-way stretch
  • 2-way stretch fabric
  • 4-way stretch fabric
  • Rigid fabric
    Two of the most common rigid fabrics are denim and canvas. The fact that it’s rigid means that it doesn’t stretch in any direction, in spite of how hard you pull. Of course, there are some varieties of denim with more stretchiness, but the classic version is rigid.
  • 1-Way stretch fabrics
    Can be pulled and they will stretch, but after releasing the tension, they won’t go back in place. It will remain stretched until you pull the other way. This often happens with handmade knits.
  • 2-Way stretch fabrics
    Are similar to 1-way fabrics, but after they are pulled, they return back to their original position. However, they only stretch in one direction, pulling from the sides of the fabric. This means that the stretchiness is provided by its weft. You can find this feature in Jersey cotton with elastane.
  • 4-Way stretch fabrics
    Don’t only stretch in the direction of weft, by they also stretch upwards, in the direction of the warp. Lycra provides this characteristic to fabric. As you can see, the composition of the material is everything when choosing whether you want a stretchy or rigid fabric.

As we said at the beginning of the article, the first fabrics were made from natural sources, such as linen and silk worms. Nowadays, the industry has created many different synthetic fabrics that are widely used.

One of them, for example, is the aforementioned Lycra, and they are mostly 2 or 4-way stretch, while natural fabrics are usually rigid or 1-way stretch.

Here you have a quick guide to the definitions of warp and weft and why you need to know about them before getting started with your future textile works.