Weaving is the process of interlacing two sets of parallel threads at right angles to each other, to produce cloth. The art of weaving has gone through an evolution similar to that of spinning. Again, the first stages of the development are lost in the past. The intertwining of the branches of trees may have suggested weaving in more branches to form shelters, or tree huts. The rushes from the river banks placed on the floor of cave or hut may have become entangled and suggested the weaving of mats; whatever their source, slowly and surely the suggestions developed and grew in the mind of man, until eventually woven cloth was the result. Early man wove reeds together to make mats; later, perhaps, he conceived a basket. Few and simple implements were required to supplement the skill of human hands.
Pictures on the walls of ancient Egypt show a very simple arrangement of threads stretched between two bars. Two weavers worked at one loom, which was too wide for one to reach across, and no shuttle was used. The threads woven in were only as long as the width of the loom, and thus a fringe was formed on each side. The early Greek woman stretched her lengthwise threads or warp between two bars, and stood before them interweaving the weft of her beautiful tapestry with infinite care.
The Navajo Indian Loom furnishes us with the simplest type at the present time. It consists of two poles between which the warp is stretched, one pole being fastened to the limb of a tree or to the top of two uprights set in the ground, while the other is fastened to the ground. The weaver sits on the ground in front of her loom, and, beginning at the bottom, works in her different colored yarns with the assistance of a simple shuttle. Alternate threads of the warp are fastened by a cord to a rod which, when raised, makes an opening for her filling thread. The rod is called the heald, the opening the shed. The shed for the next filling thread is opened by a stick which passes between alternate threads of the warp; a heavy stick serves as a batten to beat the filling threads together. As she progresses with her blanket, the weaver rolls it up on the lower rod and the top one is lowered. As is the case with most primitive weaving, the cloth is woven the size desired, and there is no cutting. An illustration of a small Indian loom is given on page 8.
Belts are woven by the Indians on a similar loom, which, however, usually has one end attached to the waist of the weaver; the warp also may be continuous, so that the finished part is merely pushed away from the worker.
The Hindu Loom is as rude a piece of apparatus as is their spinning wheel. "It consists of two bamboo rollers, one for the warp and the other for the web, and a pair of heddles. The shuttle performs the double office of shuttle and batten, and for this purpose is made like a large netting needle, and of a length rather more than the breadth of the web. Sometimes the shuttle is short and must be thrown. This apparatus the weaver carries to a tree, under which he digs a hole (which may be called the treadle-hole) large enough to contain his legs and the lower tackle. He then stretches his work by fastening his bamboo rollers at a proper distance from each other by means of wooden piers. The heddle-jacks1 he fastens to some convenient branch of the tree over his head; two hooks underneath, in which he inserts his great toes, serve instead of treadles; and his long shuttle, which also performs the office of lay,1 draws the weft through the warp and afterwards strikes it home to the fell."2 "There is not so much as an expedient for rolling up the warp; it is stretched out to the full length of the web, which makes the house of the weaver insufficient to contain him. He is therefore obliged to work continually in the open air, and every return of inclement weather interrupts him."3
Step by step, devices have been added to the loom; originally the threads were beaten into place by a stick called the batten, then a rude comb was used. Finally, the reed, a device much like the comb, but consisting of a frame in which the parallel wires are set, took the place of both the simpler devices. The reed was then placed in a heavy frame, or lay, which might be swung back and forth to beat the thread into place. The heddle replaced the heald rod, and consisted of a frame of wooden rods with a hole in each, one thread going through the hole, the next through the space between the bars. Alternate threads could, by means of this implement, first be raised above the others, making an opening, or shed, for the shuttle to pass through; then pushed below the others, making a different shed. Thus, with one device, plain weaving could be accomplished. The modern harness performs the same function, but two harnesses are used to accomplish the work of the heald, each being raised in turn. The harness consists of a frame in which wires are strung, each wire having a loop in the center for the thread to pass through. The warp threads are put through two harnesses alternating, first one, then the other; thus, when one harness is raised half the warp is raised, with the other harness the other half of the warp. By having more than two harnesses and varying the threading of the warp, different weaves, as the twill weaves, sateen weave, etc., can be made. The hand loom used in Colonial times had become quite a complicated affair.
1 Note - Heddle and lay are explained in next paragraph. Heddle-jacks are pulleys and ropes on which heddles are raised and lowered.
3 Mill. History of British India. Book II. Chapter 8.
Fig. 12. Hand Loom of Colonial Days.
A. Warp Beam.
B. Cloth Beam.