We may celebrate handcrafted goods from all over the globe, but it’s a passion for handmade textiles that drives us. Each textile we feature has been carefully planned and created by skilled artisans using age-old techniques. Every piece has a story behind it. While no two handmade products are exactly alike, they all share a similar weaving process. It goes something like this:
Choosing a Loom
From traditional backstrap, free-standing looms and handlooms, there are many choices about which type of loom an artisan uses. The decision often comes down to the loom of choice for generations (and often centuries). Textile artisans may know how to work with several types of looms, but often specialize in just one.
Setting Up the Base
There are two types of thread in weaving: the warp and the weft. The vertical thread that is applied to form the base of a woven textile is known as the warp. This material holds the bulk of the tension during the weaving process and therefore needs to be strong.
Adding the Weft
The weft is the material that is moved through the warp base with a shuttle in order to weave the thread together. Shuttles are typically canoe-shaped wooden devices that hold a spool of thread in the center. This is the part of the process where the artisan weaver chooses the material and color that will be laced into the base of the textile.
Combining the Threads
To combine the base and the weft, the shafts of the loom are separated into two layers to form a tunnel for the shuttle to move across the piece. The weaver moves the yarns in a repetitive over-under sequence to produce the interlacing known as the weave. This process must occur in the correct order with each movement for the textile to form.
Building the Piece
Once a weaver has gone the entire width of the loom, they perform what’s called a “beating up.” This motion pushes the newly inserted material back into the edge of the weaving so that it feels solid and not too loose. This action is done with a reed, which is similar to a large comb that is used to push the weft yarn securely into place.
The introduction of patterns into a piece combine a mix of body tension, foot and hand movements. Artisans typically memorize various patterns that are passed down over multiple generations. Some of our artisan partners who specialize in weaving have compared learning to weave with learning how to dance. After practice and training, the art is part of the weaver’s muscle memory.
Adding the Finishing Touch
Once a piece is complete, it is tied off and then cut from the loom. Depending on the textile’s use, some are left as-is, and others move on to get sewn edges or hand-tied fringe.
The next time you snuggle down with your artisan throw or lean back on a pillow, we hope you’ll think about what went in to creating the art of the textile. Artisan weavers are more than just makers; they are artists and storytellers who weave in their individual sense of creativity, cultural heritage and family histories. Do you have a favorite woven textile? Tell us below!