A Brief History of Woven Fabrics

Woven fabrics represent one of the oldest artistic traditions in mankind’s history. Textiles, and the clothing that is made from them, have not only been used to protect us from the elements, but are an integral part of our identity and are a crucial means by which we identify ourselves. Even to this day, many of the most popular fabrics are woven, very much in the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. So, the next time you purchase fabric from our (awesome) website, or even purchase an item of clothing from a local store, take a moment to consider your role within the ancient tradition and practice of woven fabrics.

The art of weaving fabric, in its most basic form, essentially involves intertwining a series of vertical threads, known as the warp, with a series of horizontal threads, known as the weft, to create cloth. While weaving is an art that has been practiced around the globe for millennia, since early woven fabrics do not preserve well, the exact date and location of the first woven materials will likely always remain a mystery.

However, thanks to archaeological finds in what is now considered modern day Israel, we do know that humans were weaving plant material together to create necessities like housing and baskets as much as 23000 years ago. There is other evidence to suggest that actual fabric weaving began even earlier, thanks to what is perceived to be imprints of fabrics found at the Czech archaeological site Dolni Vestonice.

However, fabric weaving first became a common household practice during the Neolithic period, and it was during this time that this tradition became an essential skill rooted to the family unit. Early evidence dating to around 9000 years ago suggests evidence of textile production, but it wasn’t until 5000 years ago that tools like spindles, which would have been used to spin fibers into yarn, came into effect.

The interesting thing was how pretty much all civilizations similarly started to produce complex materials at roughly the same time: Roman ruins suggested specimens of dyed fabrics during the 2nd Century, Tie-Dye effect decorated the fine silks of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, and Egypt produced high quality cloth made from linen and wool as early as the 4th Century.

By the 11th Century, numerous weaving patterns were being used, and the task of weaving moved away from the family unit into more specialized workplaces. But it was the Industrial Revolution which mechanized the fabric weaving practice with the development of basic steam and water powered looms.

It was the invention of the fly shuttle by John Kay of Bury England in 1733 that cemented the United Kingdom’s place in the long history of woven fabric. This invention removed the need to have a weaver place the weft thread by hand, thus considerably speeding up the process by which cloth could be weaved. A second innovation to weaving, the Jacquard Machine which was developed in the early 1800’s, used a punch card mechanism to control the loom, allowing intricate patterns to be automated. This invention is often regarded as the bases for the modern computer.

These advancements in fabric production allowed large volumes of inexpensive cloth to be readily available and the entire industry had moved from being merely artisanal to a full manufacturing industry.

The next major innovations to the manufacturing process of woven fabrics did not involve as much of a change in machinery, compared to a change in materials.

Prior to the 19th Century, the main fibres used to produce yarn were natural – made primarily from wool, silk, and cotton. But new advancements in science allowed for new materials to be produced including nylon and polyester.

Tweed was first developed in rural Scotland as a woollen twill using patterns of herringbone, check, speckled and houndstooth. It emerged as a fashionable cloth to make clothing from during the 1820’s and was popularized by celebrities like Sir Walter Scott.

Soon, tweed mills appeared all over Great Britain allowing the masses to have access to this type of cloth. Scotland and Britain very quickly become known for exporting this fine material all around the world. Scotsman William Linton was keen to get on the booming tweed and woven fabric export, founding Linton Tweeds in 1912. The rest, as they say, is history (which you can read here).

So hopefully, the next time your purchase from our website, or pick up a garment in a store, you remember the long history and fascinating innovations that have led garment and fabric production to this point.



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