Learn to Love the Loom When You Try the Ancient Art of Weaving

Person Weaving

Photo: Stock Photos from Vadim Zakharishchev/Shutterstock
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Crafts can be a form of meditation. These process-driven activities often require the same steps repeated over again and encourage you to lose yourself in the act of making. Embroidery, for instance, is centered around poking a threaded needle through the same piece of fabric until your design is complete. Weaving is another craft with similarly calming qualities; it invites you to move a piece of yarn (or other material) back and forth through strings attached to a loom until you have a completed textile. The gentle motion is soothing, and best of all, it’s easy for you to try yourself.

The two most important terms to know in weaving are the warp and the weft. The warp is longitude threads that are held in place via a loom. The weft is a filling thread that is woven over-and-under the warp until you’ve reached your desired length and design.

Weaving has a long tradition in human culture and has been around since at least the paleolithic era. Read on to learn a brief history of the craft and the tools you’ll need to try your hand at it.


A Brief History of Weaving

Weaving Loom

An early 19th-century Japanese loom (Photo: en:Yanagawa Shigenobu, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Weaving has had a resurgence in DIY communities over the past several years, but it has always been an essential part of cultures across the world. The earliest evidence of weaving dates back 27,000 years when an “indistinct textile impression” was found at the Dolni Vestonice site in what’s now the Czech Republic. In terms of physical artifacts, the oldest woven cloth was found in burial F.7121 at the Çatalhöyük site in Turkey around 7000 BCE. And while not as old, flax weavings were found in Fayum, Egypt, dating back to 5000 BCE.

As the tradition of weaving carried on, so did its innovations. By 700 CE, two distinct styles of looms emerged across Asia, Africa, and Europe: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal looms included a pedal that could be used to lift the warp and pass the weft through. Vertical looms, designed for large tapestries and rugs, have an upright warp.

Weaving Shuttle

Weaving shuttles (Photo: Surya Prakash.S.A., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Looms continued to improve in design throughout the centuries. In Moorish Spain, for instance, looms that were higher off the ground with a stronger frame became standard. The Industrial Revolution made weaving even more efficient. In 1733, John Kay invented the machine loom with a flying shuttle. Previous iterations of shuttles (the thing that holds the threads) had to be passed through the warp by hand. Kay’s innovation placed the shuttle on tracks and used paddles to ferry it from side to side by simply pulling a cord. This allowed for one person to weave wider fabrics as well as faster.

Person Weaving

Photo: Stock Photos from Vadim Zakharishchev/Shutterstock

Weaving has a very practical purpose: to make textiles. But with Bauhaus, the design movement aimed to elevate weaving from a craft into art. The workshop of Gunta Stölzl, Anni Albers, and Marli Ehrman experimented with unconventional materials and pushed the boundaries of what weaving could be. The effect was profound. Like many crafts, weaving was—and often still is— dismissed as “women’s work” but the Bauhaus workshop helped move the needle towards it being recognized as fine art.


Try Weaving for Yourself

Weaving Loom

Photo: Stock Photos from Maryana Volkova/Shutterstock

It's easier than you think to give weaving a try; this meditative activity has a low barrier to entry. With just a few tools, you can begin your journey to creating your own textiles. They include a loom, a tapestry needle (or something similar), yarn, and a weaving comb that will help you to tightly pack the rows of your textile.

As a beginner, you will likely be creating the plain weave, in which the warp stays in a fixed position and the weft goes over and under each warp thread. Although this might sound limiting in terms of techniques, you can utilize a variety of yarns and textures to make your design unique to you.


Small Weaving Loom Kit

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Wool Couture | $21.75+


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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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