Clothing Technology: Weaving

Figure 1.--.

Weaving is the interlacing of threads, yarns, strips or other fiberous material. It is primarily associated with the production of fabric for clothing, but other items are also woven such as baskets. Weaving is well established in aiciet socities where it was generally relegated to women. While weaving has pre-historic orgins, many technical developments over a long period have led to modern weaving mills. The spinning and weaving of textiles were time-consuming, but essential household tasks. The Industrial Revolution in Western Europe began primarily as the mechanization of textile production.

Ancient Societies

Weaving was a well established technolog by the time human beings began founding agricvultural based sedentary socities.



Weaving linen and spinning thread were a central activity of the household economy. The weaving was mostly done by women. Linnen was the primary fabric woven in Egypt. (called Mixteca-Pueblo)Cotton was also availabe to Egyptian weavers. Egypt was famed for their fine weaves of muslin, a cotton plain weave fabric which was made in various degrees of fineess.


Weaving was one of the central pillers of Greek economy. Greekn shepards raised sheep and sheared the sheep for wool. The wool was carded and thun spun into yarn. The yarn was weaved into rectangles of cloth. Two rectangles of cloth were pinned together to make a garment. The other principal material was flax grown to produce linnen. Weaving was an important tradition in ancient Greece. By the Archaic period women were weaving clothes woven of wool or linen. It was an activity relegated to women. References to weaving can be found in the earliest Greek literature. Homer in the Illiad refers to a dress that Athena wears, mentioning that she wove it herself. Homer iIn the Odyssey recounts how Odysseus arrived at the Palace of Alcinous: "White-armed Arete (the queen) was the first to break the silence. For in the fine cloak and tunic she saw him wearing she recognized some clothes that she herself had made with her women's help." One of the most famous women characters in Greek literature is of Penelope. She wished not to marry until she finished a shroud for her father-in-law. Each night she undid what she had woven during the day and thus postponed any thought of marriage. For the Greeks, weaving was an occupation of the ladies of the highest social order as well as in the most lowly households. The looms used by the Greek were upright with a frame attached to a wall. The weaver stood at the front. The weaver, as she progressed would wind of her work in a roll at the top. Small clay weights were used to weigh down the ends of the warp. Spinning wheels had not yet been developed. Greek weavers did use the distaff and spindle and whorl. The raw to be woven, usually wool or flax, was held in a spinning basket. A rough clay semicylinder called an "epinetron" was used to prepare the raw wool. The results of this loom were high quality woolen and linnen garments. The best information on the garments produced come from the images on painted on vases.



China is best known for the production and weaving of fine silk fabric. Si-ling-chi, wife of the prince Hoang-ti, is often given credit for discovering how silkworm thread could be used to weave luxurious fabrics about 2700 BCE.

Middle Ages

Industrial Revolution

No development in modern history has affected individuals more than the Industrial Revolution and the manufacture of textiles played a key role. Historians debate just where and when the Industrail Revolution began. We would set it at about the mid-18th century in the English Midlands. Some authors might take issue with this, but this would be the most widely accepted view. The first industry affected was the textile or clothing industry--one reason that the study of the clothing indusytry is so important. It was at this time that workers instead of weaving piece work at home, began to work in factories. Here cotton manufacture became especially important. Several inventions at this time were responsible, including the spinning jenny, flying shuttle, and a water-powered loom. This was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine. John Newcomen and James Watt developed the steam engine. Watt between 1769-84 developed an efficient engine. The abundant supplies of coal in Britian combined with the technological advances by British inventors in part explain why Britain led the way in European industrial expansion. The significance was that the steam engine was an efficent source of energy that could be put to work in virtually every industry and because inexpensive energy was available, helped develop new industies. The railroad was essenially a steam engine on wheels. The railroad in turn revolutionalized the world economy. Many bulk goods like grain could not be sold at any significant distance from where it was grown or produced. The railroad allowed bulk goods to be transportd at great distance for limited costs, including ports where goods could be conducted aound the world. At at those ports awaited steam-powered boats, floating steam engines, to effiently move cargos at low cost around the world.

Modern Industrial Weaving

Clothing Styles

Some limited information is available on the clothing worn by children in ancient civilizations.


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Last updated: July 29, 2003