Fabrics of Our Lives


Country Moon 

Sometimes we take for granted the very things that shape our everyday lives. The other day I noticed an intriguing pattern in a blouse that a friend was wearing. We see patterns in fabric all of the time in the clothes that each of us wear. Many times, those clothes define who we are. As I soon discovered, the simple process of weaving simple threads into fabrics with many variations in patterns is not so simple after all.

Photo by Pixabay/Johnrp

The entire textile industry is based on the conversion of fiber into yarn, yarn into dyed or printed fabric, and then fabric into clothes. It is the most basic of principles, and yet the process can become quite complicated. Whether done small scale at home or in a factory, the weaving process uses a loom, a device that intertwines length threads, called warps, and cross threads, referred to as wefts. The whole process passes back and forth in a shuttle that carries the yarn, which is the fibers that are twisted into threads used in weaving or knitting. Weaving is the oldest method of making yarn into fabric.

On the loom, the warp forms the skeleton of the fabric and requires a higher degree of twist than the filling yarns that are interlaced widthwise. Cloth is formed by the wooden shuttle that moves horizontally back and forth across the loom, interlacing the filling yarn with the horizontal lengthwise warp yarn. Modern mills use shutterless machines, which produce endless varieties of fabric. Some carry filling yarns across the loom as fast as 2,000 meters per minute and is pretty silent in so doing.

Cotton is the most important and most widely used material for fiber. Textile mills purchase cotton and receive bales from cotton warehouses. The factories start with the raw material and process it in stages until it becomes yarn or cloth, which is fabric or material that is constructed from weaving or knitting. Incidentally, there is a distinct difference between woven or knitted fabric. In knitted fabric, one continuous yarn is looped repeatedly to create what looks like tiny rows of braids, whereas in woven fabric, multiple yarns cross each other at right angles to form the grain, much like in a basket.

There are three basic types of weave. In plain weave, thread is alternately passed over one warp yarn and under the next, pretty basic and simple. This method is used for ginghams, percales, chambrays and other similar fabrics. The twill weave interlaces yarns to form diagonal ridges across fabric. This method produces sturdier fabrics like denim, gabardine, herringbone and ticking. The most common of the three weaves is the satin weave. It produces a smooth fabric with high sheen. It has fewer yarn interlacings  and neither the warp or filling yarn dominates the “face” of the cloth. It is used for cotton sateen.

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