There are many ways to construct a textile. You can fuse fibers together, loop or knot a single continuous yarn, or weave together sets of yarns. There are hundreds of variations for each approach, creating seemingly infinite opportunities to make unique designs.
You can make felted fabrics, paper, and bark cloth by directly fusing fibers together. This fusion happens when you agitate the fibers through repeated rubbing, tangling, or beating. Felting is likely the oldest textile structure because it does not require specialized technology or tools.
Looped textiles use one continuous yarn looped in various ways. You can do this with needles, hooks, or by hand. You can also interlace strands to make textiles such as nets, braids, and macramé. Knitting is a form of looping, and knit fabrics have the ability to stretch—making them perfect for close-fit clothing, like socks.
Woven textiles are made with sets of yarns: warp and weft. Warp yarns are tightly stretched on a loom, and weft yarns are interlaced. Patterns and textures emerge when you change the number and sequence of weft yarns that you pass over and under the warp yarns.
There are many different weaving techniques, including:
Plain weave is a simple weave structure, meaning one set of weft yarns is interlaced with one set of warp yarns. The sequence is over one, under one. You can vary the look and texture by changing the thickness of yarns or the spacing between them. Plain weave results in an even fabric, making it easier to print or stitch designs on the surface.
Weft-faced plain weave structures follow the plain weave sequence (over one, under one), but the weft is spaced much closer together or uses thicker yarns than the warp. As a result, only the weft yarns are visible, which is useful to create a smooth texture or bring out the color of the weft set.
Warp-faced plain weave is similar to weft-faced plain weave, only with prominent warp yarns.
In twill weave yarns pass or "float" over multiple yarns before passing under. Twills have a distinctive diagonal pattern because the beginning of each row is offset by one from the rows below and above it. Since twill has fewer interlacing yarns than plain weave, this fabric drapes and moves more freely.
Satin weave is characterized by warp yarns "floating" long distances over weft yarns before crossing under. Artists use satin weaves to accentuate the shiny nature of fibers like silk. This dramatic skipping of yarns during weaving creates a distinct (and opposite) front and back to the fabric.
Tapestry weave uses yarns to form distinct color areas in a fabric. Weft yarns pass over and under the warp set, but turn back at the edge of each color area instead of extending across the entire fabric. By using this technique, you build the structure and design of the fabric at the same time. Without the restrictions of a grid, you can also create more pictorial or painterly designs.
Supplementary weft patterning adds additional yarns to a fabric to create pattern, add strength, or introduce texture. You can pattern one area or the entire cloth with this method. Since yarns can be added at will as the weaving progresses, this technique is a straightforward way to add patterning to a base fabric.
Weavers create knotted pile, the fuzzy tufted surface we enjoy on carpets, by wrapping short yarns (knots) around the warps. At each intersection of warp and weft the knot acts as one plot point in the grid of the complete textile. You can choose to cut the pile yarns to your desired length to finish the textile. Because the design is created one knot at a time, there is great flexibility and potential for detail.
In twining, weavers spiral or twist either warp or weft yarns around the other set in their passage through a fabric. If the number of twining elements is even, both sides of the fabric will be structurally identical. This process creates strong and dense textiles that can withstand heavy use, such as mats or baskets.