Plain Weave isn’t Plain or Easy

by | Mar 12, 2023 | Handwoven, Weaving

plain weave on a painted warp

 The looms available to hand weavers have advanced in technology so that they can weave complex patterns and even pictures.  There are dobby looms and, compu-dobby looms with 16 to 64 harnesses, draw looms, and jacquard looms.  But we still can be blown away by a plain weave cloth.

Some say that plain weave is the true test of a weaver’s technique.  With no pattern to distract the eye, an inconsistency in the flat plain weave surface will stand out like a beacon.  A break in the weaver’s rhythm or a change in tension as the warp is advanced will show up as uneven spacing of the weft threads.  Variations in the amount of  weft slack as the shuttle is thrown will show up as inconsistencies at the edges.  Plain weave isn’t easy!

subtle stripping

If you love working with textured or variegated yarns plain weave may be your favourite structure.  With plain weave the yarns take centre stage with colour as the co-star.  

Designs based on stripes, plaids and gradients work well with a plain weave structure and they are not restricted by the need to match pattern repeats.  The edges of stripes will be distinct and narrow stripes will not be lost.  Plain weave also forms a uniform grid and will hold difficult yarns like chenille or slippery rayon. 

It is ideal for clothing construction because it doesn’t stretch or fray as easily as other weave structures.

gradient in black and white

chenille towel
bubbles in plain weave
cram and dented warp and weft

Sometimes plain weave can surprise you and look like something far more complex.  By varying the sett across the warp you can create dense and thin areas that give the cloth texture.  You can also create open areas that encourage threads to move in lace like patterns producing a light and airy cloth.

By simply mixing yarns with different shrinkage rates you can turn stripes into seer sucker and squares into bubbles.  The pink scarf alternates warp and weft stripes of 2/20 cotton with a high energy over-spun cotton single yarn.  On the loom it appears flat but after washing the active yarn contracts causing the pink cotton squares to pucker.

So, if you don’t have a computerized loom with more harnesses than you can count remember you only need two shafts to make something spectacular in plain weave.
We are working on plans for a busy year of activities and more workshops are in the wings so keep watch on our blog or facebook page for announcements.  Meanwhile congratulations to our newest batch of beginning spinners.  We’ll end this post with an inspiration photo just for you.
fun with colour and a spinning wheel


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