Part 7: Why Denim isn't Oxford Cloth

This is the article about weaving that I promised; next will be knit.

I expect most of you know that weaving is done on a machine called a "loom," which can be either very small; say, less than a foot wide, or very large, measuring yards wide.  For example, a woven belt (like an army belt) is made on a loom that is in the smaller category; the product it produces is less than two inches wide.  Compare this with the looms that make carpeting, which are exceedingly wide, or the ones that produce bedsheets.

The loom is set up in a process called "warping," which has nothing to do with Star Trek.  "Warp" is the term for the threads that run the whole length of the fabric, longwise.  [Stick with me here, there's a reason for this.]  The thread that is sent back and forth across the warp is called the "weft."  No, I don't know why there are such odd words for it.  My best guess is that they're from some early civilization, and they just stuck around as the language changed.

Once you have your loom set up, there are lots of different patterns of weaving that you can do that produce different effects in the finished product.  The most common one is called "plain" weave; this is when each thread goes over and then under another, alternating.  If you're reading this in an office "cube" environment, the fabric on the walls of your cube is probably plain weave.  The threads go over and under, like a basket, and at right angles to each other.

Most woven shirts are plain weave.  If you make the warp white, and the weft colored, (and a couple of other little things that we won't go into) you get "oxford cloth," a very common type of work shirt fabric.  In many cases, the weave of oxford cloth has two white threads acting as one thread in the weave.  If your warp is striped (different color threads longwise) and your weft is striped with different colors, you get plaid.  All of this is still in a "plain" weave.

Now, picture a situation where the warp and weft don't each go over one thread at a time, they go over two or three other threads at a time.  This produces a "twill" fabric.  Denim is a twill fabric; if you look at it closely, you can see little diagonal effects of the threads.  "Chinos"[slacks] are usually made in twills.  The diagonal is produced because some threads aren't anchored into the main fabric as firmly, they have a longer run over the top of the fabric than in a plain weave.  Satins and other very smooth fabrics are made much the same way.

The last type of weave that I will address here is used in things like cordueroy and velvet, and in carpets and towels; namely, weaving with a "pile".  All of these fabrics have fuzzy bits projecting up from the mesh of the weave.  The basic fabric is woven in plain weave, but there is an additional weft thread that is looped up above the surface.  In the case of some carpets and towels, these loops are left projecting; in others they are trimmed to produce an even fuzziness like velvet.  Cheap versions of pile fabrics will shed their fuzzy bits easily; ones that are better woven will have anchored the fuzzy threads better so that they don't come out.
All material (c) 1999 Cynthia Virtue Email Author with comments
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