Weaving step by step

Material for clothing, tableware, bed linen, towels and other items were made at home on the farms. Fibres such as flax (linen), hemp or jute (although hemp and jute were not produced in this area) had to be collected in various stages from the plants. Industrial development brought with it the ability to buy cotton yarn and it became the choice for setting up a loom. It saved time as otherwise a very fine, even thread, the so-called "Uptöch", had to be spun for the warp. For the weft, "Inslag", the flax was still spun by hand as previously on a spinning wheel.

For clothing wool was also used. The wool from the local Heathland sheep was selected after the shearing, perhaps washed, combed or even spun directly.

Here in North Germany it was usual for the women of the villages to get together with their spinning wheels. During these spinning evenings they created the threads and yarns which would then be woven on the looms.

From the short fibres or hairs a thread would be spun, by hand, with a hand held spindle or on a spinning wheel. On a spinning wheel, the spindle would be turned by belt drive. During the spinning process the thread would be wound directly on to the spindle.

“Sitting on a low spinning chair the lady plucks the flax for the thread from the bundle of fibres with her left hand while controlling the speed of the spool and the evenness and strength of the thread with her fingers. Very experienced spinners could even control two spindles at a time.

(from: Wilhelm Bomann: Bäuerliches Hauswesen und Tagewerk im alten Niedersachsen. Hildesheim 1982)

What is a piece of woven fabric? Two sets of threads, warp and weft, are woven together so that the threads of one set mesh with the threads of the other at right angles in a well defined regular sequence, above or below. Weaving is thus the crossing at right angles of two or even more (in the case of a more experienced weaver) sets of threads. In its simplest form the weft is passed over then under the alternate threads of the warp. On the return of the shuttle this is reversed.

Before weaving starts the warp must be set up. All the warp threads must be the same length. These are attached to the warp beam with each thread having its own place. At the same time the number and colour of the threads are established and then transferred to the loom.

On the loom the chain is set up. All the weft threads are wound on bobbins which sit inside the shuttles, depending on the fabric, for example canvas, twill or grained. They run between the warp threads, the distance apart of which affects the thickness of the fabric.

Once the shuttles and treadle are ready and the warp stretched fully then weaving can begin. Each movement of the treadle raises or lowers the warp threads so that the shuttle can be pushed through between the threads carrying the weft on the spool. With every move of the shuttle the fabric grows longer.

After such a long and precise preparation the weaving starts, a reward and form of relaxation for the weavers.

Until during the 19th century weaving was no hobby. Not only did people weave the essential fabrics, they also sold linen they had woven. Because of the complexity of the weaving process linen was a valuable and important part of a woman’s dowry.

From the simpler looms, more complex ones developed. With increasing mechanisation weaving became faster than the thread could be spun by hand. This work was taken over by spinning machines. With the introduction of cheaper cotton yarn or ready made fabrics, weaving which had been a sideline in the home declined.