Glossary of Technical Terms

Bast fiber: Fiber that is obtained from the stem of a plant. Examples include linen from the flax plant, ramie, and hemp.

Heddle: Device on a loom through which each lengthwise yarn (warp yarn) is threaded that allows warps to be raised and lowered during weaving.

Kemp: Straight, short, stiff, silvery white fibers in wool fleece that do not spin or dye well.

Kermes: Natural red dye used since ancient times that is made from the eggs obtained by crushing the bodies of a tiny female insect parasite found on oak trees.

Overshot: A type of weaving in which an additional set of crosswise yarns extend across two or more lengthwise yarns in a plain background weave to form a pattern or design. Pile fabric surface on which fibers, yarns, or raised loops that may be cut or uncut or stand up on the surface of a background fabric.

Pseudomorph: When used in reference to textile evidence found in archeological sites, a mineralized imprint of textile yarns or fabrics.

Selvage: The lengthwise edge of a woven fabric that is often made with heavier yarns and woven more tightly than the rest of the fabric in order to make this area strong and secure.

Shed bar: Rod or stick on a primitive loom that is used to separate one set of lengthwise (warp) yarns from another set so a space (called the shed) is made that allows the passage of the crosswise (weft) yarns.

Supplementary weft: An extra crosswise yarn, in addition to the primary crosswise yarn.

Warp/warp yarn: Lengthwise yarns in a woven fabric.

Weft/weft yarn: Crosswise yarns in a woven fabric.

Woad: Natural blue dye obtained by fermenting the leaves of the woad plant, ¡satis Tinctoria.

Egyptian Workers Fashion
Egyptian textile workers depicted in funerary model. Though only women are seen here, ancient Egypt differed from other early civilizations in that both men and women wove the favored white linen. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Egyptian Expedition. 1919-1920. Reproduced by permission.

true weave is that the process, unlike twining, can be mechanized with shed bars and heddles. So once the hed-dle—a conceptually difficult invention—is available, weaving ousts twining thanks to the speed of manufacture.) This corpus includes tied fringes, reinforced selvages (closed edges of a fabric that prevent unraveling), rolled and whipped hems, weft twining and warp-wrapped twining, as well as coarse, fine, tightly- and loosely-woven fabrics.

With the heddle invented and domestic flax available, large-scale weaving began to spread in all directions. In Europe have been found remains of vertical warp-weighted looms in villages around the central Danube by 5500 b.c.e., a tradition reaching the Swiss pile-dwellings by 3000 b.c.e. as it spread west and north. By 5000 b.c.e. crude linen-weaving spread south to Egypt, where someone painted the first known depiction of a loom circa 4200 b.c.e. Weaving with heddles also spread eastward across Eurasia, apparently reaching Tibet and China circa 5000 b.c.e.

Inhabitants of the western hemisphere probably invented twined fabrics on their own (unless, like string, this technology entered with them); the earliest finds date to about 8000 b.c.e. But true weave does not appear until nearly 2000 b.c.e., radiating from an area of northwest South America containing both archaeological and linguistic evidence that some Asiatic foreigners had somehow arrived. That suggests that the heddle was invented only once, in either the northwestern Near East or southeastern Europe, some time before 7000 b.c.e., and spread worldwide from there.

Despite the subsistence-level economy of the Swiss pile-dwellers and their neighbors, central and western Europe is the one area where there is evidence of decorative patterning in Neolithic textiles: supplementary weft and occasionally warp patterns (both overshot and brocaded), beading (with seeds), an example of the Log Cabin (color-and-weave) pattern, and what may be embroidery (the originals were lost in one of the wars—only drawings survived). All these textiles were too blackened to show color, but the investigator of the most ornate claimed that it would not have been made that way unless the weaver were juggling at least three colors. A Neolithic site in France produced evidence of dyeing thread yarn with both kermes (red) and woad (blue), both col-orfast dyes. Other evidence for patterning comes from clay figurines of women found in the Balkans and Ukraine: Many are naked and some wear string skirts, but others wear simple wraparound skirts with a square or checked pattern.

Up to 4000 b.c.e., the only readily available fibers came from plant stems (bast fibers: flax around the Mediterranean; hemp farther north across Eurasia, including China; yucca, maguey, among others in the western hemisphere). Sheep (Ovis orientalis) had been domesticated in the Near East around 8000 b.c.e., but for meat—their coats consisted primarily of bristly kemp, with only a short undercoat of ultra-fine wool (5 microns) for insulation. "Nice" modern wool runs 15 to 30 microns in diameter, but the wild kemp runs about 300 microns and has no torsional strength, so it cannot be twisted into yarn. It appears to have taken 4000 years of inbreeding to develop sheep with usable amounts of wool in their coats (genetic changes gradually eliminated the kemp, while the wool grew longer and heavier). Once woolly sheep were available, however, everyone wanted them and soon they were taken to Europe and the Eurasian grasslands. Unlike bast, moreover, the wool of even a single sheep typically includes several shades of color, which can be sorted for patterning one's cloth. This helped fuel the explosion of textile technology in the next era.

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100 Fashion Tips

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