Cotton — Weaving Fabric

Earlier this month I began a series of posts on where our quilting fabric comes from. There are so many steps in the process, from growing the cotton, cleaning and spinning it, weaving it, and then making it beautiful. Agricultural workers, biologists, engineers, designers, textile laborers, and more, all contribute to creating the raw materials of our craft. When I consider all the moving parts, I give thanks to all those who help make my projects possible.

The first post looked primarily at planting and harvesting cotton. Next came cleaning and spinning the cotton into yarn. Now we’ll look at weaving.

After creating yarn (threads,) the yarn is woven into fabric. In the most basic weaving process, there are warp yarns, which run lengthwise away from the front of the loom. These are the yarns that are pre-strung. Weft yarns (or filling yarns) are interlaced at a right angle through them using a shuttle or other mechanism such as a rapier.

From the National Cotton Council of America:

Traditionally, cloth was woven by a wooden shuttle that moved horizontally back and forth across the loom, interlacing the filling yarn with the horizontally, lengthwise warp yarn. Modern mills use high-speed shuttleless weaving machines that perform at incredible rates and produce an endless variety of fabrics. Some carry the filling yarns across the loom at rates in excess of 2,000 meters per minute.

The rapier-type weaving machines have metal arms or rapiers that pick up the filling thread and carry it halfway across the loom where another rapier picks it up and pulls it the rest of the way. Other types employ small projectiles that pick up the filling thread and carry it all the way across the loom. Still other types employ compressed air to insert the filling yarn across the warp. In addition to speed and versatility, another advantage of these modern weaving machines is their relatively quiet operation.

Though the speed has changed, the mechanics of weaving are much as they’ve been for thousands of years. This video shows the high speed process.

When the weaving of fabric is done, the product of the loom is called “greige” goods. This is pronounced as “grey.”

The weight of quilting fabric (not including batiks) is approximately 4 ounces per yard. If you check Spoonflower, a service that allows you to custom print various weaves of fabric, their basic combed cotton is 3.2 oz per square yard and has a thread count of 78×76. The Kona cotton is 4.5 oz per square yard, with a thread count of 60×60.

The unprinted, unbleached greige fabric then goes through a design phase. It may be simply dyed, or it may be elaborately printed or batiked. I’ll cover those processes next.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary


7 thoughts on “Cotton — Weaving Fabric

  1. KerryCan

    This has been a fascinating series! We went to a weaving shop in Ireland where we saw both traditional weaving, with a flying shuttle, and the high-speech process–so amazing to watch! When you think about the work that went into creating cloth, before industrialization, it’s not surprising that women wanted to make use of every tiny scrap of fabric!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Absolutely. We were in Lowell, MA where the whole US part of that began. (Of course in England they were many years ahead!) I have a video of the early process. It’s done just about the same, though. Thanks.

  2. allisonreidnem

    Thanks for continuing this series Melanie. I’ve always enjoyed following industrial processes from raw materials to finished product (I once got a tour round a chocolate factory… ) Did you know that some bank notes are made of cotton not wood pulp?


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