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A History of Weaving

Weaving is best described as the systematic interlacing of two or more sets of elements usually, but not necessarily, at right angles, to form a coherent structure. No one knows when or where the weaving process first began, but as far back as there are relics of civilized life, it is thought that weaving was a part of developing civilizations. Because of the perishable nature of textile goods, information found about the beginning stages of weaving is sketchy, and tracing the development of textiles is a difficult task and a tremendous challenge. Due to nature's hazards of erosion, climatic conditions, insects, and fire, few examples of early woven fabrics survived. Therefore, much of what is written about primitive weaving is based on speculation. There are, however, certain circumstances under which remnants of fabrics have survived: arid regions, bog lands, sealed tombs, and extremely cold areas. Because of these artifacts, we are fortunate to have some examples of early textiles and weaving tools.

The everyday needs of our prehistoric ancestors probably led them to create objects using fiber as a medium. It is thought that ancient humans instinctively used weaving as an aid in their quest for basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. It is not unlikely that people might have realized the possibilities of the woven structure after observing spider webs, birds' nests, or the construction of a beaver's dam. These findings probably led to the interlacing of twigs or vines, and resulted in netting which surely assisted humans in catching fish and trapping game. In addition, by using twining or braiding techniques, it is likely that primitive people learned to make mats to cover floors of huts, which helped insulate against dampness or cold. Eventually, people used weaving skills to make exterior coverings for shelters, so they would be somewhat protected from harsh weather and/or from predators.

Archeologists believe that basket making and weaving were probably the first "crafts" developed by humans. Once primitive people learned ways of creating a woven structure, the possibilities were endless: netting, coverings for huts, containers for goods, carriers for the young, rugs, blankets, hammocks, pouches, body coverings. Along with our ancestors' ongoing quest for survival, there is evidence of an unconstrained desire by humans to embellish the objects created. The use of natural dyes on reeds or the combination of varying sizes and colors of weaving elements to create patterns, was likely an an attempt to express individualism and an aesthetic sensibility. Human beings naturally have a strong compulsion to be creative, and our records show that this trait was prevalent in our ancestors' lives thousands of years ago.Research indicates that cultures on every continent devised crude looms and methods of making webs, and further study tells that us there was great similarity in the looms constructed and in the weavings produced.

With modern sophisticated methods of radiocarbon testing and DNA testing, today's scientists are much better able to assign accurate dates to archeological findings than they were even a decade ago. The exact date of the first handwoven works, however, continues to remain a mystery. Nevertheless, there is evidence of cloth being made in Mesopotamia and in Turkey as far back as 7000 to 8000 BC. Since fabric remnants have been difficult to find, to say the least, some historians use other sources as guides in piecing together our textile heritage. One valued artifact is the funerary model of a weaver's workshop, which was found in an Egyptian tomb. This model contains a horizontal loom, warping devices and other tools, and weavers in action. We can also take note of the garments worn by the people.

Another artifact, which is highly valued, is the piece of pottery below with the imprint of a textile structure etched in its exterior. It is believed that an early craftsperson formed this pot by lining the interior of a woven basket with wet clay. Heat was provided to shrink and harden the clay, at which time, the basket fell away leaving its mark on the outside of the pot.