Backed Fabrics

Weekly weaving class with Liz Calnan at the NSW Handweavers and Spinners Guild started up again last week after the summer break. Our first topic is Backed Fabrics.

Nisbet’s definition (Grammar of Textile Design, available here on the
On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics):

“Backed” fabrics are characterised by an additional series either of warp or weft threads employed for the purpose of increasing their strength, weight, bulk and warmth, or any one of those properties, without affecting their surface appearance”.

It seems traditional industrial use was to use cheaper/coarser/inferior quality threads, hidden on the back of the cloth, in very practical applications such as men’s clothing.

Liz had photos and student samples using the technique to showcase and make the most of some of the fancy and often heavier yarns now available. You can give them the space to shine without sacrificing stability by “stitching” them to a second layer of cloth. It’s a variant of doubleweave, but instead of the two layers of cloth (or blocks in the cloth) changing sides (see my 4 shaft sample here, and 8 shaft scarf here), there is a definite “front” and the two layers are just attached in spots.

I couldn’t make head or tail of the theory, so decided just to give it a go.

Here’s front and back of sample 1. The front layer uses a fancy textured yarn (slubs, glitter, loopy bits, you name it) for warp and weft in a 2/2 twill. It’s set at 4 ends per inch, which would collapse into a nasty tangle left on its own.

The back layer is a fine cotton (no idea of the formal spec – it was on sale at a knitting machine group get-together). It’s in plain weave, 20 ends per inch.

I’ve laid out the draft to try to make the concept behind it clearer. The thin cotton weaves plain weave on shafts 5, 6, 7, 8 – over on the right of the tieup. The fancy yarn weaves twill on top. Where a fancy weft is hidden between two fancy warps floats, a cotton warp is raised to trap it. You can see it in the draft – when 1,2 are lifted for the twill, up comes shaft 7. It’s pretty much invisible from the front, but it’s “enough” to attach the two layers together.

The trouble with this sample is that it isn’t really enough. There aren’t enough attachment points to keep everything firm. It would be nice to have a link on every weft – but either they would not be hidden between two warp floats, or I would need extra shafts (I was working on the 8 shaft Ashford loom).

Sample 2 solved the problem (well, Liz gave us the solution!).

Instead of attaching the layers by raising cotton warps, attach by lowering (ie not raising) fancy yarn warps. The fancy yarns are already on separate shafts for the twill, so I can move them independently (in each repeat of the twill) without needing extra shafts. The sample’s set was slightly different – I actually had only 4 cotton for each fancy on this one (I forgot when recreating the draft), with 20epi for cotton and 5 epi for fancy. I haven’t wet finished this one yet, but it definitely feels much more stable, although still a bit too loose for most uses. The fancy yarn is plied very loosely and could do with even more stitching points.

Sample 3 is exactly the same structure and epi as sample 2. The only difference is the fancy yarn used. This is also a thick and thin slubby affair, but overall thicker and more tightly plied. It is holding together very nicely. The back layer is a bit puckered (also not wet finished), but it’s quite  attractive.

Sample 4 is based on a photo in Doubleweave on 4 to 8 shafts by Ursina Arn-Grischott. This is the same warp, weft and set as sample 2, with a change in threading. Top and bottom layers are both plain weave. As well as stitching points there is an actual exchange of blocks as in normal double weave. The sample is structurally stable, but I think there is too much show-through in the cotton layer, so you don’t get a good impact from the exchanged blocks.

On sample 5 I used doubled cotton threads in warp and weft – a purple and a red held together. Everything else is as in sample 4. The thicker “back” cloth has much more visual punch. I really like this one. It’s very stable, the simple cotton squares and lines provide a good contrast and foil to the fancy yarn. I like both sides (backed fabrics are generally one “public” side). The only question is how to use it – possibly a cushion cover?? It’s not drapey enough for a scarf. BTW I don’t have a proper draft for this. The book didn’t give details (and the photo fabric was different and I don’t think could ever be done on “4 to 8 shafts”! – it had at least 3 blocks of double weave). I constructed this from the photo, input from Liz, some scrawls on a spreadsheet, then some trial and error on the loom).

This is just a scratch on the surface of backed fabrics. I’ll have to come back to it one day, but class has already moved on to the next topic…

7 Responses to “Backed Fabrics”


  1. 1 Life Looms Large February 20, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Very interesting!! Thanks so much for showing us your samples and drafts. It really helped tie the whole thing together for me.

    I wonder if that’s how some of the jackets I’ve seen in stores are woven – because they look like they’re big yarn loosely woven, but they hold together like something else. I’ll have to go examine a few things in my closet.

    Very interesting technique. Definitely on my list of things to try now!!

    Sue

  2. 2 Lesley February 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks so much for this post – very informative. It opens up endless possibilities.

  3. 3 trapunto February 22, 2010 at 3:07 am

    This kind of work is unlike anything else I’m seeing on weaving blogs. Fantastic possibilities. Limitations would be the weight and drape of the backing fabric, as you say, but maybe there are ways to get around that too?
    I think the puckery backing fabric on your first sample looks particularly interesting, with those blobs of red peeping through. It could be lovely to wear something like that, with the soft, loose-woven layer inside, turned out at the collar and up at the cuffs for contrast, and the ease given by the puckers.

  4. 4 Harma February 22, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Wonderful samples. I think I’ll want to try this soon.

    I’m working on something similar. One layer of 4 shaft waffle weave in cotton with a backing of plain weave in wool. This is my mugrug-project for our guilds mugrug exchange. I like how it looks on the loom and hope for spectacular results after washing.

    Is your fabric stable enough for the eternal washing of place-mats or mugrugs?

    • 5 fibresofbeing February 22, 2010 at 10:18 pm

      I think my particular yarn choice wouldn’t work for place-mats – too many nooks and crannies for crumbs to get stuck in or under, and not a flat surface for stability under a glass. So far I’ve been thinking of vests, cushion covers, bags and maybe curtains or parts of window treatments. I like Trapunto’s suggestion about using both sides for contrast in clothing.

      The cotton and wool layers sound interesting. Are you anticipating differential shrinkage or will they be more stable together?

      • 6 Harma February 22, 2010 at 10:46 pm

        I’m hoping the wool will make the waffle ridges stable enough to put a mug on it without loosing the waffle effect and with enough shrinkage to pull the waffle ridges together close enough for the top surface to be flat enough to put a filled mug on it. Unfortunately the mug I’m designing this for doesn’t have a very broad base.

        Well if it doesn’t work, I can always go back to a standard 8 shaft swedish lace pattern of a mug and keep my experiments for myself. I’m having a lot of fun and that is what counts. ;^)

      • 7 fibresofbeing February 23, 2010 at 6:47 am

        Wow – very interesting! I’d love to hear how it works out.


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