Textiles is a HUGE subject matter. For our purposes, the best place to begin is upholstery fabric because that’s what I deal with day in and day out.  Let’s just jump into a plain weave. The first thing I tell new upholstery classes is that a plain weave is not the best choice for upholstery, let alone someone’s first project. And what do you think they bring in the second week? Right! A plain weave with a big jazzy printed pattern on the surface. Well, it’s  not their fault entirely. Fabric store clerks tend to lump upholstery weight fabric into one big happy category-upholstery weight.  Yes, plain weaves with surface patterns can be used for many projects around the home like pillows, shower curtains, duvets, bulletin boards, basically anything that doesn’t have to fit nicely around round, padded chair arms, or wrapped foam seating. Just think about it this way. What kind of skirt looks better on you? One that is a stiff, flat weave cotton, or one that drapes smoother from your waste to hips, etc.?  The new breed of printed surface plain weaves fees like upholstery weight because they’re being woven using multiple threads or yarns laid side by side, or using thicker, less tightly twisted yarns to feel weightier. Here is what these very popular plain weave fabrics look like up close and personal. You can see how the print design kind of fades out over the threads. This is a suzani print on cotton.  The vertical threads on the loom are called warp threads, while the horizontal threads are called the weft.

This fabric is made up of more tightly twisted yarns, or perhaps longer fibers, or staples. It feels smoother, tighter and lighter weight. It’s also 100% cotton with the design just printed on the surface. Notice here how the warp threads (vertical) consist of three side by side, untwisted yarns, while the weft looks to be one much thicker thread. It’s a plain weave, but a variation of it.

This is another, even tighter woven plain weave made with two yarns side by side making up each thread, warp and weft, but the weft threads appear to be smaller than the warp. Some may consider this to be a basket weave, a variation of the plain weave. Design is also just printed on the surface.

Finally, this is another variation of a plain weave, but the texture is made by weaving the weft threads over and under the warp, but not in an even alternation. It looks like the weft threads go up and over two or three warp threads. Since this is a solid color, there is not design printed on the surface, but the back of this fabric is coating with a very light backing to hold the weave tight. That fabric backing can make many fabrics much easier to work with when upholstering.

Start looking at your clothes and household fabrics a little bit closer to discover the hidden world of weft and warp.  It’s kind of like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids when you magnify it about a billion times.