Heritage Crafts


The making of a textile by interlacing (weaving) warps and wefts at right angles on a hand loom. See the separate entries for carpet and rug weaving and tapestry weaving.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
UK, especially the North West
Area practiced currently
Origin in the UK
Bronze Age


Weights used to secure the warp on an upright loom have been found in Britain dating from the Bronze Age.

In the Middle Ages weaving was a major source of employment, especially for women; men became involved once it was commercialised. Settlers from the Low Countries introduced the weaving of fustians, cloth with a weft of cotton and warp of linen, into East Anglia in the sixteenth century, spreading to Lancashire by 1600.

Weaving was mechanised in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, although the high-power loom was not adopted until the 1830s and 1840s in the Lancashire cotton trade. The woollen and worsted industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire typically used smaller mills and shifted to weaving machines some decades later than the cotton weavers of Lancashire.

There is an increasing interest in hand woven textiles at the moment, both from practitioners and the general public.


The great majority of cloth used in our lives is ‘plain weave’, where the pattern of interlacement in both directions is a simple ‘over one, under one’, though great richness of pattern can be achieved in plain weave through the use of coloured or textured yarns.

For loom weaving, a set of warp threads is held taught on the loom, each one passing through the eye of a heddle. Groups of heddles are supported on a number of shafts which can be raised or lowered by hand levers or foot pedals. In this way, particular warp threads will be either raised or lowered according to how the loom is threaded and how combinations of shafts are raised or lowered creating a space between them called the shed. To produce a fabric, a shuttle, carrying a weft thread passes through the shed. The raising/lowering sequence of warp threads gives rise to many possible weave structures from the simplest plain weave, through twills and satins to even more complex interlacings.


Issues affecting the viability

  • Fast and cheaper mass production industrial weaving methods
  • For individual practitioners the access to weaving materials is often expensive or difficult to outsource
  • Migration of makers to other crafts and professions
  • Broken chains of family makers (the manual craft is not being passed down)

Support organisations

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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