Know Your Weaves

image from Wikimedia Commons

I’m going to be talking about different types of cotton in upcoming posts, and I’ll be posting the much-anticipated tutorial on trueing up your fabric. But first, we have to get a good grounding in basic weaving terms. Ready? There will be a quiz later. Kidding. Unless you want a quiz.

Warp and weft: Warp refers to the yarns set up on a loom, weft refers to the filling yarns. The back-and-forth filling with the weft yarn, usually at a 90-degree angle, creates the selvedge. So, warp = lengthwise, weft = widthwise. I used to have so much trouble remembering which is which — does anyone have a good mnemonic? How about “Weft goes left and right?”)

There are three basic weaves.

Plain weave: the basic 1-1 criss-cross checkerboard of warp and weft yarns (as seen in the top image). Most commerical fabrics, including most quilting cottons, are plain weaves. Plain weaves tear easily.

satin weave, image from Wikimedia Commons

Satin weave: Either the warp or weft yarns float over four or more strands of the crosswise yarn before going under one yarn and back up. If the warp yarn is the floating yarn, the fabric is called “satin,” if it’s the weft yarns floating, the fabric is called “sateen.” The traveling yarns create a more lustrous appearance and the fabric drapes better than plain weaves, but they are not durable.

2x2 twill

a 2×2 twill, image from Wikimedia Commons

3x1 twill

3×1 twill, image from Wikimedia Commons

Twill weave: The weft floats across two or more weft yarns, and each weft row offsets the pattern over a predetermined step, creating a diagonal pattern. The diagonal pattern can be reversed at intervals; these are called “broken twills”: herringbone, chevrons, zigzags, and houndstooth are all broken twill patterns. A steeper diagonal means higher quality, stronger fabric. The fabric is durable and difficult to tear, and usually has a rather stiff drape.

All About Cotton: A Fabric Dictionary & Swatchbook (Fabric Reference Series, Vol. 2) by Julie Parker, Rain City Publishing, 1998

From Fiber to Fabric: The Essential Guide to Quiltmaking Textiles, by Harriet Hargrave, 1996

Wikipedia: Weaving

Textile Exchange Online: Types of Weaves


  1. cindy k says:

    i can never get warp/weft straight. this post will help me a lot. thank you.

  2. harmony says:

    Love this post! It inspired me to break out my Fabric Science (8th edition) book and it says, “Weaves with long floats produce the strongest fabric because the fabric can be made with the greatest number of yarns per inch….Thus satin weave fabric is the strongest because it can be made with the most yarns per inch since it has the fewest interlacing.”

    This seems to contradict your statement about sateen weaves that “they are not durable.” I am confused?! Perhaps durable and strong are not the same thing??

  3. Jesse says:

    Thank you for this post!

  4. Christine says:

    I heard the phrase, “You have to be warped to weave.”

  5. MarleneBrock says:

    When you say “weft”, your mouth goes wide, like a smile. Weft goes from side to side. When you say “warp”, your lips go more up and down, like a warp.

  6. Deborah says:

    It helps to think that the weft goes from weft to right.

  7. Thanx for this brief but informational post on weaves. Found Deborah’s tip for remembering wefts pretty cool. If ever on hunt for top shelf weaves, look no further than And thanks again for sharing!