What is Twill?

When I started my weaving journey, I wove many dishtowels. For a beginning weaver, dishtowels are the perfect projects. You are able to explore different weaving patterns and experiment with color combinations and, to top it all off, you can use your creation right away. For my few first projects, I was able to follow the draft and the treadling, but I really didn’t understand the mechanics of what I was weaving. Below are the first dishtowels I ever wove. These are the Finnish Twill Towels (Designer: Barbara Elkins). I purchased the kit from Webs. As you can probably tell, they are well used.

What’s the Difference Between Plain Weave and Twill?

What I didn’t know when I wove that first project, was that I was a weaving structure called “twill”. To understand twill, you must first understand “plain weave” (aka “tabby”). 

What is Plain Weave? (aka Tabby)

In “plain weave”, the weft thread goes over one warp thread then under the warp thread and over the warp thread then under the warp thread and on and on. Let’s take a look at the draft. When you press the first treadle, harnesses 1 and 3 are lifted. Then you press treadle two – harnesses 2 and 4 are lifted. This means the warp and weft threads alternate creating what is known as a plain weave (aka tabby). Think of those potholders your used to make as a child – over, under, over, under. 

So, plain weave has it’s purpose, but it doesn’t create interesting patterns. To create patterns in your fabric, you’ll need to use a different structure and that’s where twill comes in.

What is Twill?

Twill is a weaving structure which allows you to create diagonal patterns. You can create very simple diagonals or quite intricate patterns depending upon how you vary those diagonals. The pattern will be determined by your threading, tie up and treadling. Before creating those amazing patterns, it helpful to first understand the basics of twill.

A twill pattern is created when weft thread is woven over one or more warp threads and then under one or more warp threads and so on (remember- plain weave is only one thread). Each row is offset from the one above it, which creates the diagonal pattern. Here’s a close up picture of a dishtowel using a twill pattern. Do you see all those diagonals?

Fractions are used to describe how the fabric is woven. The top number in the fraction represents the number of warp threads that are lifted when you press your treadle. The weft threads will float on top of the warp threads. The bottom number represents the number of threads which stay lowered when you press your treadle. The weft thread will go above these threads. Another way to look at it would be the top number represents the number of harnesses raised and the bottom number, the number of harnesses which stay lowered.

2/2 Twill

In a 2/2 twill, 2 harnesses are lifted and 2 harnesses stay lowered. This means that the weft yarn passes above two threads and below two threads.

Here is what the front and back of a woven 2/2 twill looks like.

Notice how you really can’t distinguish the front from the back of the fabric.

1/3 Twill

In a 1/3 twill, 1 harness is lifted and 3 harnesses stay lowered. This means that the weft yarn passes above three threads and below one thread. 

Because I’m using a thick cotton, the weft threads kind of overwhelm the warp threads and there is a big difference between the front and the back of the fabric. It would not be that dramatic if you were using yarn like 8/2 cotton.

3/1 Twill

In a 3/1 twill, 3 harnesses are lifted raising 3 warp threads. 1 harness remains lowered and the yarn passes below the three threads and above only one warp thread.

Have you noticed anything about the 1/3 and 3/1 twill? They’re really the just the reverse of each other. It’s just that matter of what is shown on top of your fabric on your loom.

Broken Twill

Broken twill patterns are super fun!  By intentionally reversing the patterns in your threading and/or your treadling, you can create some interesting patterns. The herringbone pattern is a popular broken twill pattern. Take a look at one possible threading on a 4 shaft loom. 

Here’s what the herringbone pattern looks like in a woven sample.

We just scratched the surface on twill, but understanding the basics certainly helped me in my weaving journey. I’m going to be weaving bath towels using the cotton shown in these samples. I still love weaving those dishtowels, but now I’m ready to venture into bigger projects.

Happy Weaving!

Items and Resources Used in this Project

  • Yarn Bee Sugarwheel Cotton Solids – Soft Gardenia found at Hobby Lobby
  • Yarn Bee Sugarwheet Cotton Solids – Nutmeg found at Hobby Lobby
  • The Handweaver’s Pattern Directory
  • A Handweaver’s Pattern Directory (Marguerite Davison) no longer in print

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