What Is Plainweave?

Henry Gaudet
Henry Gaudet
A basket made using the wicker process.
A basket made using the wicker process.

Plainweave, also known as tabby, calico or over under weaving, is one of the simplest and most common method of manufacturing textiles, producing a flat, durable fabric. Threads interlace alternately, going over and under one another, and close inspection of plain woven fabric will reveal a distinctive checkerboard pattern. Variations of plainweave include rib weave and basket weave.

Plainweave fabrics can be woven using a hand loom.
Plainweave fabrics can be woven using a hand loom.

Creating plainweave fabric, whether on a hand loom or in a giant textile mill, involves interlacing perpendicular threads. Parallel threads called warp are held taut by the loom. A weft thread is woven through this warp, passing over the first, then under the second, over the third and so forth. This process continues back and forth, row after row, until the fabric is complete. The result is a strong, smooth, snag-resistant cloth.

Altering the tension on the threads can produce a tighter or looser weave, which can affect the texture of the fabric. In some fabrics, such as seersucker, warp threads are held at different tensions, with some held tight and others slack, resulting in a unique, blistered texture.

The size of the thread will also affect the texture of the cloth. Weaving heavy threads will naturally produce heavier, more durable cloth, and thin threads make a much lighter, more breathable fabric. Manufacturers can combine tension and thread diameter to create fabrics suitable for any purpose, from fashion to upholstery and decorating.

Typically, the same single thread is used for an entire plainweave fabric. For instance, taffeta, canvas, crepe, muslin and chiffon are all plainweave fabrics made in this way. It is, however, possible to create cloth with threads of different diameters or using threads in bundles, resulting in different fabrics with different textures and appearances.

Rib weave is a variation on plainweave using threads of two different sizes. Warp threads selected are thinner than the weft. Threads are woven together just like any other plainweave fabric, but instead of the typical checkerboard pattern, the thicker weft dominates, and a series of parallel lines takes shape.

Basket weave is another variation on the standard plainweave. Instead of working with one thread at a time, threads are bundled into groups of twos, threes or even more. Bundled weft threads are woven through bundled warp threads, giving the fabric a heavier texture, with a wicker basket appearance. Threads of different color or thickness might also be selected, making the wicker pattern even more distinct.

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Discussion Comments


@JaneAir - That makes a lot of sense. Plainweave fabric is very popular for other crafts too!

For instance, a lot of people prefer plainweave fabric to embroidery projects. It's very sturdy and holds up quite well.

However, it doesn't work well for embroidery types that require you to count the the threads in the fabric to make stitches. In most plainweave, you can't detect the individual threads running through the fabric like you can on other types of embroidery fabric.


My mom is really into sewing and pretty much always has been. She really favors plainweave fabrics for all of her sewing projects. She says that plainweave fabric is much easier to sew with than certain other types of fabric.

For instance, knit fabric has a tendency to stretch and curl. This can make it really difficult to sew something out of it! You have to keep your tension on the fabric the same as you're guiding the fabric through the sewing machine. Pulling it too much can result in a seam that is sewn too loosely.

However, you don't have those problems with plainweave fabric. It's not stretchy, and it doesn't curl. My mom always recommends this kind of fabric to sewing beginners.

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    • A basket made using the wicker process.
      By: kornienko
      A basket made using the wicker process.
    • Plainweave fabrics can be woven using a hand loom.
      By: oscar williams
      Plainweave fabrics can be woven using a hand loom.