Drafting, Designing & Learning with Weaving Software

Many weavers would like to take their weaving to the next level by designing their own textiles but have been discouraged by the tedium of filling in hundreds of little squares before being able to determining if a design is going to work as intended.  Faced with a large blank sheet of graph paper, most weavers run for the nearest issue of Handwoven and settle for weaving someone else’s design.  There is a better way!  The incredible software programs available today can make designing a fabric that is uniquely yours astonishingly fast and easy.  Once you leave the graph paper and pencils behind, you might find that you actually ENJOY creating your own weaving drafts.  You might find that it is easier to create your own design than to sift through a stack of magazines looking for something to weave.

The other surprising thing is that you might just learn something about weave structure while you’re having fun.  The common wisdom is that you must put pencil to graph paper to learn about drafting.  I have found just the opposite to be true.  The instant feedback provided as you enter the parts of a weaving draft can actually provide a deeper understanding of the interlacement than any amount of time spent coloring little squares on a sheet of graph paper.  The ability to make changes easily and quickly promotes experimentation and encourages weavers to ask the “What happens if I … ?” question; also resulting in a deeper knowledge of weave structure and some very interesting designs.

Which program is right for me?

There are several great programs available and free demo versions are available for most of them. Some run on the Windows platform and others are available for both Windows and Mac. They all do the basics needed to create a complete weaving draft: threading; treadling & tie-up or liftplan; a view of the drawdown; the ability to use color, etc.  Then each one has its own special features.  Some are quite simple and straight forward, others have numerous “bells & whistles” for more complex fabric design.  Download a few demo versions and play with them to see which one seems right for your needs.  Since each weaving software program uses slightly different ways to create a draft, it is a good idea to download and read the manual if possible.

How much does weaving software cost?

The price of weaving software usually reflects the complexity of the program and whether or not it comes with the ability to drive a computer interfaced loom.  Expect to pay about $150 – $200 for a basic drafting program; $250 to $375 for the more full featured programs; and over $1500 for professional level programs and ones that help you design Jacquard weaves.

There are a few free programs out there. The three I have looked at are WinWeave, DB-Weave and WeaveDesign.  They all run on the Windows platform and will help you create a complete weaving draft.  Look for free downloads on the internet.

Make Time to Play

As adults, we sometimes forget the value of play.  Scheduling time each day to explore and play with the options and possibilities your new software has to offer, will pay off in increased fluency and the confidence to create your own unique weaving drafts.  You have spent the money to buy the program; take the next step and spend the time to learn to use it well.
Although any weaver can benefit from owning and using weaving software, the real fun comes when you combine the design capabilities of weaving software with the weaving capabilities of a computer interfaced loom.

Tie-up and Treadling vs. Dobby Weaving

The question is not how many shafts, but how many lift possibilities can be accessed without retying.  A standard 4 shaft loom has 6 treadles and 14 possible shaft combinations. A standard 8 shaft loom has 10 treadles and 510 possible shaft combinations. By the time you get to 16 shafts, the possibilities have ballooned to 65,534 and you might have 20 treadles, (24 shafts provide an amazing 16,777,214 possibilities!).*  It is possible to activate more than one treadle at a time, but once the weaver moves beyond 4 shafts, access is limited to a small fraction of the possibilities without constantly crawling under the loom to change the tie-up.

The loom equipped with a mechanical dobby head can carry upwards of 200 lift possibilities on its dobby bars and with an electronic dobby the weaver has access to all of the possible shaft combinations in any order at any time.  Structures that are nearly impossible on the treadle loom are quick work for the dobby loom.  Weaving even a small fraction of the possible block and tie-down possibilities of an 8-shaft Summer and Winter takes some fancy footwork on a treadle loom, the electronic dobby can handle any multi-shaft Summer and Winter design with ease.

It is no coincidence that the availability of weaving software and electronic dobby looms coincides with the development of network drafting, evolving patterns, loom controlled imagery, and other multi-shaft design techniques.

It’s Pretty, But Is It Cheating?

The inherent limitations of graph paper and treadle weaving can stifle experimentation and so limit a weavers creative urges.  Electronic dobby equipped looms, combined with the powerful design software available today, give the modern weaver an unprecedented opportunity to express themselves. The ease with which the weaver can go from an idea to woven fabric is truly astonishing.

So astonishing in fact, that some weavers have voiced the opinion that it is probably “cheating” to use these modern tools. Cheating?  Artists have always made good use of the best tools available to express their ideas; weaving software and the computer interfaced loom are simply the best tools available to the modern weaver.  In an era where there is never enough time for what we want to do, using tools that save time and effort just makes sense. Designing and weaving better, faster and easier isn’t cheating, it’s just smart!

*The formula used to calculate the “Sum of all Combinations” for weaving is:  2ⁿ-2=X (2 is the two possible states a shaft can be in {up or down} n is the number of shafts on the loom; -2 eliminates all up and down)  So an 8 shaft loom: 2×2=4×2=8×2=16×2=32×2=64×2=128×2=256×2=512-2=510.


Jannie Taylor is both a handweaver and educator.  She takes great pleasure in designing and producing one-of-a-kind or limited edition garments and home decor items.   She teaches to share her  extensive weaving knowledge and great enthusiasm with other weavers. Her goal is to provide weavers with the tools they need to turn their ideas into woven reality.

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