(I wrote this article for the Designing Fabrics Study Group as part of the 2015 article exchange. I hope this will be helpful for weavers interested in designing their own fabric!)
Here are the books on fabric design that I’ve found most useful.
- Color Works, by Deb Menz, is my go-to reference for color. It discusses the basic elements of color theory, with tons of examples from fiber arts: weaving, spinning, beading, embroidery, etc. Everything is explained very clearly. (Deb just released two new videos with Interweave – Color Families and Value and Harmony – I’ve downloaded them but haven’t watched them yet.)
- A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color And Beyond, by Heather Thomas, is my next reference. It has a more extensive discussion of color theory with lots of examples, but is entirely in a quilting context – still, a very good discussion of color.
- Designing Woven Fabrics by Janet Phillips is a great reference for overall fabric design. It begins with a structure gamp on four shafts, and has brief discussions on color, yarn characteristics that affect design (dyeing, color, matte/shiny, thick/thin, S and Z, elastic yarns, etc.), sett, and wet-finishing. But the bulk of the book is a series of fabrics, each with photos, a “design brief” that talks about the characteristics of the design, and an explanation of the design choices made and the reasons for each choice. It is a wonderful tour into the mind of a designing weaver.
- Adventures in Design by Joen Wolfrom discusses two-dimensional design in the context of quilting, complete with tons of luscious photos. It’s the best book on two-dimensional design I’ve found, for fiber artists.
- Handwoven, Tailormade by Sharon Alderman and Kathryn Wertenberger is a collaboration between a weaver and a seamstress. Sharon Alderman writes the first half of the book, and discusses fabric design extensively: choice of fibers, using color in weaving, fabric design (weave structure, yarn choices, sett, sampling, keeping notes), and weaving cloth intended for garments. She also offers tips on warping, weaving, fixing problems, and wet-finishing. The discussion of non-structural aspects of fabric design is one of the best I’ve seen yet.
- Woven Textile Design by Jan Shenton is a fantastic and quite encyclopedic discussion of textile design. It is loosely organized around weave structure, with chapters on plain weave, twill, supplementary warp and weft patterning, and double cloth – but it also has detailed chapters on color and weave, warp and weft distortions, and textured weaves (waffle weave, seersucker, crepe weaves, and more). I haven’t had a chance to read through it in detail but it promises to become an invaluable reference and inspiration in my library.
- Pattern Techniques for Handweavers by Doramay Keasbey is the most encyclopedic book I’ve found on weave structures. While it is not “deep” in any one weave structure, it hasn’t failed me yet – when I come across a weave structure I’ve never seen before, this is the book I reach for to find out more about it.
- Mastering Weave Structures by Sharon Alderman has an excellent and also quite encyclopedic discussion of different weave structures, with woven examples of each structure. Each structure and its construction is explained clearly and simply, with many example drafts and photos. When I don’t feel I fully understand a structure and want to read about it in detail, this is the book I turn to. The main difference between Mastering Weave Structures and Pattern Techniques for Handweavers is that Mastering Weave Structures focuses on an explanation of the structure and Pattern Techniques for Handweavers focuses on how to design in that structure.
- Exploring Multishaft Design by Bonnie Inouye is the best book I’ve seen for learning to design your own drafts. It covers the process of designing your own drafts in a wide range of weave structures, starting with simple structures like twills and progressing to more complicated structures such as double weave, lace weaves, multiple color warps, etc. It is not a book to be read through once and absorbed – the best way to use this book is as a collection of exercises, working your way through each chapter and weaving/drafting samples. I learned to draft from this book, with help from Bonnie, and still think it’s the best book around. (Don’t be fooled by the fact that the examples are 16-shaft; I worked through many of the examples on an eight-shaft loom and found them very informative.)
- The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers, by Madelyn van der Hoogt, starts by discussing basic weave structures, then explains how to draft with blocks: reading profile drafts and converting them to thread by thread drafts. Then it discusses various unit weaves and how to work with them in blocks. This is a good book for those already somewhat familiar with design, but I found Bonnie Inouye’s Exploring Multishaft Design easier to understand as a beginning draft designer. The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers also focuses on drafting with blocks, whereas Exploring Multishaft Design covers many non-unit weaves.
- Designing with Blocks by Doramay Keasbey is an excellent book on, well, designing with blocks. It discusses profile drafts, including strategies for designing the profile draft as well as the mechanical substitution transforming a profile draft into a thread-by-thread draft. It contains keys for many block weaves, and discusses variations on blocks such as partial blocks, star and diamond pattern variations, etc. Since designing with blocks can be shaft and treadle hungry, it also includes a discussion of loom limitations and how to get around them.
Fiber and Finishing
- Magic in the Water by Laura Fry (and her A Good Yarn series) are the best books I’ve found about fiber choices and finishing. Not only do they contain a thorough discussion of different fibers and their characteristics, but they also contain physical woven samples before and after wet-finishing to show some of the dramatic changes that take place. While it is now out of print (and expensive), a CD version is still available from Laura.
This is, of course, by no means an exhaustive list – there are many other books on my design shelf, especially books about designing a particular weave structure or type of material. But these are my favorites, the ones I reach for most often. I’d love to hear about any additions you might have to the list!