All About Tabby

Handwoven Magazine Ask Madelyn

Hi Madelyn,

I've got a question about tabby. What exactly is it and what is the purpose? I have been weaving for about ten years but not often enough to be called anything buy a beginner. After making several scarf-type projects, I noticed some patterns call for tabby and some do not.

Is it a separate draft other than the pattern? Since my looms have only four shafts, but some have four or six treadles for the four shafts, how would I treat tabby in a more complicated draft? I use one or two floating selvedges on each side, usually with each in its own dent.


—Sheryl Webb
Woven Dreams Farm

Hi Sheryl!

The word "tabby" is often misused (or maybe that's too strongly put: "confusingly used" might be better). The interlacement referred to by the word "tabby" is plain weave. However, most of the time plain weave is called plain weave. The word "tabby" is more accurately used as an adjective for the weft that weaves a plain-weave ground cloth when there is also a pattern weft. Therefore, summer and winter, overshot, tied unit weaves, etc., all have a tabby weft (and a pattern weft). I've always reserved the word "tabby" for that purpose, but as with all weaving words, usage varies a lot and, unfortunately, we don't have an Oxford Dictionary of Weaves to refer to as an authority.

Some drafts, for overshot in particular, do not show the tabby picks in the treadling diagrams and instead include the words "Use Tabby." That just means that, alternating with the pattern weft, you use a tabby weft (to weave the plain-weave ground cloth). You alternate the two tabby treadles, too, making it confusing because there are two alternations going on: one tabby pick, pattern pick, other tabby pick, pattern pick. The draft will always either show the actual tabby picks or say to use tabby. Otherwise there is no tabby involved.


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