The earliest textiles were made by man for his own clothing and dwellings. But it was not long before textiles became an essential article of commerce and trade between the peoples of the world. From China through India, over the Arabian desert to the ports of Egypt and Turkey, and across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, the textile trade began to grow and to flourish. Caravans brought beautiful silk brocades, cotton calicoes, gauzes, and fine linens from distant countries to Europe. Local craftsmen imitated these fabrics and were inspired to create new patterns and designs.
Even at that early time, fibers were woven into complicated and beautiful patterns. The earliest looms were probably just two sticks with strands of yarn stretched between them, forming the length of the fabric. These strands are called the warp. Another set of strands, the filling, was threaded back and forth, crossing over and under the warp yarns, perhaps with a needle. In the course of time, a stick of wood was inserted into the warp.
This wooden rod, the heddle, was made so that it could raise every other warp thread. The raising created a tentlike opening, which is now called the shed. The weaver wound the filling yarn around a longish piece of wood, the shuttle, and could pass the filling across the shed with one throw, instead of weaving it slowly over and under the warp yarns. In rug and carpet weaving, the filling is called weft.
During the 15th and 16th centuries. France took over the European textile industry when the kings of France lured skilled weavers from Italy and established them in the city of Lyons.
Oddly enough, it was religious persecution that carried the secrets of weaving to the rest of Europe. When the French Huguenots (Protestants) were deprived of their religious freedom in 1685, many of the Huguenot weavers fled and set up their looms in other European countries. The textile industry spread rapidly throughout Europe.