Twills on 4 shafts

Let’s celebrate twills! They are an enormous family of weaves and a source of endless variation for the handweaver. I am going to start by talking about twills on 4 shafts as they are the foundation for much of the weaver’s repertoire. Later on we will look at how to extend the 4-shaft options to 8 shafts and beyond.


Twills are so versatile that in fact there is no such thing as ‘the twill threading’. The most common threadings which are used for twills are the straight draw

and the point draw.

The straight draw is a simple cycle through the shafts in one direction. This is repeated as many times as needed. The point draw introduces a reverse direction. In the example above, the basic unit of the point draw consists of six ends threaded on 1-2-3-4-3-2 and it is this unit which is repeated to create the threading. An extra warp thread has been added on shaft 1 to balance the draft at the end.

The unit of the point draw can be extended and the change of direction can take place anywhere, so there is already scope for variation.

This draft has a basic unit of eight ends, threaded on 1-2-3-4-1-4-3-2. The point has been extended so that it wraps around from shaft 4 to shaft 1 and then reverses.

When the point draft is extended to a basic unit of 10 ends, as shown above, it is often called Rosepath.

What most 4-shaft twill threadings have in common is that they maintain an odd-even-odd-even rhythm, which is only interrupted when a deliberate break in the pattern is desired. This vertical herringbone is created using a break in the odd-even rhythm after every eight ends.

draft for vertical herringbone

Twill progression

The defining characteristic of a twill is the way the interlacement takes a little step to the side on each successive pick. This is what gives a straight twill its strong diagonal lines.

In the top row of this drawdown we see that the weft covers the warp on shafts 3 & 4. On the next row down, the weft covers the warp on shafts 4 & 1: visually, it has taken a step to the right. Another step to the right, and the weft covers the warp on shafts 1 & 2. A third step and it covers the warp on shafts 2 & 3. After four such steps we get back to where we started, and the weft covers the warp on shafts 3 & 4 again. These steps are sometimes referred to as a ’twill progression’.

Lifts and Tie-ups

With four shafts, it takes four distinct lifts to complete a twill progression. However, there are three different twill progressions to choose from! The one shown above is the 2/2 or balanced twill. Two shafts are lifted for each pick, and if the sett is balanced you will see equal amounts of warp and weft on the face of the finished cloth.

The other options are the 3/1 (or warp-faced) twill, where you lift three shafts for each pick…

and the 1/3 (or weft-faced) twill, where you lift only one shaft for each pick.

As the names suggest, the warp-faced twill gives you more warp on the face of the cloth, while the weft-faced twill shows you more weft. As a bonus, you get the other twill on the back!

Altogether, then, there are 12 distinct lifts used to create these three twills. Add in the plain weave lifts for these threadings (1 & 3, 2 & 4) and you have all the 14 possible lifts on 4 shafts. If you have a table or dobby loom, this poses no problems at all: you can rush to your loom and start weaving straight away. If you are tying up a floor loom, however, you either need to choose one set of lifts to work with or use the universal tie-up (shared here by Peggy Osterkamp).

The universal tie-up links one shaft to one treadle, but orders them in a way that makes it as straightforward as possible to use two or three treadles at a time. This system is perfect for a jack loom, but won’t work for a countermarche loom, where the shafts which are not being raised need to be lowered. Janet Phillips has a solution for the countermarche weavers, shared here by Dot Lumb, but you do need eight treadles for the complete system. It would be ideal if you have an 8-shaft loom but are using only 4 shafts for a twill project.

Mixing it up

The glory of twills is that once you have the basic elements you can mix it all up and create hundreds of variations. You can plan a meticulous and detailed pattern, or just make it up as you sit at the loom. Here are a few resources to get you started.

There is, of course, a great deal available free online and searching on ‘free twill drafts’ will give you some options!

If you are thinking of buying a book, my top two for 4-shaft twills would be:

  • The Handweaver’s Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon, because of the huge number of twill drafts included with lots of interesting variations such as playing with colour placement and sett.
  • Designing Woven Fabrics by Janet Phillips, because of the detailed instructions for her fabulous large-scale sample blanket.

If there are resources you have found invaluable, please share them!

First posted on © Cally Booker

2 Responses

  • Oh, what a lovely surprise: I just downloaded the Twill instructions above and thought I better see who owned this information and was so very surprised to find it was you, how lovely. Thank you so much: i am struggling to make sense of all the twill instructions in my notes from you, just because ithas been such a long time. I have so many questions now as I am no longer like a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ which I decided I must have been back then as I had no real understanding of what was happening as I moved the shafts or indeed warped up. Chris bought me my 8shaft a couple of weeks ago and I am so excited and looking forward to getting to grips with it again, hence the search a few minutes ago. I knew about your revamped site of course and follow your emails. Oh, I don’t have a web site, but I do have an IP address which I have never given out before or know how to access.

    • Hello! How nice to see you back in the world of weaving, and with 8 shafts too – you will never be bored! Don’t worry about the website thing – you don’t need to fill it in.

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