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Terms used in balloon fabric construction

In our daily lives we are surrounded by all kinds of fabrics. To differentiate the myriad types, the textile industry has defined an equally large number of terms like weaving, looping, knitting, crocheting, knotting, webbing, lacework, meshwork, embroidery, quilting, plaiting, felt, macrame', braiding, and thousands more. In fact, there are so many that you can purchase entire dictionaries devoted to nothing but textile terms!

Since the textile industry has spent so much effort categorizing and naming the different fabric types and their methods of construction, it only makes sense for us to use their nomenclature and terminology when discussing the production of balloon fabrics.

Q. Huh? What's a "balloon fabric?"

A. In the textile world, the term "fabric" encompasses all textile manufactures which consist of basic elements (like threads or groups of threads) that are interworked (mechanically connected) to one another. A balloon fabric is a product made from interworked (interlinked, interlaced, wrapped, twisted, etc) balloons, usually (but certainly not limited to) 130's, 260's, or 350's. Much like interworking threads to form a tapestry or reeds to form a basket, any number of balloons and colors can be combined in any number of ways to form an intricate two or three dimensional creation. Balloon fabrics are often created to serve as decorations to hang on walls, as displays for rooms and store windows, and as unusual costumes.

Confused? Well, since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some pictures of sculptures made of balloon fabrics.

Q. Are you talking about "weaving?"

A. It's true that "weaving" is the term we've been using, but before balloon fabric becomes any more popular, we need to adopt some nomenclature; preferably the proper, established, accepted nomenclature that is already in use the world over. With this document I hope to prove to you that we should drop the term "weaving" from our balloon vocabulary.

Q. Hey, this is a crock. Making balloon creations like the sunbursts and lanterns in Marvin Hardy's "260Q Decorator" is just like making baskets. You know... basket-WEAVING! I oughtta know, I majored in it in college in the 60's...

A. Actually, that area of textile manufacture is called "basketry" or "basketmaking" and it too makes use of a wide variety of construction techniques. True; basketmakers do call one of their many techniques "weaving," but basketry weaving really does not meet the strict textile industry definitions of weaving. If you are interested in a unique set of terms and a classification scheme that works for all textiles, considering basketry to be a field unto itself causes nothing but problems. In Emery's book, the industry standard for textile classification, you will find an extensively researched essay on this issue. Unfortunately, it is too long to type in, so here is a summary:

Basketry - Cloth (p 208-210)

...It is much easier, of course, to distinguish a basket from a piece of cloth than to define the delimiting characteristics of either term, basketry or cloth. ...the terms "basketry" and "cloth"... are broadly generic and actually refer to fabric groupings that overlap in so many areas that neither group can be properly studied nor understood without reference to the other. The relationships between them are far more numerous than the differences, and while it is often relatively easy to distinguish individual examples as one rather than the other, separation of the two groups is necessarily arbitrary. The habit of treating them as disparate subjects for investigation has led unhappily to the use of different terms for identical structures, as well as frequent failure to recognize and record structural identity or similarities in closely related fabrics that happen to have been relegated to separate categories.

So, how does Emery distinguish basketry from cloth? Her tome proposes that it hinges on whether or not the result is pliable (Easily bent or folded; flexible, supple, yielding; easily molded or shaped, plastic. Flexible in character; conformable). She writes:

...it would seem reasonable as well as practical to conclude that "basketry" in general comprises fabrics which, due to the inherent inflexibility of some or all of their component elements, have little or no pliability; while in "cloth" there are no inherently rigid or inflexible elements...

I submit that any balloon fabric is necessarily pliable, and therefore should not be considered "basketry." As an aside, Emery points out a similar problem between terms used in basketry and lacework:

Lace - Basketry (p. 56)

The terms "lace" and "basketry" describe two qualitatively divergent developments of fabric art which have many techniques and structures in common, but share almost no terms.... The detailed terminology of lace reflects the history and geography of its development, and is based more on place association than technical features. ...[Basketry's] nomenclature is usually more or less descriptive of structural types and variations, although the use of terms is not standardized....

Specialists in all fields make use of many special terms which are of value and significance chiefly to fellow specialists. But inasmuch as there are structures common not only to the divergently developed fabrics of lace and basketry but also to the less elaborately specialized fabric forms, it is important to have terms in common by means of which the structural relationship between fabrics of otherwise unlike qualities may be known. The need for terms which are applicable and understandable in different fields is heightened by the lack of agreement among specialists on the use of terms in their own special fields!

The terminology problem:

What Marvin, Adrienne, Larry, Royal & Patty and others are doing is _not_ "weaving" in a strict sense (because there is no "warp" (fixed, tensioned thread system) and no "loom" to mechanically form at least two separate "sheds" in the warp.)

In addition to the few methods currently in use, there are many, many different constructions and techniques that can be used to produce balloon fabric.

If balloon fabric construction continues to advance without reference to a classification system, we will have more and more constructions with non-descriptive names like "Gymping," and we will create a new set of problems analogous to those mentioned above with cloth, lace and basketry.

The solution for balloon twisters:

  1. Use the proper, established, accepted nomenclature that is already in use the world over. The current techniques are more correctly termed "plaiting," "linking," or "braiding" (methods of fabric manufacture which require no mechanical aids or implements.) For example, on the cover of of the T. Myers catalog, Tom is wearing a hat that would be termed a "three element balloon braid."

    Our buddy Tom

  2. When you use another construction technique, find the correct terminology by matching it with the selected pictures and descriptions below. If you can't find a match there, go to the library and look it up in the extensive books by Emery or Seiler-Baldinger.

  3. Use "plaiting" when you want a single, catch-all term to use in place of the word we have been using (weaving). For example:
    A blanket "plaited" from balloons would be termed a "rectangular-shaped balloon fabric."

    A Christmas stocking "plaited" from balloons would be termed a "tubular balloon fabric."

    A spider web "plaited" from balloons would be termed a "circular balloon fabric."

The solution for the anthropologists and technical-writers:

Depending on which classification scheme you choose to adopt, the Marvin Hardy/Larry Moss sunburst/lantern construction method is

  1. according to Seiler-Baldinger: "Half-plaiting in which the interworking is looped wrapping."
  2. according to Emery: A two-single-element structure, comprised of a single "active" or "sewing" element progressively wrapping a single "passive" foundation element)
  3. in basketry: "Basketry weaving using "weavers" wrapped around "spokes."

and Royal & Patty Sorell's "Gymping" technique is

  1. according to Seiler-Baldinger: "Linking and Twisting"
  2. according to Emery: "twisted plaiting, or interlinking with twisted links"
  3. in basketry: "a variation of plaiting"

and Tom Myers' Hat is

  1. according to Seiler-Baldinger: "Multistrand Plaiting (Braiding)"
  2. according to Emery: "Oblique Interlacing (Braiding)"
  3. in basketry: ????


Some dry text follows. However, the pictures in the sections below (especially the excerpts from Emery's and Seiler-Baldinger's books) will give you a feel for the different fabric construction techniques that can be used with balloons. Many of these textile techniques have never before been applied to balloon fabrics. Study them and be the first on your block to make use of them!

  1. In this section we present some excerpts that emphasize the differences between weaving and plaiting.

    Here is how Mary Lois Kissell explains the differences between plaiting and weaving in her book.

    Here is a textile textbook's description of braiding/plaiting and weaving.

    Here is a textile textbook's description of braiding/plaiting and weaving.

    Here is a textile textbook's description of braided fabrics.

    Here is a textile dictionary's definition of plaiting.

    Here is a textile dictionary's definition of weaving.

    Here is another textile dictionary's definition of weaving.

    Here is a basketry textbook's description of braiding/plaiting and weaving.

    Q. OK, OK, enough already! You've convinced me that it should have been called "plaiting" all along. But people understand what I'm talking about when I say "weaving." Why should I call it "plaiting?" It sounds like what's on cheap jewelry.

    A. Well, I'll answer that with a question: How many legs does a dog have if you call a "tail" a "leg?" Exactly four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one, and besides, people are gonna look at you funny if you call tails "legs."

    Finally, there's no extra "i" when you talk about "gold plating".

  2. Contained here are some excerpts from Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger's book which deal with classification of the techniques for production of fabrics. Here you will find selected descriptions of different types of fabrics which could be produced using balloons.

  3. Seiler-Baldinger's classification system is essentially based on techniques, i.e. manufacturing methods. However, another classification system exists, which is primarily concerned with the structure or texture of the final product. This system, described in a book by Irene Emery, has become the standard for textile classification. Here you will also find descriptions of different types of fabrics which could be produced using balloons.

[Plaiting index] [Next: braids] [Examples]

Last modified: 20 Oct 1997 by MB