One way to make your handwoven cloth more intriguing is by using color to make it look more three-dimensional. We can do this because of how the eye perceives depth. The eye assumes that lighter colors are on top of darker colors, so by placing light colors next to gradually darker colors, we can create the illusion of depth. This makes our work look more three-dimensional, which also makes it more intriguing to the eye.

Here’s a draft that shows how this works. This cloth is completely flat – a 4-shaft broken twill. But it has stripes of color that make it look very three-dimensional:

4-shaft broken twill draft showing an optical illusion of curves

In this draft, the white stripes appear to be at the top of cylinders, while the dark stripes appear to be cast into the shadowy depths to the sides of the cylinders. This is because the eye assumes that the white areas are closer to the light and the darker areas are further from the light. The darker they are, the less light the eye thinks the area is receiving, and the further it must be from the light.

In the case of these stripes, the stripes start with very broad white stripes and then become narrower and narrower as they become darker, similar to what happens near the edges of a cylinder. So the eye thinks that, towards the edges, the dark areas are moving further and further from the light very quickly, creating a sense of great depth in those areas.

Changes in warp or weft yarn colors are a great way to create depth. In the silk-cashmere shawl below, value changes (changes in lightness/darkness) across the warp, from light turquoise through darker purple and back to a slightly lighter magenta, give a feeling of depth to the shawl.

The turquoise stripe is lighter than the rest of the shawl, so floats to the top, appearing closer to the viewer than the darker purple stripe. At the same time, the purple stripe is slightly darker than the magenta, so the shawl appears to have subtle vertical ripples. Pretty!

turquoise, purple, fuchsia, and black silk/cashmere shawl, titled "Black Jewel"
“Black Jewel” shawl, by Tien Chiu

The shawl also has variation in depth from the draft, as the shading from the black weft-dominant areas to the colored warp-dominant areas creates the illusion of diagonal ripples in the cloth.

Weave structure can also be effective in creating depth. In the fabric below, the weave structure gently shades areas from weft dominant to warp dominant, giving the impression of soft ripples in the fabric. 

However, the amount of light/dark contrast between warp and weft matters a lot. The ripples only appear prominently in the gold stripes, where there is significant light/dark contrast between warp and weft. In the brown striped area, there is much less contrast, so the illusion of depth is not as strong and the fabric looks much flatter.

There are many other ways to create depth and shading in your handwoven fabric, which are covered in my Color & Design course. To learn more, check out! Note: Registration is closed for all my courses; I am now teaching at Handweaving Academy.

Happy weaving!

If you want to know more about how to create crisp, clear designs in your handwoven cloth, subscribe to my newsletter and get my FREE e-book! It will help you design beautiful handwoven fabrics, with a pattern as bold or subtle as you want.

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  1. Thank you so much for all the information you provide! I am a rigid heddle weaver, so I am not able to do as complex work as you, but your work is stunning!
    I was wondering if you have a favorite place or brand of yarn that you purchase. It seems some color pallets just don’t have the range of colors that you use in particular the ones in your article about shading & depth.

  2. I’m a new weaver….just scored a vintage Countryside 4 shaft floor loom…..I need all the help I can get! Looking for the ‘manuel’ for this loom and also an easy edition of Chandler’s book “Learning to Weave”….her family owned Countryside. Anxious to read ur newsletter and more!

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