Thursday, February 26, 2015

The tale of a warp, Part 1

When I was in grad school I made a lot of artwork using paper I made myself.  I was describing the work and the process of papermaking to a friend, and she looked puzzled and said, "You know, Molly, you can buy paper now."

I get the same reaction about handweaving sometimes--why would you ever spend all the time and effort it takes to weave cloth and make garments by hand when you can buy these things so readily and cheaply?  Beautiful fabrics abound and "fast fashion" is so inexpensive as to be disposable.  Why weave?  Is it merely a harmless and rather peculiar hobby like, oh, building scale models of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks?  And why buy handwovens?  Why pay $75 or $95 for a scarf when you can snag one for $12 at Target?

I thought one answer might be found in looking at the process of making a handwoven item from start to finish.   How do I get from here. . . .

to here?

The first step in weaving any project is preparing the warp (the lengthwise threads that are stretched under tension on the loom).  The first step in preparing the warp is measuring it out.  Actually, before I can measure it out I have to determine how long and how wide the finished piece needs to be, in order to do the math to determine how many threads will be in the warp and how long they must be.  In order to do that I have to have a weaving draft, or pattern, in mind.  Every woven piece starts with at least a couple hours with graph paper, worksheets and a calculator.  (I've just purchased software that will allow me to bypass the graph-paper drafting I've been doing.  So much faster!  Woohoo!) 

 Here I'm winding the warp for this project, an infinity wrap ordered by a friend. This warp will be about 5 3/4 yards long (enough for two wraps) and 348 threads wide. The warping board allows me to easily measure and keep in order all this thread.  Fun fact:  One scarf contains 1500-2000 yards of thread--about a mile, more or less, every inch of which passes through my fingers twice before I'm done.

Before I can remove these measured threads from the warping board I have to tie them in several strategic places to keep the threads in order and keep them from tangling.  Then I form them into "chains" (like chain stitch in crochet, using my hand as the hook), to make them short enough to move around easily.

Here are two warp chains already wound and draped over the back of the loom, waiting for the last warp chain to be finished, so they can all be "beamed" or rolled onto the warp beam of the loom.  (The warp beam is wrapped in white canvas and tied to the apron rod with black shoestrings.)  The chains are resting for now between the nails of the raddle, that long piece of wood rubber-banded to the back beam, with the nails spaced 1" apart.  The warp was wound in one inch sections, so I can easily distribute the full width of the warp evenly all the way across.  
The next step is to position the warp chains in some temporary tools that allow me to get the warp onto the beam with minimal tangling, swearing and tears.  Below you can see how I've spaced the warp across the raddle in one inch sections.
You can see me holding two long lease sticks, positioned so as to keep the threading cross (never mind) in place. 
 Then comes the winding:  a process of standing in front of the loom, shaking and strumming the warp threads to encourage them to lay parallel to each other, and then tugging them all to put tension on them. 
Then I wind the warp onto the beam using a handle. I alternate shaking and strumming the threads, and turning the warp beam, several times, proceeding about a yard at a time, until nearly all the warp is wound on the beam.

I've inserted a roll of cardboard that winds on between the layers of warp thread on the beam, again to keep them from tangling and to keep the tension consistent. 

No matter what the fiber technique, it always comes down to controlling tension, doesn't it?  In the thread as well as the maker! Next comes threading.  A task for another day. . . .


  1. You must have hand-dyed that pretty warp. Anxiously waiting to see the weft you choose, and how the pattern looks. I haven't tried m&o's yet, but I want to, because the texture is so nice.

    1. Actually, Fran, the yarn is straight off the cone, 8/2 Tencel. Lots of color changes! Do try Ms and Os, it's fun! And check out Part 2 of this series, posted today, if you haven't yet.