Thursday, March 5, 2015

The thrilling tale of a warp, part 2

Last week, I started a series of posts about the steps involved in making a handwoven garment.  In the first installment we saw how the warp yarn is measured out and "beamed" (wound between layers of cardboard on the loom's back beam). The warp forms the lengthwise grain of the fabric.

The next step is threading, inserting each thread one at a time through a metal heddle attached to one of the shafts.  A moment for vocabulary:  the shafts or harnesses are wooden frames that move up and down as the weaver presses the foot pedals, or treadles, of the loom in sequence.  The combination of threading and treadling sequences creates the woven pattern seen in the fabric.

You can see in the photo below that the heddles, about 200 on each shaft, are attached to metal bars at the top and bottom of each wooden shaft.  My loom has four shafts, allowing for a wide variety of patterns, but many looms have 8, 16, or even more shafts, allowing for an almost infinite variety of increasingly complex patterns. 

I am inserting each warp thread through the center "eye" of the correct heddle.   The heddles are threaded in a particular sequence (in this case 1234 1212 3434 1234 1313 2414 repeated 14 times--a traditional pattern called Ms and Os) on the shafts to produce a pattern.  Weavers tend to mutter long strings of numbers under their breath; there is a lot of counting involved in weaving.

Above you can see that most of the warp has been threaded through the heddles and I am threading the last remaining  warp ends.  Below all the heddles have been threaded. 

After threading, the warp threads must be inserted through a comb-like reed that spaces them evenly for the full width of the piece.   The stainless steel reed (with bright blue top and bottom edges in the photo below) sits in the beater, a wooden frame that the weaver uses to "beat" or press each weft pick into place in the fabric (more on this next time).  At this point I have to re-configure the loom, taking away temporary tools like the raddle and putting back in place the beater and the breast beam that I had removed at the start for easier beaming and threading.

The threads must be centered in the reed, so I measure half the width of the fabric out from the center of the reed (here, 9-1/2") and start inserting the threads, or sleying the reed, there.  I use a long hook to pull them through each slot in order. In this case two threads are pulled through each slot for the proper density, or sett, of the fabric (here, 24 ends per inch).

After sleying the reed, the front ends of the warp will be tied on to the front of the loom so that the entire warp is held under tension from front to back.  Luckily the warps can be tied on in little bunches, not individually!  I tug each bundle three times, working my way across, to make sure the tension on each one is equal. 

Don't they look pretty all tied on? 

Next I spread the warp by weaving in some waste yarn, to bring those bunches closer together.  I like to use shoelaces since they are easy to remove later and can be re-used.  I have heard of folks using all sorts of things for waste weft, including toilet paper and plastic bags!

Once the warps are fairly evenly spaced, one step remains before I can finally start weaving.  I need to tie each shaft in the correct combination to the treadles below, to yield the woven pattern I want.  This is called tying up.  Referring to my handy cheat sheet, I get down on the floor and tie up the heddles appropriately.  Here you can see that each treadle has two shafts attached to it.

When I was first learning to weave in classes at the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild here in Atlanta, it took me five weeks of class sessions (out of the 8-week class) for me to get the loom completely warped.  I remember complaining, "I don't know why anyone would choose to do this more than once!"  All I wanted to do was start throwing that shuttle and weave!  Nowadays I can wind a warp and warp the loom in a day, though usually I spread it out over a day or two. 

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion to our tale--actually weaving! 

P.S. Many thanks to my dear husband Sam for taking the photos in this series of posts.  

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