How to Read a Weaving Draft

by Amanda Rataj

A weaving draft is the key to setting up your project correctly, but like any language, there’s a steep learning curve at first. Not only are there regional dialects (Swedish drafts, for example) and different meanings (lift vs lower) but getting your eyes familiar with the up, down, left, and right of it all can be challenging — or at least it was for me the first time I looked at a draft!

The good news is that once you learn how to read a 4-shaft weaving draft, you can make any pattern you want (as long as you have enough shafts and treadles, of course) — and you’ll also have a better understanding of what’s happening when you’re weaving, which will make you a more confident weaver.

There are four parts to reading a weaving draft: the threading, tie-up, treadling, and draw down. Weaving drafts are always represented using a grid, with filled in squares representing threads. You read a weaving draft from a bird’s eye view, as if you were looking down on your shafts and treadles from above.

Threading

The threading is the horizontal grid at the top of the draft. Each row represents a shaft, with the one on the bottom representing the shaft closest to you (shaft one), and the one on the top, (four) the farthest.

The columns in the threading draft represent a single end — one thread. When you are setting up your loom, you’re going to want to look to your threading draft to find out what shaft each thread needs to be on, moving from the right to the left.

Tie-up

The tie-up is the connection point between your threading draft and the pedals (or levers) you operate while weaving. When you press a treadle, the tie-up tells the loom which shafts rise and which shafts fall (depending on the type of loom you have — but more on that later).

The tie-up is represented by the small square at the upper right of your weaving chart. Like the threading, it is read bottom-up from the left to the right, and the average 4-shaft weaving pattern will have four rows and 4-6 columns. The rows represent the shafts (just like the threading!), and the columns represent your treadles.

Filled in squares in your tie-up represent the what shafts are tied to what treadle. In my example, the first column (treadle one) has squares one and two filled in (shafts one and two). The second column has the second and third row squares filled in, meaning shafts 2 and 3 — and so on.

Treadling

The treadling is the grid that travels vertically below the tie-up. The treadling is the instructions that you’ll follow when sitting at your loom: each row represents one pick of weft/one throw of your shuttle, while each column represents a treadle. It is read from the top (closest to the tie-up) down.

Drawdown

This is a visual representation of what happens when you are weaving and it’s positioned under the threading draft and to the left of the treadling. It shows what each warp and weft thread is doing during each pick.

How it Works Together

Let’s look at the first four picks in this sample. Looking to the treadling, you can see that the first row’s first column is filled in, which means we’ll be pressing treadle one. Follow the column up and into your tie-up. When you press treadle one, you are going to be raising the shafts represented by the filled in squares — in this example, that’s every square in your threading that is on shafts 1 and 2. When you look to the drawdown, you can see the first pick (which is Mallo in Brick) appears in the drawdown whenever it’s below an end that’s on shafts 1 or 2.

The next pick (in Steel) is in column two, which raises all threads connected to shafts 2 and 3, while the third pick (Icicle) raises shafts 3 and 4, and the fourth (Coal) raises 1 and 4.

how to read a weaving draft

Reading a Swedish Weaving Draft

The biggest difference between Swedish and North American weaving drafts is that you’ll find your threading and tie-up at the bottom of the page instead of the top. This is because in Sweden they read their drafts as if they are sitting at the loom — which makes a lot of sense once you think about it, since it’s very much like following a map where you start at the nearest point and end up at the farthest.

Some of the differences you will find are that shafts are numbered from the back of the loom to the front, which makes shaft four the bottom row of the threading draft and the shaft that’s closest to you when you’re seated at the loom. In the tie-up, you’ll find that treadle 1 is the column at the far right, and that they are numbered from right to left.

If you’re feeling confused, don’t fret — if it makes more sense to you to think of the bottom row as shaft one or as treadle one being the left-most pedal, you’ll be okay! These are just names that we apply to the grid to make it easier to explain — it’s more important to be consistent in your pattern reading so that you’re raising or lowering the right warp threads at the right time so that you get the pattern that you’re expecting.

Lifting vs. Lowering

One thing to note about weaving drafts is that there are some differences depending on where you’re reading them. For example — Gist’s patterns are written for rising shed (jack) looms, which are more common in the United States, while I generally write my patterns for a sinking shed (counterbalance) loom, which are more common here in Canada. When it comes to Swedish patterns, the filled in squares are for the shafts that lower, since many looms in Sweden are countermarch and you need to tie up all shafts for lifting and lowering.

If you’ve ever started a new project only to feel that the pattern looks strange, these differing loom styles might be the cause, since the tie-up for a pattern written for counterbalance looms will be raising the ‘wrong’ threads on a jack loom. You can easily correct for this by tying up the white squares instead of the black — or you can just keep weaving, since the ‘right’ side is just hidden from view on the underside of the cloth. It’s not really right or wrong — think of it more as looking at the front or back of the cloth (see the images below!). 

Other Things You Might See

Because there are a lot of different styles for making weaving drafts, you might come across other markings while exploring drafts. Some folks prefer to number their threads with the shaft or treadle number to make it easier to read where they are in their pattern. You may also come across tie-ups that contain exes or circles instead of squares — this is a great universal way to note which shafts sink (the exes, or anchors) and which shafts rise (the circle, or bubble).

Where to Start

Here are a three great free weaving projects in the Gist library that will help you become familiar with looking and reading a weaving draft.

1. The Mixed Twill Scarf by Elizabeth Springett incorporates three different kinds of twill: point twill, broken twill, and balanced twill. This project will give you a great introduction to the different ways twill can be threaded on the loom.

2. The Cafe Table Runner by Sarah Resnick will introduce you to lace weaving, which has a very different tie-up from twill and a creates a wonderful effect once washed.

3. The Halvdräll Towels by Arianna Funk are a two-shuttle weave where some threads float over a background of plain weave. This is very simple and visually effective draft that will really help you understand how a textile is made — and bonus, you can practice your Swedish weaving draft reading!

Visualizing Drafts

All you need to make a weaving draft is a piece of graph paper and a pencil, and it can be very meditative to draw out your project by hand — and a great way to really learn what’s going on. But sometimes doing it the slow way can eat up time when I’d much rather be weaving, and that’s when weaving software for your computer or iPad can make the job much faster.

I use Fiberworks Bronze in my practice, and I know a lot of weavers who like WeavePoint — while full versions of these programs can be expensive, most weaving software has tutorials and trials that you can play with before purchasing. I’ve never used it, but WeaveIt is an affordable program that works on both Windows and Apple desktops as well as iPads.

About Amanda Rataj

Amanda Rataj is an artist and weaver living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has developed her contemporary craft practice through research-based projects, artist residencies, professional exhibitions, and lectures. Her textile focus of the material and conceptual nature of vernacular, everyday objects used for the home and body; her work (and weaving patterns) are available at her website, and at Guildworks, or by commission.



Also in Weaving Resources

How to Fix Warp Tension Issues on Rigid Heddle Looms
How to Fix Warp Tension Issues on Rigid Heddle Looms

by Liz Gipson

Learn the how to prevent tension problems on your rigid heddle loom while warping, and how to fix tension issues while weaving.
Fringe Finishing Techniques
Fringe Finishing Techniques

by Amanda Rataj

This article covers two basic finishing techniques: hand twisted and braided fringe. A fringe is more than a decorative element—it also secures your weaving. These simple and beginner-friendly techniques can be used on a variety of projects, such as scarves, rugs, and towels.
Ashford Boat Shuttle for Weaving
Weaving Glossary

by Susie Martinez

New weavers can often be intimidated by all of the new terminology. From treadles to heddles, there’s so much to learn. Fear not, dear weaver! This glossary of terms will tell you everything you need to know.