When people ask me if weaving is complex, I usually tell them no, weaving is easy— it’s the warping and beaming that can be complicated. Every new weaver learns pretty quickly that there’s a lot to do before getting to the fun shuttle throwing part, and the first foundational weaving skill to learn is how to wind a warp.
There are about as many different ways to wind a warp as there are types of looms, but below I’m going to take you through the simplified steps to winding a warp using a warping board. My method is a pastiche of what I was taught, what I’ve ‘invented’ for myself, and is constantly changing as I learn from other weavers and new sources — so feel free to borrow different aspects of my way and add them to yours!
Note: If you are a rigid heddle weaver, this process is known as indirect warping.
The two most common warping tools for floor loom weavers are a warping board* or warping mill. A mill is upright and spins on an axis, while the board is a flat frame that can be placed on a table or mounted to the wall. I have a drafting table in my studio that I use to put my warping board on a slight angle — this makes it more comfortable to use.
(* as a note: Justin Squizzero of The Burroughs Garrett notes that a warping board is actually a set of bars or pegs mounted onto a single wooden piece, and that the more accurate terminology for what’s pictured in this article is warping bars. I always learn so much about weaving from following him on Instagram!)
I use a smooth, strong yarn to make a guide thread, ties, count my ends, and save my cross. I like using mercerized cotton because it is strong, does not stretch, and it unties smoothly.
The pegs on my warping board are removable, and I like to take the ones I’m not using off so that I have extra room for my hands. If you can’t do this, a little piece of washi or painter’s tape can help you remember which pegs to go around. These tapes won’t leave sticky residue on your yarn or warping board.
Before we start winding our warp, let’s orient ourselves on the warping board. I like to start at the top of the board and wind towards myself, putting the cross on the same three pegs on the bottom right side of my board, but it doesn’t matter if you like to do it the other way — just be consistent. For this warping how-to, I’m going to call the peg that I tie my warp to the starting peg and the last bar, the one closest to the cross, the turning peg.
I like to suggest to beginner weavers that they use a guide thread to get comfortable measuring their warp. My board measures exactly 36” (one yard) across, so it’s pretty easy to visually see how many yards I’m putting on, but a guide thread makes it much faster. Cut your guide thread to the exact length of warp that your project specifies, and use your painters tape to tape it to the starting peg and the turning peg. Adjust the path your guide thread takes between the pegs until it is as exact as you can make it — if you can’t get it exact, err on the side of longer rather than shorter. Your guide thread can stay on the warping board or be removed.
Tie your warp yarn to your starting peg and follow the path you created with your guide thread until you are nearly at your turning peg.
Just before you reach the turning peg, you’re going to want to create a cross. The cross keeps your threads lined up one after another and aids with tension when weaving. I create a cross using the last three pegs of my warping board. I start by going under the third last peg and over the second last peg, finishing at the turning peg. This completes your first warp end.
Wrap your yarn around the turning peg, and then create the second leg of the cross by passing your thread under the second last peg and over the third last peg, creating two crossed threads in between pegs 2 and 3 — they will look like an X. Continue following the path back to the starting peg. This is your second warp end.
Now that you’ve established the path of your warp thread and created your cross, you’re going to repeat steps 2-4 until you have enough warp ends.
Now that you understand the basic actions of creating a warp, let’s fill in the rest of the things you should keep in mind while winding.
Once you’ve completed your warp and tied off the ends, use your smooth and strong waste yarn to tie off some important parts. You’ll want to tie:
A simple knot and bow will do for tying your cross, but I use the following knot to tie along my warp.
Take a length of your waste yarn and fold it in two, with the loop facing up.
Wrap this around your warp, putting the live ends through the loop and pull tight.
Keeping tension on the loop, take each end and wrap them around the warp, and tie into a square knot and bow.
I like to tie this kind of knot every 20” or so along my warp — the more knots, the better controlled your threads will be off the warping board, and the tidier your resulting warp will be.
Like every part of the weaving process, winding a successful warp takes time, patience, and practice. Paying extra attention to warping can really pay off when you do get to weaving. I have to confess…. Warping isn’t my favourite part of the weaving process (especially when I’m putting on a couple hundred ends!), but I don’t mind spending the extra time doing it if it means many happy hours of smooth and snag-free weaving.
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.