The Differences Between Direct and Indirect Warping for Rigid Heddle Looms

by Liz Gipson

I often get asked about the functional differences between the direct and indirect warping method for rigid heddle looms. There are pros and cons to each and like many other choices you make when weaving, the right answer depends on your circumstances and preferences.

Teachers are often faced with a choice of teaching the most expedient method, the one easiest to learn, or the one that mitigates some of the potential issues you may, or may not, have down the line.

Here is an example of how this plays out: The first decade of my teaching career, I taught primarily using the indirect, warping-board/peg method, because I felt like it gave folks the best footing for their weaving life. However, it is not the quickest method to learn when you are totally new to the craft. The indirect method is not hard to learn, but the direct method is so slick that I was won over by teaching the direct method to start weavers on their journey.

I will not say one is better than the other; you either put in the work in the front end or put it in on the back end. For beginners, the less you have to tussle with the front end the better. In many cases, the issues that the indirect method may mitigate aren’t really all that bad and can be solved with a little know-how. 

Whatever method you learn first tends to become your favorite method. Weavers can psych themselves out that indirect warping is hard and direct warping is limited depending on which they learned first. 

These days, I base my teaching on the idea that if you learn the most expedient way, then it is easier to learn the more comprehensive way. 

Indirect vs. direct, is not really a binary choice, there are multiple ways you can approach direct and indirect warping. Here is a short bird’s eye view of how I differentiate the two.

Direct Warping Method

The direct method is great for learning to set up your loom and for warping solid or simply-striped warps made of even-numbered ends. This philosophy extends to one heddle or more. 

Pros:

  • Exceedingly easy to learn.
  • The direct method’s superpower is combining the measuring and slot threading into one step and never having to manage the warp independently of the loom.
  • If the warp is measured straight from the apron rod to the peg, it makes packing the beam a little easier since you haven't introduced any bends into the warp. 

Cons:

  • Depending on your set-up, it can be hard on your body if you need to stoop for very long. 
  • Because it is worked in a paired system—meaning each loop you bring to the peg ultimately becomes two ends—it can be tricky to do a lot of colorwork that involves stripes made of odd-numbered ends with lots of color changes. How tricky depends on the warp layout. (Weaving 201 is devoted to learning the fundamentals of colorwork and I focus almost entirely on modifications to the standard direct method, so it isn’t that it can’t be done, it is just a matter of what is, perhaps, optimal).

Indirect Warping Method

The indirect method’s superpower is that you do all the threading first, slots and holes, and then pack the beam, thus eliminating the majority of crossed ends that can occur when you are moving yarns around after packing the beam. This is particularly true when doing colorwork with odd-numbered ends and colorwork in some two-or three-heddle weaves. 

Pros:

  • It can be easier to set yourself up comfortably when winding the warp.
  • The warp is wound independently from the loom, so if you get interrupted you can easily set the work aside.
  • Packing the beam after threading reduces crossed ends.
  • Winding the warp first makes it easier to manage complicated warp layouts and colorwork.

Cons:

  • It takes a bit more effort to learn than the direct method. 
  • The warp is threaded independently from the loom, offering more opportunity for the yarns to escape from your control.
  • Depending on how you wind your warp and transport it to the loom, you may introduce bends that can make packing the beam take a little bit more know-how. 
  • It takes a little bit more time. Once you have mastered the skill, a standard scarf-sized warp takes about 20 minutes via the direct method and 45 minutes using the indirect method.

Choosing the Right Method for Your Project

Within each of these two methods, there are multiple ways to modify them depending on your needs. There is the hybrid method that uses a warping board or peg(s), or any household item that serves the same purpose, to compact the warping into a smaller, more comfortable area for winding when using the direct method. If your sett allows, you can double your ends and thread the slots and holes at the same time and easily warp single ends of different colors. There is the cut and wrap method that allows you to add odd-numbered ends to a direct wrap.

I recently updated my warping choices blog post which lays out the kind of decision-making matrix that goes into my thinking about how to choose the many, many ways you can warp a loom. 

Warping is not a single path. Like casting on for knitting, there are many ways to do it, and why you might choose one over the other depends on the circumstances. Or, you can alway use the same method and just find a work around to the issues that may arise. 

About Liz Gipson

Smitten by small looms and big plans, most of my weaving life is focused on creating know-how for the rigid-heddle weaver including collaborating with Gist to create the PlayBox series. I host Yarnworker, a site for rigid-heddle know-how and inspirations and its companion learning space Yarnworker School. From my home in central New Mexico, I weave, write about weaving, and dream-up, film, edit, and host the weave-alongs and classes. This space is supported by an amazing Patreon community who make all the weaves possible.

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