August 2010                                           

                                                                                                                                                                                                             Download pdf 196 kb

Warps and the Warping Board
by Greig Kothe

Anyone can weave. Give them a dressed loom, tell them how to make a shed (or maybe two sheds) and off they go. The beat will probably not be regular and the selvages will no doubt leave a lot to be desired but the weaving itself was easy. I have had a 5 year old showing me how he learned to weave at school in France and I’ve had our elderly gardener come in and try his hand at a few picks. The child got bored because I did not have enough colours and the gardener was amazed at how easy it was. The hands of the 5 year old and the hard horny hands of the gardener did not match what I would have expected from an experienced weaver but nevertheless, they both wove. Similarly, given a double-harness loom and shown how to treadle, anybody can produce a fascinating piece without understanding the ‘how’ or why’ and certainly giving no thought to how the warp got onto the loom in the first place. I once had a gentleman enquire whether I would have to buy another loom ‘when that thread’ (the warp) was finished.
So now let us talk about ‘that thread’ and remember that many of my comments are aimed at beginner weavers.
Try to avoid novelty yarns – nubby, thick and thin, chenille boucle etc. These are not impossible but I cannot recommend them for a beginner, for the moment, avoid mixing weights and yarns that are of mixed vegetable and animal fibres. Check for undue stretch. With synthetics it would be best to use the same thread throughout but more than one colour would be OK. Some synthetics have a greater tendency to stretch or shrink than others – a tendency which can change with the weather.

Don’t be tempted to make a very long warp on which you can weave all sorts of things. You are going to work on that same colour or colours or striped arrangement and on that same width for a long time – and when you have finished, the chances are that you will have forgotten how you made, beamed threaded, sleyed and tensioned the warp in the first place.
The word indicates the number of threads (or ends) per cm at which the warp should be threaded. A coarse rug warp might be set at 2 ends per cm while a finer thread would need maybe 6 or 16 ends per cm. Regardless of what yarn you are going to use, the sett is most important.
Much has been written about finding the correct sett in the industry. Invariably the formulae include the use of the yarn number and there is still unfortunately so much confusion in our minds with the imperial and the metric numbering systems. Then too we have the many synthetics available and yarns which have a percentage of this and that to say nothing of the yarns which are completely unnumbered. A beginner would be wise to ask a more experienced weaver’s opinion. The sett depends so very much on the fabric required that there are no general rules. You do not want the slippage which could come from too low a sett, neither do you want a sett which will make it virtually impossible to open a shed thanks to its being too high.
A practical way to establish a reasonable sett is to wind the warp yarn around a ruler. The number of turns required to cover 1 cm, would then be divided by 2 to give you the number of warp ends needed to produce a good tabby using the same weight (thickness) for warp and weft.

                                 How close to each other would you place the turns on the ruler?

                                         Not packed on top of each other but pretty close.

I must pause here. Some years ago a British handweaver was in SA offering weaving courses. (I like to believe that she was very surprised at the high standard of weaving which already existed here). Pam Curtis took a course with her and passed on to us a nice alternative to a ruler – use a thick dowel rod. Somehow it just seems easier to wind around a round stick than a flat ruler.

I have also mentioned weaving a ‘good tabby’ and the term perhaps needs explanation. Have you heard the term 50/50? When weaving tabby, try to beat down exactly the same number of picks per cm or inch, as you have warp ends. e.g. 8 warps per cm and 8 weft picks. This could be described as a good 50/50 weave.
Now back to the sett. If you are planning to weave a twill instead of a tabby, your sett needs to be higher. One and a half times as many ends as you calculated for a tabby.
Just one or two little tips that might solve what looks like a miscalculation as far as the sett is concerned….

If, when you begin to weave up your warp, you feel you are not beating down your tabby picks as you would like to and feel that you have too many ends per cm, then try weaving a twill or try using a slightly thinner weft. You could even use shafts 1&2 and 3&4 instead of the usual 1&3 and 2&4.

If, on the other hand, you feel you don’t have quite enough warp ends, try using a slightly thicker weft.
Most reeds today are manufactured according to the metric count but many older looms still have the Imperial (or British) sett. No matter which, the reed in your loom must be taken into account when planning a warp. I am going to talk metric. Probably the most popular reed in this country is the 40/10. This means that there are 40 dents to every 10 cm. Many other sizes are available.

The word ‘reed’ incidentally comes from the fact that split reed stalks were originally used. Today the blades are usually made of steel or brass.
Say you have a 40/10 reed and your careful calculation gives you a required 7 ends per cm (epc). Threading at 1 end per dent would give you 4 epc, while 2 threads per dent would set the warp at 8 epc. But your reckoning says that you need 7 epc. You could thread 2,2,2,1 but this will cause a faint reed mark going on all the way through the finished piece. It would probably disappear after being washed a few times or the slight irregularity might even be pleasing. I would personally settle for 8 epc. Were it a question of 6 epc, I would happily go for threading 2,1,2,1.
Long ago Hannie Odendaal and I were each producing a perfect 50/50 tabby on a yarn we bought at the Pretoria Weavers’ Guild. She set it at 22 ends per inch while I wove at 18 epi. Much later I discovered that she had an 11 reed in her loom while mine was a 9. So much for careful calculation!
Never ever feel ashamed to discuss the question of sett with other weavers if you are at all in doubt. Hobbyists are generally very helpful people.

Finally you will need to decide how long and how wide to make your warp.

Add on for shrinkage and experimentation. As you weave, you will no doubt wonder what it would look like if you did this or if you tried that. The first 10 to 15 cm of the length will be used up at the beginning of the warp for the tying up, and a certain length will be un-weavable. This will depend on your loom. The wastage on the average table loom could be 25 to 40 cm, while a floor loom could see a loss of up to 80 cm of any warp. Be sure to add on 50 to 100 cm to just to ‘play’ with.

The planned width will decide the number of warp ends, again add on an extra 3 or 4 cm for take up and shrinkage.

Let us assume that you need 200 warp ends each 3 metres long. To allow for knots you will need to make, cut what is known as a guide thread for the board. In this case it would have to be 3 metres plus approximately 30 cm in length. It should be a brightly coloured yarn quite unlike that which you will use for the warp. An overhand knot at each end is required (hence the extra 30 cm). This guide thread is now arranged on the pegs of the board so as to indicate the route to follow when making the 200 required warp threads. The diagrams show why you should start with 4 parallel pegs and end with 3.

Perhaps you are wondering why we need a cross, let alone 2 of them.  It is absolutely essential that the threads lie next to each other over the full length of the warp and the only way they can do so is if the regular order is obtained and maintained throughout.

A warp can be wound with a single thread but it is an unnecessarily long business. I plan to talk about using 2 threads at a time and making a cross at both ends of the warp. At the beginning we make what is known as the threading cross and at the other end we will make a raddle cross. You might well at some time come across the words porrey (or porry) cross and portee cross, these are old fashioned words for threading cross and raddle cross. Try to give yourself enough time to make the whole warp in one go. This helps to retain the tension. For the same reason, only one person should work on the same warp. When the 200 threads have been wound, separate the 2 threads in your hand but do not release the tension until you have knotted them firmly together against the peg. Before cutting the balls off, it would be as well to check that you have indeed made 200 warp threads. In fact, it is as well to get into the habit of tying off every 20 ends while you are actually winding your warp.

In order to do this you will need to put the ends down. Do not leave them just hanging loose. Carefully wind them a few times around the starting peg (at the threading cross) and put them down on either side of the first peg in such a way that you will, in no way, twist them when you pick them up again after the count. Place a piece of yarn underneath the cross, count off 20 ends and cross the thread over those counted. Continue to count the warp ends and cross the thread after each group of 20. At the end you will find it much easier to check the number of bundles than it would be to count the ends individually.

Having gone to all this trouble, you are not going to remove the warp from the board without ensuring that you will be able to find the crosses and the loops when the warp is no longer held in place.


Warping as you have with two threads but making a single thread crossing at the beginning, a ‘half cross’ has been formed between the first two pegs (see diagram). It is unnecessary but unavoidable with this method of winding. Just ignore it completely. Cut two pieces of yarn roughly 30 cm long. At the last peg, (i.e. the raddle cross) slip one of these pieces down the inside of the end loop and knot the two ends together with a firm overhand knot. Do the same with the second piece but at the first peg (i.e. the threading cross). Later when you take the warp off the board, you will be able to find the loops at the beginning and the end.

Next, you have to secure the crosses in a way which will enable you to find and use them when you are beaming the warp. This time you will require two pieces of yarn considerably longer. They need to be at least 2½ times the planned width of your weaving. Using one of the pieces slip one end down the inside of the cross, up the other side of the cross and once again knot the ends together firmly. The piece now forms a circle of yarn around the crossed warp ends. Grasp the loops on either side of the piece using both hands, cross these loops and wrap them rigidly around the crossed warps a few times and finish with a single knot and a bow. Tie the cross at the other end in the same way.
Now there remain only one or two small ties. Consider the planned length of your warp. At intervals of approximately one metre, the ends must be securely bound together to avoid upsetting the tension.
Since you have made a short warp, only one more tie would be considered necessary. One single piece of yarn is required. Slip it underneath the warp and, with the same crossing and binding action as you used at the crosses, tie a firm single twist and a bow.

You are now ready to chain off your warp. Starting at the threading cross, remove the warp loop from the peg and the cross. Using your hands for this step, make a loop in the warp and chain it off the pegs. Use both hands alternately so as not to twist the chain and when you reach the last cross, tie the last loop of the chain and the loop around the last peg together. Use a yarn which is quite unlike those you have used thus far. When it comes to the un-chaining there will be no doubt in you mind about where to start.

Now how about winding and chaining off another warp to help you remember exactly where to put the ties and the crosses? Having one or two warps planned and wound in advance is a great incentive to weaving.

There is no ‘best way’ to warp. If you are perfectly satisfied with the way you warp there might be no need to change. However, always be awake to possible improvements or even just little tips. Watch the way others warp and be ready to change your approach. Making, beaming and threading a warp should not be a chore. As you gain experience you will find this task a pleasant challenge. It is an integral part of the weavers craft and vital to the success and quality of the finished article.
Greig Kothe is an exceptional weaver and teacher of note.

Submitted by the Johannesburg Weavers and Spinners Guild.