How to read a draft #1

Weaving drafts can be a bit brain bending at first, because all you see is a graph without any words. Also, because the little coloured boxes in the draft mean different things depending on which part of the draft you’re looking at! Once you get the hang of them though, they are a great tool.

So, let’s start with a draft for some basket weave, and imagine you’re sitting at your loom looking at this cloth; the bottom edge of the diagram is your cloth beam and the top edge is your fell line.

Because it’s basket weave it goes over, over, under, under:

diagram of basket weave

To create this over, over, under, under structure we need two shafts with pairs of threads alternating between shaft 1 and shaft 2:

threading diagram

So this part of the draft is your threading guide, with the black boxes indicating which warp thread goes on which shaft (for a rigid heddle loom, what goes in slots or holes).

How do you know which lever to press to raise, say, shaft 1? This is shown in another set of boxes to the side of the threading guide and is called the tie-up:

diagram of a tie-up

Here a black box indicates which shaft is tied to which lever or treadle. (With rigid heddle looms these are the up-shed and the down-shed.)

Finally, we need to know which lever / treadle to use for each pick of weft, so in the third set of boxes – the treadling order – a black box indicates a lever:

treadling diagram

And this is what the final draft looks like:

weaving draft for basket weave

The big area in the middle is called the draw-down and shows how the threads interlace. This isn’t always included.

Nor are the two sets of coloured boxes along the outer edge that show the colour order for warp (bottom) and weft (side) always shown.

One final note: In this example I’ve shown the threading guide and tie-up at the bottom of the draft, but you often see drafts where this sits at the top. The only difference when a draft is laid out like that, is you read the treadling order from the top to bottom rather than – as here – bottom to top.

In another post I’ll look at other ways that weaving patterns are written.


Actually weaving

So, your loom is set up and you’re ready to go. Now what?

The first thing you do is to open a shed so you can pop some scrap yarn in as weft, and then an alternate shed so you can do another pick of scrap yarn. You will start to see your warp threads even out (they’re usually bunched from being secured at the cloth beam). Note: you can also use paper/ card strips to do this.

Now you’re ready to start your pattern, so you grab your shuttle/s and work out what comes first in the “treadling order” i.e. which shaft/s get lifted first and which weft colour/yarn goes into that shed. If you’re doing a complicated or varying pattern, it’s good to put the instructions somewhere easy to see and where you can easily to mark off progress.

You might leave a nice long tail of weft sticking out on the first pick, if you want to use it to hemstitch the raw edge later, but for each pick of weft, you pass the shuttle through the shed and out the other side, leaving it at an angle (about 45 degrees seems to be recommended). This is so there is enough thread there to get pushed into place when you beat, without pulling at the edge where the weft entered the shed.

You bring your beater forward and push the thread into place.

Then you use the next treadle/lever to be pushed and wrap the weft around the selvedge and pass the weft through the “new” shed in the opposite direction, again leaving an angle of thread. Beat.

Repeat according to the pattern and when the “fell line” (i.e. where you are laying in new weft) gets too close to the reed, or the shed gets too shallow to pass the shuttle through comfortably, wind the bit you’ve woven onto the cloth beam.  That is weaving!

When you use all the warp on the loom, you are generally going to hemstich the raw edge at both the warp beam and the cloth beam ends to stop them fraying.

Finally, you’ll take the cloth off the loom, which I have to say is a very nice feeling.

Dressing your loom

There are plenty of sources of information (online and with every new loom) about how to get the warp in place, so I’m not going to do a step-by-step here. Instead I thought it’d be useful to look at the things – four I was struck by – that the instructions don’t always go into.

One: Direct warping, or not

Essentially there are two ways to measure out your warp; wind it onto a warping board, or put it directly onto the back beam (warp beam) of the loom and run it out to a peg.

With a rigid heddle loom it’s easy to direct warp if you have enough space and patience to walk it out to the required length. The advantage of direct warping is it basically removes a step and so saves some time.

The warping board however allows you to warp a long length in a compact space and I suspect it makes it easier to alternate colours (not sure, haven’t used a warping board yet).

Two: Front to back or back to front?

When putting the warp onto the loom you can start by tying it to the back beam or to the front beam. Some people seem pretty passionate about which way works best, but most weaving “gurus” seem to say that you should do what works for you.

Three: The cross and the raddle

The most important thing when getting the warp onto the loom is making sure that you keep your threads in order. When using a warping board, you do this by creating a “cross” where the threads get interlaced so they can’t get out of order.

A raddle, is also used to help keep threads tidy while warping the loom. It is basically a separator, so you can put smaller groups of threads in their right order while you do the steps involved in warping.

Four: What’s with the paper?

If you’ve seen anyone dressing a loom you’ll have seen them feed card/paper in between the layers of warp, but why?

Well, for even tension across all threads, they need to be the same length at any given point in the weaving. If you don’t use paper between the layers of warp, you risk some threads “cutting in” to the layer below, which will mean they’ll be shorter than their fellows.

Still a bit unclear? Think of the layers of warp as a spiral, where as you add layers each layer forms a bigger circle. If a thread falls through to the circle below, then it will take less thread to wrap around that layer of the spiral than the layer it’s supposed to be on.  Thus, it ends up shorter than it’s friends!

Weaving, from start to finish

So how do you get from yarn to a nice piece of cloth? Well…

First, you’re going to choose a pattern and/or some yarn.

Second, you’re going to “dress the loom” (also called “warping the loom” and “loading the loom”) where you prepare the loom for use with the right length of warp, correctly threaded. For many shaft looms, you tie shafts to levers at this point too.

Also, you load your shuttle/s with yarn.

Third, you weave! Following the pattern for which shafts should be up or down when, and which colour weft is used when, beating the weft into place as you go.

Now fifth, you need to “finish”. So, once you’re done creating a length of cloth, you’ll use stitching to prevent the start and finishing edges from fraying and you might twist tassels etc if it’s a scarf.

Sixth, you wash it in a little soap and “hot” water, while agitating it, to get oils and other chemicals out of it and to help the warp and weft relax into each other. Once it’s dry, you might even steam press it, depending on the cloth.

The final stage is to use it for whatever it was intended… sew it into clothes, bags, cushions, towels, curtains, or just throw it around your neck/shoulders and leave the house.

Picking and throwing boats and sticks

Over the last couple of posts I’ve talked a lot about warp. In this post I want to come back to weft and give it some overdue attention.

For a start, how do we get our weft through the shed? Well, you might remember this picture where there is a “shuttle” sitting inside the shed waiting to be used.

rigid heddle loom with a shuttle in the shed

The shuttle is like a bobbin or reel of yarn that you wind yourself and then for each “pick” (row) of weft, you move it through the shed.  So, yes, I was making a pick pun with the title of this post.

There are two basic shuttle types. The one above is a “stick shuttle”. You wind the yarn around it and unwind a enough for a pick or two as needed.

If remembering to unwind a bit of yarn before you put it through the shed, isn’t your thing, then you have the boat shuttle. These have a reel/bobbin inside them and the yarn comes off it as required.


You’ll notice the boat shuttle is quite compact. This is part of the reason weavers also use the term “throw” for a pick / row of weft. You do actually need to throw it through the shed on a wide piece of fabric.  So, yes, I made pick and throw puns in my heading for this post! 😉

Whichever type of shuttle you choose to use, you may have just one for a project, or you may have two (or more!) if you’re changing directions/yarns/colours in the weft.

By the way, each row of weft can also be called a “shot” of weft. What is it with weavers and having 4 names for everything?!

You have some yarn, now what?

If you start a weaving project with a pattern, there will be a yarn suggested, but what if you have some other yarn you think would work? Or what if you don’t have a pattern, but have lovely yarn to weave?

This is where we get back to the “wraps per inch” (w.p.i.) and a ruler, which were mentioned in my last post.

You need to take your yarn and wrap it around a ruler, covering an inch without wrapping the yarn too tightly (you don’t want to stretch it and make it thinner) and with each wrap just touching.

Then you count how many strands are filling that inch of ruler and this is your w.p.i. But, if we tried to weave that, there’d be no room for the weft to pop under/over our warp, which is why you need to halve the w.p.i. to get your e.p.i. (ends per inch / weft threads per inch) for plain weave – twill is different. By the way, e.p.i. is also refered to as the “sett”.

Getting this right should give you a nice balanced weave for that yarn.

For example, if you have a yarn that gives a count of 14 w.p.i. you know you should be aiming to weave at 7 e.p.i. That means you want to use a reed where the dents are spaced at as close to 7 dents per inch (d.p.i.) as possible.

Where you are looking to substituted a yarn for what’s suggested in a pattern; are you getting the same e.p.i. with your yarn? Standard sized reeds are generally going to match up to a standard sized in yarn, but you should test to be sure.

If, like me, you pick yarns and freeform a scarf, then you usually want to use the right reed for the yarn. Though, if you want to make a denser cloth (higher e.p.i.) / more open cloth (lower e.p.i.), you’ll know which reed to try, based on the “ideal” d.p.i. for that yarn.

Everything in inches (2.54 cm)

Inches are used pretty commonly in weaving. I suspect this reflects the dominant weaving countries and certainly weaving on the internet, but for those of us in a metric place I think it’s probably easiest just to use a ruler that shows inches too!

So, with that in mind, I’ve been using a ruler that shows inches to measure my reed, my warp and my weft. These are the main places where we need to measure x/inch.

First, let’s consider the reed. It looks a bit like a comb, as I’ve mentioned before, and like a comb it has teeth (solid bits) and gaps. In weaving we call those gaps dents. So when you see a reference to a 10 dent reed, that means there are 10 gaps in every inch across the width of the reed.

Why do we care? Well, those dents help us to space our warp threads. Remembering that the spacing of the warp affects the final density of our cloth, you can see it’s important to have the right reed.  (This applies also to rigid heddle reeds, with the dents being both slots and holes.)

It’s also important to know how many ends per inch you need, with an “end” being a single warp thread. (Weaving loves multiple terms!) So, if you want a balanced weave, you obviously want to know how many ends per inch (e.p.i.) and how many picks per inch (p.p.i.), where “picks” means weft threads.

Aah, jargon.

There is one more x/inch measurement, and that is wraps per inch. This refers to taking your yarn and wrapping around a ruler. Why do this? Well, that’s how you start to work out how many dents per inch and ends per inch you need! I’m coming back to that in an upcoming post – think we’ve all had enough x/inch for now.