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.

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.

Heddles, reeds and beaters

Loving words comes in handy when there is a bunch of new terms to learn. Weaving is a treasure trove!

I particularly like “heddle” because it’s fun to say. (Also fun is “raddle”, which I’ll talk about another time.) But what is a heddle, and why is my loom a “rigid heddle” loom?

Like the eye of a needle, the heddle is the part of the loom that holds the warp thread. Usually looks a bit like this:

Image of a plastic heddle






Or this:Image of  metal heddles




The heddle is what keeps one warp thread separate from another and, ultimately, what lifts a set of warp threads up to allow you to weave.

As well as passing through the heddle, each warp thread also passes through a comb like thing called a reed. This helps to keep your weaving tidy and – to some extent – image of a metal reedcontrol the density of the cloth. It does this by setting the spacing of the warp threads.

The reed, while a thing in itself, is also a part of the beater that you use to “beat” the weft threads into place. Usually the reed sits inside a frame of sorts so that you can easily pull the reed forward to beat the weft when you need to.

So, why is my loom a “rigid heddle” loom? Well, that’s because in this type of loom the heddle, the reed and the beater bar/frame are all together as one thing. How? Like this:

image of the reed from a rigid heddle loom

You can see the long “slots” are just like in a reed for other looms, but the solid area between each slot is a heddle (“hole”) and it’s altogether used as the beater. Very clever way to combine 3 things into one!

I’ll talk more about this type of reed when I get into the specifics of rigid heddle looms, but it has both benefits and limitations. So far, I’m just loving the benefits.

How a loom helps us weave

Here is a picture of a loom:

a matchbox loom

Yes, it’s a matchbox.

This was the very first type of loom I ever used, because when you work with seed-beads everything is on a small scale.

But what is the matchbox doing?


Well, it’s holding the warp threads in place and under tension, so that the person in the picture (that’s not my hand) can use a needle to pass the weft thread over and under the warp threads.

This kind of loom is basically a frame for holding the warp.

Of course, most looms do a lot more than this; importantly they allow you to sandwich the weft between two sets of warp threads, rather than manually feeding the weft over and under each one. This makes weaving faster.

The loom achieves this by lifting one group of warp threads to make a gap for you to pass the weft through.

In this image, you can see that the shuttle holding the weft thread is actually sitting in the gap between two sets of warp threads (that gap is called a shed). When that gap closes, the weft thread ends up under the top group of weft and over the bottom group, giving you the over, under structure.

rigid heddle loom with a shuttle in the shed

Another thing the loom does to help out, is to press the weft into place – this is called beating – which keeps the weft tidy and determining how closely the weft threads are packed into the warp.

How the loom achieves all this I’ll cover in another post, but before we finish, take a look at the image above and how the woven cloth wraps around the front of the loom. This is one more helpful thing, because that cloth beam, as it’s sometimes called, stores the cloth and keeps it out of harm’s way while you continue weaving.

Of warp and weft

As someone who sews, I came to weaving already knowing some basics about the structure of cloth. I knew it had selvedges (the neat edges of the cloth) and that the warp runs the length of the cloth, while the weft runs the width of the cloth between the selvedges (by-the-way that’s selvage if your from the USA).

When we talk about warp and weft, we actually mean warp threads and weft threads. You see when you weave you’re doing this:

diagram showing weft running through warp

The warp threads are held in place by the loom while the weft thread travels over and under the warp threads, first in one direction and then in another.

Warp and weft are at the heart of loom weaving, so it’s good to know how they “work”… And that they work the same way whether you are weaving a tapestry, a rag rug, or a fine silk cloth.