After spinning up the warp yarn, the next step is getting all that gorgeous yarn onto the loom. This process is called “dressing the loom” and it is a process either loved or hated by weavers.
How Much and What Kind?
Weaving cloth on a loom requires a lot of pre-weaving work. First the weaver decides how much cloth they would like to weave. This calculation takes into account the length, width, weight and weave structure (aka the kind of weaving pattern) of the cloth. For the 50 Mile Coat we knew that the design required 8 yards of woven cloth at approximately 36 inches wide.
The weave structure for the Coat began as a plain weave (simple over and under) but changed to a twill (off-set over/under) in order to give the Coat a pleasant drape. There are other calculations such as “ends per inch” and “pics per inch” that are used to guide the weavers in process and to set up the loom. We won’t get into these details here but if you’re curious, EHS is a great place to learn about weaving!
The Warping Mill
A warp is measured out according to how many threads (width) and how long the threads must be (length).
The Warping Mill is a tool that allows the weavers to measure out the warp thread in an orderly manner, keeping all the threads aligned and easily counted.
In this photo the Warping Mill is the larger apparatus in the background (the foreground shows a swift for holding skeins of yarn).
The Warping Mill spins, allowing the user to create a length of warp without having to walk 8 yards back and forth.
The Warping Mill also helps the weavers put in “the cross” (see photo above). This is where the warp yarns cross over one another.
Remember the over/under structure of your grade school paper placemat? The same principle applies to loom weaving: some yarn will be lifted up and others will be left in the down position. The space in between these two sets of yarn is where the weft (horizontal yarn) is placed.
The weaver then uses foot treadles to switch the position of the two sets of yarn: the top goes to the bottom and the bottom comes to the top. This creates the over/under weave structure quickly without having to go over and under each individual yarn.
By establishing “the cross” on the Warping Mill, the weaver separates the yarn into two basic groups in preparation for putting the warp on the loom.
After measuring out the correct amount of warp on the Warping Mill, the weavers take it off the Mill and create a “warp chain”, which keeps the threads organized and tidy for the next step. In Warp Chain is pooling at the feet of Karen, our expert weaver, in the photo below.
Dressing the Loom
This means the weavers thread each individual piece of warp yarn through the a reed, through the heddles and tie on to the back (or front) beam.
There are different ways of dressing a loom, and each weaver is different, but regardless of method the process of dressing the loom is lengthy and requires care and concentration.
Once again, if you want to know more about looms and weaving, EHS is a great place to learn!
Threading the Heddles
Each warp yarn is placed through a heddle (shown above) which is attached to a harness that is in turn attached to a treadle. The weaver wants to be able to press a treadle and have one group of threads lift up: the treadle-heddle system creates this action.
When dressing the loom the weaver puts one group of yarn threads from “the cross” through a specific bunch of heddles attached to treadle 1. The second group of threads from “the cross” goes through another bunch of heddles attached to treadle 2.
Slow and Steady
This is a very simple explanation of how a loom can be warped. “The cross” threads can be subdivided into smaller groups and the division of warp threads can be far more complicated depending on the weave structure chosen.
But the premise remains the same: the weaver steps on a treadle, making some warp threads lift up and some stay down while the weft is placed between them. For the 50 Mile Coat the warp yarn threads were separated into 4 groups in order to make a simple twill pattern.
There is a lot of work that goes into hand-weaving a piece of cloth and we haven’t actually got to the fun part of weaving. Regardless to the complexity of a planned weaving, dressing the loom is a necessary part of the process. The trick to successfully dressing a loom is to abide by the rule “slow and steady”.