Warping a loom with shafts mostly boils down to two methods: warping front-to-back, and warping back-to-front. Most of us warp the way we learned, without knowing why.
The main differences are in the order in which the warp is put on the loom. In the front-to-back technique, the lease is held in the hand or a lease holder, then the warp is sleyed in the reed, drawn in through the heddles, tied on to the back beam, and wound on to the back beam. Finally, the ends are tied on to the front apron beam.
In back-to front warping, these steps are somewhat reversed. The warp goes onto a pair of lease sticks, then onto a raddle, which acts as a temporary spacer. Then, the warp is wound onto the back beam. Next the heddles are threaded in the pattern, and then the reed is sleyed. Finally, the ends are tied on to the front beam.
In America, it seems that a lot of weavers learn to warp with the front-to-back method. It’s definitely the way that I learned, but it turns out that back-to-front has a lot of advantages!
Back-to-front warping has some definite advantages. It keeps a warp under a more consistent tension, meaning there’s less opportunity for yarns to tangle. This makes it great for long warps. It’s good for delicate warp yarns, such as very fine yarns or single-ply yarns. That consistent tension is really helpful for other tricky warps, like ones with very high-twist yarn that would otherwise be prone to tangling. And lastly, it’s good for warps that are densely sett, such as repp weave.
With all the advantages of back-to-front warping, it’s a wonder that anyone uses front-to-back warping! However, there are a few key places where front-to-back warping really shines. A lot of weavers, myself included, like to make “mixed warps” that are “designed in the reed.” For these warps, I find that front-to-back warping is sort of lazy way to plan a warp, and I use it often.
The other big advantage of front-to-back warping is when your loom (or your body) simply cannot accommodate back-to-front warping. This might be because your loom is pushed against a wall, and your back beam is not accessible, or the posture that you find yourself in is more comfortable for front-to-back warping.
Whichever mode of warping you choose, ergonomics is key! Warping is a time-consuming part of the process, and it’s important to be kind to your body while you’re doing it.
In my own weaving practice, I've found that the loom itself has a big impact on how I choose to warp it. If I find myself hunched over, or otherwise uncomfortable during warping, I'm less likely to want to warp that way! In the following video, I share five different looms and the way that I prefer to warp each one.
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