Guides and Insights

Weaving tartan: stake-warping your kilt length

Weaving tartan: stake-warping your kilt length
By Nick Fiddes

This is the third in a series of in-depth articles describing the seven stages of creating a bespoke kilt length at DC Dalgliesh, the world's only specialist hand-crafted tartan weaving mill.

Warping on the warp frame

The next stage in weaving the tartan fabric for your kilt is called stake-warping. The lengthwise threads on a loom are called the 'warp" (the weft being the threads that cross from side to side, which we'll come on to later). Every single-width tartan we produce at DC Dalgliesh is still warped entirely by hand!

The other part of the name stake-warping refers to a number of horizontal pegs ('stakes') jutting out at various heights on a wooden warp frame. The stake warp frame itself is a structure around six feet (2m) wide and the same high.

The cones of colours required for the tartan sit on more pegs on an adjacent piece of equipment, the cone frame. Here the weaver will nest one cone for each thread in every colour, side-by-side so as not to snag or overlap when pulled off. She'll use as many as needed to supply the widest band of each shade in the repeat (so sixteen cones for a band of colour sixteen threads wide). The cones turn freely, releasing their yarn as they are pulled out in turn.

Our weaver pulls yarns off the cones in the same sequence as the colour bands in your tartan's repeat (sett). So she might pull out eight yellow threads for a stripe eight threads wide, then thirty two blue, then four yellow, and so on (it's always even numbers) until the repeat pattern is complete.

Each addition to the warp frame needs to be the same length as the fabric required - eight yards for a typical kilt, or sixteen yards for two - plus a bit extra for tying on at the ends. The yarns are tied onto one stake, pulled left and right around as many other stakes as necessary to reach its full length, then tied off on another stake.

When all the colours for one repeat of your tartan is completed, our weaver starts the sequence again. They build sett after sett until the full width of the fabric is reached (1200 threads for a heavy weight wool, or 1630 for a light weight). Our designer or weaver will balance the pattern to make sure that any spare space is made up of bands that will look aesthetically right for the tartan.

Once the full length is complete, the warp is pulled off the stakes, twisted, and knotted to keep the pattern correct while being carried across the mill - ready to be tied onto the loom.

Hanks of twisted warp yarns ready for the loom

What next?

We recommend also reading the rest of this series. This covers:

  1. Weaving tartan for kilts at DC Dalgliesh
  2. Picking and winding your yarns
  3. Stake-warping your kilt length (this item)
  4. Tying-on to the loom
  5. Chain-making for the sett pattern
  6. Weaving your fabric on the loom
  7. Inspection and hand-darning
  8. Finishing the fabric

Also, if you've found this article interesting and helpful, we'd love if you could help others find it too! Please link to it on your own blog, or your social media. We can't tell you how much we'd appreciate this. Thanks. :-)

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