Guides and Insights
Weaving tartan: tying-on to the loom
When the warp length is ready, our next task is to get it onto the loom. This is perhaps the most impressive skill of all. To make the fabric regular, each yarn thread must pass through a gate of thin vertical wires, called a heddle. Rather than thread each weave through this fine mesh over a thousand times, we keep a remnant of the last weave in place on the loom. Then we can knot the new yarns onto its tail-ends to guide the new warp through the heddle.
First the twisted warp hank is unwrapped and wound onto a warp 'beam'. This is a heavy wooden spool with metal ends which is temporarily positioned on a low frame in front of the loom, with a narrow gap between them. Our weaver will sit with the old threads to their left, and the beam with the new yarn to the right. She'll loop a working handful of new yarns around a ring at her waist for easy access, picking them off the ring one by one to tie onto its corresponding thread from the last weave.
This knotting is achieved with a sticky paste and a skilled wrist, using a special knot that is slim enough to glide through the heddle to the other side of the loom where it can be secured. Starting at the far side, the weaver joins each thread of the new warp onto its corresponding position from the last weave.
She repeats this action up to 1630 times for wool (or even more for finer silk weaving). As our weaver works, she slowly moves her chair backwards until reaching the last. Yes, we tie these pieces together by hand, thread by thread. Always counting, counting, counting.
When finished, the new warp beam must be moved into position on the loom itself. This is a heavy job that takes three weavers working together. So your weaver will find a couple of team members to help carry the beam, locate it correctly, and lock the key parts into position.
Finally we can pull the new warp through the heddle and onto the loom. The yarn will need to be released under tension as the loom demands it during the weave. So once in position, our weaver will wind up the tension to just the right degree, to ensure your tartan comes off the loom with just the right regularity.
But even after all this, we're still not quite ready to start weaving...
We recommend also reading the rest of this series. This covers:
- Weaving tartan for kilts at DC Dalgliesh
- Picking and winding your yarns
- Stake-warping your kilt length
- Tying-on to the loom (this item)
- Chain-making for the sett pattern
- Weaving your fabric on the loom
- Inspection and hand-darning
- Finishing the fabric
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