Counting Down My Top Ten Weaving Tips – #2: Why Warp Back-to-Front

It’s been five years since I published my new website including over 100 weaving tips and I’m counting down the top ten. Here is number 2. This one has had 9254 views as of today!! The top one has more than 31,000 views to date!! Can you guess what the subject of that tip is?
back-to-front-warping
In my  book, “Weaving for Beginners“, I describe back-to-front warping as I usually do. However, I’ve asked Patricia Townsend to write directions for front-to-back and the reasons she has taught it for many years to high school students. Look for her detailed directions in the book. Meanwhile, here’s my take on the subject.I advocate and write about warping your loom from back to front. Many American weavers were taught to warp from front to back, and that method works fine for them and has been described in many books. I feel that warping back-to-front (beginning at the back of the loom) has important advantages and I invite you to try this technique. It will come in handy someday when you or someone you know is faced with a challenging warp. And since it works for all warps, especially those challenging ones, I think it is the ideal method for beginning weavers to learn. The first method you learn is usually the one you know best and back-to-front is a method you can always rely on.
back-to-front-threading
I admit, I learned front-to-back first. Soon I learned back-to-front, and later Jim Ahrens taught the European back-to-front techniques which were even better. It is these back-to-front techniques that I describe in this book. Just to say back-to-front is or isn’t better than front-to-back isn’t enough. Jim’s way, the European way, has important advantages over both another back-to-front method and a skilled front-to-back method for warping your loom, mainly because it has no limitations on the type of warp yarn or project.Even my front-to-back warping friends have found that for fragile yarns, high twist yarns, fine yarns at dense setts, and using two or more warps, it is easier to warp back-to-front.

An experienced teacher looked at some of my samples woven out of sewing thread and when I asked her how she could possibly have done them warping from front-to-back, she immediately responded, “Why, I’d never want to do such a thing!” My response helped me clear my mind about how important Jim’s methods are. I said, “Yes, but your students might.” Then she agreed-maybe she was teaching her beginning students a method with a handicap. I continued, “My teachers never dreamed of the warps I’ve made. Two examples are fine silk damask at 114 ends per inch using 5 strands as 1 thread, and sewing thread at 200 epi so I could weave 5 layers that unfolded.” (Now I am working with fine silk at 120 ends per inch.) 

  • Sometimes I weave dense warps. My front-to-back friends wonder how I could possibly see to thread. My answer is that the threads are quite spread out in the heddles during threading, and it isn’t until they get to the reed that they are pushed so close together. I still wonder how one could put 200 epi into a reed and thread the heddles with the warps so tightly packed together-the front-to-back method.
  • Sometimes I weave with fragile warp threads-my front-to-back warpers wonder how I can weave them without threads breaking all the time. I tell them that beaming on the threads in groups gives them the strength to go on the warp beam under tension. When they are woven, they pass through the heddles and reed for the first and only time. They are not subjected to abrasion, static, or to tension during beaming like front-to-back warps.
  • In back-to-front warping, the warp is beamed immediately so almost all of the warp is under tension during the threading process. In front-to-back, the warps are not under tension until after threading.
    I’ve seen classrooms full of tangled warps hanging from the breast beams and splayed out in the reeds. Just untangling the threads while beaming them through the reed and heddles is a struggle for the weaver, let alone a hardship on the threads. Jim’s principle applies here: “The only thread that can’t tangle is one under tension.”
  • Some yarns, like singles wool and high twist yarns, kink up on themselves or twist into groups of yarns. Again, it would be a great frustration to the weaver and the threads to try to force them through the reed and the heddles during beaming. And again, putting them on in groups using a raddle and getting them under tension on the warp beam eliminates the struggle.
  • Many front-to-back warpers feel strongly that designing random colors and/or textures in the reed is a major reason for using their method. Mixtures of textures and sticky yarns and dense warps can be a struggle to beam through the reed and heddles. And since the warp threads are not under tension while sleying the reed and threading the heddles, they can get terribly tangled. I suggest in the stripes chapter that the same designing can be done in the raddle and the mixture of warp threads can be beamed on the warp beam better back-to-front.
  • Some weavers feel that putting 2 warps on a single warp beam requires front-to- back. I refer them to chapter on two or more warps. They can be put on efficiently back-to-front.

Front-to-back makes good sense if your loom is uncomfortable for you to thread working the European way, or if the back of the loom is not accessible. After all, I do want weaving to be pleasurable.

As for speed, some of my front-to-back friends say their way is faster. That might be true given a sturdy warp that isn’t really long, wide, and dense.

I’ve been told that back-to-front has more steps. Here are the tasks, in order, for both methods.

Front-to-back Steps
1.Wind the warp
2.Sley the reed
3.Thread the heddles
4.Knot the warp on the back beam
5.Beam on the warp using sticks
6.Tie on the front apron rod
Back-to-front Steps
1.Wind the warp
2.Load the raddle
3.Beam on the warp, no tangles
4.Thread the heddles
5. Sley the reed to accommodate the knots and untangling the threads as you go
6.Tie on the front apron rod
I think it makes sense for you to learn first a method that can be used for every single warp you might dream up. Then, later, learn front-to-back when you’re more experienced. By that time, you know what kinds of warps you are likely to make and the loom you’re likely to have. Then you can decide which method is for you, or both, depending on the situation.

THE ABOVE TIP IS AN EXCERPT FROM “WEAVING FOR BEGINNERS” AND BOOK 2: “WARPING YOUR LOOM AND TYING ON NEW WARPS”.


2 thoughts on “Counting Down My Top Ten Weaving Tips – #2: Why Warp Back-to-Front

  1. I love the way u put ur new book together! I can remember in class have to flip through the whole set of books to do the right steps. This book puts it all together seamlessly.
    By the way,would u please email me. I just ran across the wool
    of S & Z twist cones that we did in the collapsed cloth class & I have a few questions I need to ask.

  2. Your block is so helpful. I’m a newby weaver so much is still “Greek” to me. I’m looking forward to seeing more posts.

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