Ask Nancy: Warp, Weft & Tension

Ask Nancy: Warp, Weft & Tension

Sep 13th 2016

Ask Nancy

Got weaving problems? Stumped by your spinning? Our resident expert Nancy Reid will answer all of your burning questions in this new regular feature! Previously only available on our newsletter, we are moving Nancy’s informative column over to the Woolery blog for easy reference. In this month’s edition, we are sharing a few questions about fiber prep; to ask your own question, email or click here to post your questions in our Ravelry group

All the Best,

Wave, Perri, and the entire Woolery Team


I’ve been weaving a cotton hand towel (my second project) and noticed that when I change colors in the weft, my weft is (ahem!) “angled.” I have a 15″ Schacht Flip, and I'm wondering how much tension is too much? I don’t want to mess up my loom! To complicate matters, some of my warp threads are looser than others, even though I “yanked and cranked.” I've tied the worst offender to a five pound hand weight (a lot more fun than exercising with it), but unfortunately this doesn't seem to be what is causing me trouble. I think the source is actually the ever so slightly off down shed threads in the warp. I have Syne Mitchell’s book Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom (which I highly recommend to my fellow newbie RH weavers), but would love to see a video to help me troubleshoot. Thanks!



Well, let’s take it from the top; there are a few things going on here.  First, the angle. This happens most often when a weaver ties on to the front apron rod from left-to-right (or right-to-left, it doesn’t matter) and doesn’t go back and even the tension up. Tying on just straight across like that will always leave the initial side slacker than the final side, and lead to problems.

A better way to do it is to tie one selvedge first, then the other selvedge; then go back and tie up the next-inner bundle on the first side, then the next inner bundle on the other side, and so on; still, you need to go back and even things up after they are all tied. With the flat of your hand, pat gently across the width of the warp to see if the tensions are all even, and make any adjustments needed.

As a final check, throw in 1 shot of weft and beat it gently into place; a warp bundle that has more tension than its buddies will deflect the weft toward you; a warp bundle with less tension will deflect the weft away, toward the heddle; you can make your adjustments visually that way. Remember also to tie your warp bundles in 1/2” increments at the selvedges, and 1” bundles the rest of the way across.  


The Schacht Flip Rigid Heddle Loom

Next, let's address tension, since this seems to be an issue for you overall. The goal is absolutely even and equal tension all the way across, not high tension. Tension and abrasion are the biggest enemies of your warp, and so we work to minimize those, with careful sizing of the warp yarn to the heddle used, and just enough tension for error-free weaving.  

As an example of correct tension, when I need to tie in a repair warp end or fix a “slacker,” I use an old plastic film can with pennies in it for weight; with wool yarns, it can take sometimes 6¢ or 7¢ for a stout yarn; a cotton yarn might want 10¢ or 12¢, but never as much as even a 1 pound weight, much less 5 pounds; that much tension will destroy your loom in fairly short order, as well as being hard on the yarn.

When you wind on your warp, you want to keep a steady, even tension on it, but I would never “yank.”  Also, the heddle absolutely must be in the neutral position, with all the yarns following the same distance of travel, both in winding on and in the final knot-tying and tying to the front apron rod. The fact that your slackers are in the bottom layer of the warp leads me to think that you tied on with your warp not all in the same plane; the heddle has to be in neutral.