There are two primary ways to warp a rigid-heddle loom—direct and indirect—with lots of variations of each method. Before I embraced rigid-heddle weaving, there was just “warping”. Granted, there were still many variations, but primarily it involved using a board or pegs to wind the warp independently of the loom. In the rigid-heddle world, we can partially thread our heddles and measure our warp at the same time right on the loom, so there needed to be a way to distinguish between the two, hence direct and indirect.
When you step up to two or more heddles it is advisable, although not always strictly necessary, to embrace the indirect method. The direct method is based on paired threads and many color orders and structural repeats are not based on even numbers.
What I mean by a “paired system” is when you thread the slots in the direct warping method, you are pulling through a loop that will ultimately be two ends. But what if you want one end to be red and the other blue? There are ways to deal with this in the direct warping system such as the cut-and-wrap or alternate threading method, we have explored many times in weave-alongs and classes at the Yarnworker School, but they have their limits and can result in crossed ends behind the heddle. One workaround is to thread doubled ends through the slots and holes at the same time. This may or may not get you the results you are going for in your finished cloth.
With the indirect method, you thread the slots and holes at the same time, and can thread them in the exact order you ultimately wish to have. This method gives you way more flexibility and fewer crossed ends. It takes a few more steps and some extra equipment, but it takes up less space and can be more ergonomic.
Here is a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
- Requires minimal equipment.
- Easy to learn.
- Warp packs on the beam in a straight line with the least amount of drag, unless you use a board or peg to compact the warp in a shorter space.
- Requires more space, unless you use a board or peg to compact the space.
- Can be uncomfortable.
- Works in a paired system, so it is difficult to warp thread color orders that involve individual ends. You can use cut-and-wrap or alternate threading to achieve your color order, however, this results in threads crossed behind the heddle that require management during the weaving process.
- May be more ergonomic, depending on your space.
- Easier to contain the work if interrupted.
- Easier to manage complicated color orders with no crossed threads behind the heddle.
- Takes a little more time.
- Involves more steps.
- Bends the warp when winding, with more opportunity for yarns to shift when moving yarn from board or pegs.
I’ve recently updated my master checklist for warping one and two heddles in the direct and indirect methods. Since there are a lot of little steps involved in warping, this gives you a checklist to keep handy so you don’t miss a step.
I wrote a blog post a few years back where I broke down how I think about which method to use.
One of the first videos I created for YouTube was an overview of the direct method. I’ve recently added an overview of the indirect method as a review for the Yarnworker School Patrons. We just wrapped a study of the indirect method in a single-heddle environment and are getting ready to launch into a study of warping two and three heddles.
Direct Warping Overview
Indirect Warping Overview
Warp Speed Ahead!