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Geeking Out: Packing Material

Packing material gives you a smooth surface to wind your warp around on the back beam of your loom. This prevents the layers of your warp threads from intermingling, which can cause tension problems.I try not to be an opinionated weaver, as there are many ways to get similar results. In weaving, as in life, “it depends” is a totally legit answer. I’m not sure why packing paper has been on my mind, but it has. I questioned myself on why I prefer paper as a packing material. Self, “Why paper?”

The point of packing material is to give you a smooth surface to wind your warp around on the back beam. This prevents the layers of threads from intermingling, which can cause tension problems.

You have two choices when it comes to packing material, something in sheets, like paper, or something thin, narrow and flat, like slats.

Paper is inexpensive. I buy big rolls so the curve is fixed from being on the roll. I keep stashes of my old rolls in various sizes.

Get the thickest weight you can find—thin paper is a bummer as it rips and bends easily, undermining your efforts. I was recently told that contractor’s paper can be found in thicker weights than kraft paper, but I haven’t checked that out yet. If the packaging lists the paper weight, you are looking for something around 60-70 lb weight.

Paper doesn’t clang when it hits the floor like sticks do. I have hardwood floors, so maybe this isn’t an issue if you work on carpet. Madelyn, the editor I worked for while I was on Handwoven magazine, said she likes sticks because the clanging sounds like progress.

Paper is easier to size to my needs. I buy brown kraft paper from the office supply store and cut it in about three-foot lengths and four or five inches wider than my project. Putting on short pieces reminds me to stop and take up the slack in the warp.  Shorter lengths don’t go cattywompus as easily as longer ones, and if they do, you can add in a new piece without having a ton of length from the old piece interfering.

Paper Collection

Below is what a cattywompus paper roll looks like. For beginners, adding paper can be a bit tricky at first. If it stresses you out to add paper often, cut your paper much wider than your project. This way, if it goes astray, you have more room in which to work.

Paper Packing Catawampus

The worst thing you can do is to start pushing the paper to straighten it. Mess with your warp as little as possible, either by pulling on individual ends, or moving it from one side to the other. This is the number one reason for tension issues. If the warp gets close to the edge, then add more paper.

I can pack more warp on the beam when using paper than when using sticks. This point is moot if you use recycled mini blinds, a popular stick substitute, as they are almost as thin as paper. Since it is rare that I get close to the capacity of my warp beam, this may be not much of a reason at all.

And, perhaps this isn’t a great reason, but it’s what my teacher taught me. I’m very aware that what I teach my students may be passed on as a rule. I’m not a big fan of rules—I’m a huge fan of best practices, but not rules. You will find what works best for you, by trying different methods, and see how they work for you.

Packed Beam

That’s what’s been on my mind lately, packing materials. Oh, and that my new video on weaving with two heddles was just released this week! {insert happy dance here!} Downloads are available now and you can preorder the video.

Happy Weaving!


Added 6-8-16: As I was writing my Knitty column on weaving with linen a few weeks ago, I realized that I neglected to make one very important argument for sticks. There is one instance where I do recommend using sticks instead of paper—although I don’t always do it.  Linen requires tight, even, tension, and even the little bit of give that paper imparts can cause minuscule soft spots in your warp. This is not an issue with yarns that have rebound, but when warping stiff , inelastic yarns, such as linen or hemp, you may get better results with warping sticks.

I do find that with all packing material techniques, it takes a few times to feel confident. Don’t fret to0 much if it feels awkward. You’ll get the hang of it. 

8 thoughts on “Geeking Out: Packing Material”

  1. One of the best things I used for warp separator was an old desktop blotter calendar from work – in fact, I need to steal another one… the only time that hasn’t worked is when I was weaving something really wide.

    • Isn’t it funny how you start seeing everyday objects in new lights?

      Packing wide warps is a challenge, particularly if you are going right out to the edge of your beam. I usually start with one wide piece and then add in two sheets of paper that are cumulatively cut to the width of the piece and then some. For some reason that works better than continuing to add in the wide pieces.

      • The epic fail was that brown paper they use to pack boxes from Amazon. Besides being very thin, it somehow is never cut into anything resembling rectangles… it creased on itself and was just a mess. Never again!

  2. If I wound my warp on a warping board and have knots on the back beam I use a sushi mat or bamboo placemat first to get past the bumps. Kraft paper or paper bags for the rest or for direct warped warps. Making sure packing material is wide enough is really important!

  3. Many brown paper grocery bags have been recycled and given new life as packing paper for warps in my weaving classes. It’s the perfect width for scarves. 🙂

  4. Sorry to come to this late – I use strips (about 8′ wide) of thin poster board. It curves, falls out with progress and can be cut to any size. I think it actualluy provides better separartion between layers, than paper. It also doesn’t wrinkle etc. I then keep a stash of ready to re-use strips. Your thoughts? Thanks

    • A perfectly wonderful packing material. I would say this falls under the “get the thickets paper you can find” advise. Although if the paperboard is too stiff it could have problems holding the curve. Thanks for chiming in!

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