It happens, you warped up and things are just not going according to the plan in your mind’s eye, so you want to take the warp off the loom and save it. From time to time, I have weavers reach out to me asking what to do in these situations. There are a couple of ways to go about removing a warp from the loom to reuse for a later date. Which way you choose depends on your situation and comfort level.
Replacing the Heddle Instead of the Warp
If you decided that you chose the wrong sett, the easiest thing to do is not remove the warp at all, but remove the heddle, insert a new one, then re-thread. You can also change the size of your weft to accommodate an open or dense warp, but sometimes you just want to reboot and that is what this post is about.
To change the heddle, remove any weaving you have done and untie the warp from the front apron rod. Gently remove the heddle, being careful to keep the threads in order as much as possible as they appear over the cloth or warp beam. Insert the new heddle and rethread doing your best to keep the threads in order. Don’t fret about this, just do your best. If you have colorwork, then you can use color as your guide.
Shown here is a warp originally sett in an 8-dent with the heddle removed (left). A new 10-dent inserted (right) and I’ve begun to rethread at a slightly narrower weaving width. To estimate your new weaving width, count the number of ends and divide it by your new sett.
Removing the Warp Without Maintaining the Exact Thread Order
If you have a solid-colored or simply-striped warp, you can consider the most straightforward way to remove a warp, which is to secure it with an overhand knot and a choke tie and remove it from the loom.
Untie the Warp from the Front Apron Rod
To do this, remove any header or woven cloth from the loom, then pull the warp forward until the apron rod is exposed. Untie the warp from the apron rod and tie a loose overhand knot about 6″ from the end of the warp.
Measure your loom from the front beam to the back beam or from the cloth beam to the warp beam. Pull the warp forward and use this measurement to tie a choke tie using your preferred knot and a generous length of smooth, contrasting yarn. You want to leave generous tails on your choke that you can use to secure the warp to the loom at a later time. The choke should be tied at the same distance from the start of the warp using a smooth, contrasting yarn and tied snugly. It is what will keep your yarn from shifting. The overhand knot is just a bit of extra security.
Tie a Choke
Pull the warp forward until the back apron rod is exposed. Cut or untie the warp depending on your warping method. If your warp is really long, you may want to secure it with some additional choke ties or by chaining it. I prefer choke ties since I don’t introduce any bends in the warp. Tie a loose overhand knot at the other end. Set the warp aside until you are ready to use it again.
Rethreading the Warp
When you are ready to reuse the warp, orient it so the knot is facing the heddle. Tie the choke to the cloth or front beam using the tails of the choke tie. Untie the knot and rethread the heddle.
This threading can feel a little stressful because the yarns aren’t constrained in any particular order, but in most cases, once you start, you can see that they are roughly laid out so they can be worked from one edge of the bundle to the other. Because you are packing the beam after you thread the rigid heddle, the heddle is going to align the yarn for you. (This is the beauty of the indirect method because you thread first and pack the beam later eliminating any crossed ends.)
After threading, remove the choke tie, and beam your warp. My favorite method is the crank and yank. You may have to stop and yank more often to help align the yarns. Try to resist raking or combing the warp. I know it is hard because we weavers are such tactile hands-on folk, but do your best to resist the temptation because, generally speaking, it tends to create more problems than it solves. If you run into a snag or the warp appears tangled in front of the heddle, shake the warp like reins or gently tease out the tangles using a threading hook.
This tends to work best on relatively narrow warps. If you have a particularly wide warp, consider breaking the warp into sections and work this method for each section. For instance, if the warp is 20” wide, I may break it into thirds, tying an overhand knot and choke for each section. When you go to reuse this warp, tie the choke on the front or cloth beam roughly aligned with a third of your weaving width for each warp section. This will reduce the angle from the rigid-heddle reed to the beam. Then untie all the choke ties and beam the warp as a whole.
Preserving the Warp Order
If want to preserve the warp order just as it is on the loom, you can reverse engineer a weaver’s cross, and use the indirect method to re-warp the loom. It is not nearly as scary at you may have been led to believe. Feel the fear and do it anyway!
For demonstration purposes, I’m showing this option on a the same solid-colored warp.
Precut Choke Ties
To create a weaver’s cross on the loom, start by cutting four lengths of smooth, contrasting yarn about three times as wide as your warp. This will be overly generous, but you want it to be able to easily pass the yarn through the shed with some length on either side. Then cut one length of yarn about four times the width of your warp and set it aside.
Secure the Cross
Place the heddle in neutral and secure if necessary. Pull up on the warp to separate the slot and hole layer. The slot layer will be on the top and the hole layer will be on the bottom. Using the shorter ties, tie a choke on each layer about six inches from the end of the warp.
Then, take your longer length of scrap yarn and lay it in the shed near the choke. I find it easiest to place the slot layer on top of the heddle so I have both hands free.
Now for the fun part! Holding both layers in one hand, pull down on the warp as if you were going to lay in a new weft yarn. The slot layer is now on the bottom and the hole layer is on the top. You will notice that a cross has formed because the longer length of yarn is keeping the previous shed in place.
Use a pick-up stick or shuttle to clear the shed, then press it toward the choke as if to press a weft into place.
Pass the longer tie through this new shed so both its tails are now on the same side.
Tie off each of the new layers that are in front of the cross and closest to the heddle, then cinch up the longer tie and secure so it encases the center of the cross. You just reverse engineered a weaver’s cross!
Store the Warp for Later
Pull the warp forward and tie a choke as you would in the previous version—measuring the distance from the front of the loom to the back, then positioning the choke at this distance from the end of the warp. Pull the warp forward and remove it from the loom and tie the end using a loose overhand knot. If your warp is particularly long and you want additional security, you can tie a few additional chokes along the lengths or chain it. As I mentioned above, I prefer choke ties as it doesn’t introduce any additional bends in the warp. Set this warp aside until you are ready to reuse it.
Threading a Warp With a Cross
To rethread the warp, use the same process you would if you were indirectly warping the loom or if you purchased a pre-wound warp. Start by tying the choke nearest the cross onto the front beam.
Making sure there are no twists in the warp, position the cross either in your hand, in a cross holder or something similar like a pressure clamp, or on a couple of sticks suspended in front of the rigid heddle. Weavers use “lease” sticks but in this case any set of sticks will do. You an also thread the rigid heddle independently of the loom using a reed stand or by supporting it with a couple of pressure clamps.
The stick method works best on looms with front and back beams that give you some height, but you can make this method work on most styles of looms. To secure the sticks, tie a length of yarn twice the length of your loom from the front beam to the back. As you are standing at the front of the loom, slide one stick through the loop of yarn on the beams and through the back of the cross, then through the loop of yarn on the other side. Using your fingers, change the orientation of the upper and lower part of the loops, moving the bottom to the top, forming a cross. Slip another stick through the front of this cross in the yarn loops and in your warp cross.
I cover multiple ways to warp a loom indirectly including in Weaving 202 at the Yarnworker School. There are also instructions on warping using a weaver’s cross in both of my books published by Interweave, Weaving Made Easy on pages 34-39, Handwoven Home on pages 143-145, and in my Interweave workshop Slots and Holes.
Remove the choke ties to reveal a tidy stack of orderly threads. Pull the top yarn from the cross and thread it through the rigid heddle, working right-to-left or left-to-right depending on your hand dominance. You are threading the slots and holes at the same time.
Tie the warp onto the back apron rod and pack the beam using your favorite method. As mentioned above, mine is the crank and yank. Then tie the warp to the front apron rod and you are warped, again!
As I mentioned above, if you have a particularly wide warp, you may want to break the warp into sections and work this method for each section. You can use this same idea with the reversed-engineered cross method.
These instructions assume that you don’t want to save any woven cloth. You can use these instructions to save a partially woven warp by advancing the warp and forming a cross at the other end behind the heddle. How successful you are with getting in back on the loom can be depend on a lot of factors, but it’s not impossible. I prefer to salvage the warp rather than worry about the weaving. However you approach the work, be fearless and weave on!