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The Architecture of a Draft

I’ve been thinking a lot about drafts lately. As many of you know, I am in the process of writing a new guide to the wonderful world of weave structure with the rigid-heddle weaver in mind. It is humbling and overwhelming work and I am eternally grateful to the Yarnworker Patreon community for giving me the space to do it.

My goal isn’t just to teach you translation, but also provide you with some transcendence. A book to add to the conversation about what makes our loom of choice unique, its constraints, and why (and how) we can achieve certain structures in different set-ups—one, two, or three heddles. It will include a robust theory section including drafting for the rigid-heddle weaver and creating rigid-heddle threadings and shed configuration for a variety of weave structures, including a discussion of block weaves—yasssss, we have more than two blocks available to us. Also included is a bit about loom mechanics and practical matters of setup followed by a series of lace, twill, doubleweave, Summer and Winter, overshot, Monk’s belt, and other structures for you to put theory into practice. This is not a project book, rather like my other guides, a resource. With it, we can launch into next gen weave-alongs.

In advance of the publication, slated for later this year, I decided to get out of the big writing and offer a few blog posts relating to weave structures in the rigid-heddle landscape. l’ll start with taking a bird’s eye view of drafts. This is a lot of abstract information. For those that have already begun to delve into this cross-loom communication, or are beginning to do so, perhaps this global view of the architecture of a draft independent of shaft speak will be helpful.

What is a Draft?

A draft is a graphic representation or chart that outlines how to setup a loom and weave a specific weave structure, or the underlying interlacements of warp and weft, with such names as plain weave, twill, lace, etc. Weaving is based on a binary system—a warp end is either up or it is down. When a warp end is up, the weft yarn travels under it, when it is down the weft thread travels over it, determining the look of the structure. 

A draft is designed to put a lot of information in a very small space. It communicates how to set up the loom so the weaver can achieve the binary conditions to create a structure or an entire projects. Each draft is created based on a specific loom type and they differ from loom to loom, much like how a chart designed for crocheter might look different from a chart designed for knitter. (You either love charts or hate them, but they are a powerful tool either way.)

Most rigid-heddle pattern use words or simple charts to illustrate the setup and they don’t rely as heavily on drafts. The vast majority of drafts the rigid-heddle weaver will encounter are not written for their loom. Using them is like asking you to know Portuguese before you learn Italian. They are related, but each loom system has their own unique set of constraints. Drafts are not a universal language between loom types, a draft is directly related a specific loom type and the cultural understanding of that loom. Rigid-heddle weavers can certainly use them, but first we have to understand what it is they are trying to tell us.

When it comes to drafts, the words used to describe them relate to other loom types. Here is a brief look at the architecture of a draft with a rigid-heddle weaver’s world view in mind. It doesn’t include any of the specific information you are used to seeing, but rather looks at what each quadrant is communicating and how they relate to one another. This is not meant to change the language, just explain setup of a draft in terms that speak to our little world of the universe. More to come!

Draft Architecture

Drafts are divided into four quadrants using two intersecting lines. Regardless of the numbers, symbols, and other information included in a draft, the four quadrants each contain specific information.

a chart divided into four quadrants with a circle where they intersect

In this example, the threading is in the upper left quadrant. It tells you the order of the warp ends and how many different threading positions you need. For instance, plain weave is thread, 1-2 over and over again. You need two threading positions in that order to weave it. 1/2 twill is thread 1-2-3 and you need three threading positions in that order to weave it. How you do this depends on the loom.

The shed configurations in the upper right quadrant tells you what arrangements you need to lift or lower the ends to create the sheds necessary for a particular structure. This section is called the “tie-up” in shaft vernacular, but that word has little meaning to a rigid-heddle weaver. Essentially, it is a key to how to configure your sheds, which ends need to be up and which ends needs to be down. To weave plain weave you need two sheds, one where threading position 1 is up and 2 is down and one where threading position 2 is up and 1 is down. To weave 1/2 twill you need three sheds: 1 up, 2 and 3 down; 2 up and 1 and 3 down; 3 up and 1 and 3 down. 

The weaving order in the lower right quadrant illustrates the order in which you weave each shed. Known as a “treadling” in shaft vernacular or sometimes a lift plan, which can include the information for sed configuration as well. A rigid-heddle weaver neither steps on anything more do they only lift, sometimes they lower in order to get the right ends on the top of the shed. With our birds-eye view, no matter the loom, that quadrant tells you the order in which to weave your sheds, how you do that once again depends on the loom.

The chart illustrates the intersection of the other three quadrants, or conversely, if you only had this cart you could reverse engineer the other three quadrants. One could argue this is the only universal quadrant since it illustrates the structure itself independent of the loom type. 

Reading a Draft

Perhaps the most confusing part of reading a draft is the direction in which you interpret it, which can vary based on the quadrant setup. It isn’t always intuitive to those of us who are programmed to read from right to left, top to bottom. If you are directionally challenged like me, it can cause your brain to fritz from time to time. Mastering these changing directions comes with time. 

The origin of the draft, where the two lines meet is marked with the red circle.  It determines how each quadrant of the draft is read. The reading direction radiates out from this intersection. 

Two intersecting red lines with a red circle around the intersection. Blue arrows radiate out in all four direction from the center of the circle.

The reading direction follows the blue arrows. In this set up:

   Threading is read from right to left, bottom to top

   Shed Configurations are read from left to right, bottom to top 

   Weaving Order from left to right, top to bottom

   Chart is read from right to left, top to bottom 

The reading direction doesn’t mean you can’t use the information working from a different direction, for instance, thread your loom right to left, rather this orientation point of the draft indicates how the creator of the draft ordered the information, and you want to maintain that order. 

Creating a Chart

It is common to see drafts without a chart. To create a chart in this setup, start with the weaving instructions and work counterclockwise between the quadrants (red arrows). As you work from quadrant to quadrant, you will still follow the direction of the blue arrows to read the information in each individual quadrant.

Setting Up The Loom

When setting up the loom using this configuration of quadrants, read the relationships between each quadrant clockwise (green arrows), starting with the threading (green arrows). As when forming a chart, you would read each individual quadrant in the direction indicated by the blue arrows.  


The Four Directions

The draft setup we have looked at so far is one of the most common in American handweaving literature. While English readers may find it awkward to read the threading from right to left, the shed configuration and weaving orders are more intuitive since they are read from left to right.  

You will encounter drafts where the quadrant setup is different. In the upper right is the configuration we have been working with. In each of the other setups, the quadrant assignments shift. You still read each individual quadrant from the origin out, but the direction you read the relationships between quadrants is relative to where they are positioned. This change in orientation also determines if the chart is formed from the top down, a drawdown, or the bottom up, a drawup. Different traditions and loom styles lean towards one setup vs. another, but they all still contain the same information.


My brain is a bit bent from building a bridge in words between structures, the rigid-heddle loom, drafts, and shafts, so if you are feeling it, too, you are not alone. I have a video on my YouTube channel that demonstrates some of these principles and a bevy of resources that are already out in the world on my website. Some of the most popular resources on translating drafts are the Xenakis technique and David McKinny’s book, both focusing on three heddles. If you are a visual person, Amy McKnight has a series of videos on her YouTube channel about multi-shaft techniques on the rigid-heddle loom.

Heddles Up!


6 thoughts on “The Architecture of a Draft”

  1. This information is so timely for me, you must have read my mind! I bought Erica de Ruiter’s book Weaving on 3 Shafts with the hope that I would be able to figure it out. Now thanks to you I might be able to. I’m so looking forward to your book. Thank you for taking on this complex subject.

  2. You state the reading direction of the threading is right to left. Is that from the perspective of the back of the loom or from the front of the loom?

    • This is part of the fritz-y part. It is good to get in the habit of thinking of the reading direction as relative to the draft not the loom. So regardless of where you sit at the loom you just have to know how the author intended the order to be and follow accordingly. You can choose to thread from either direction as long as you maintain that order.

        • Deep thoughts here: I think mostly yes, but I also think there is some bias involved and what we mean by “traditionally”. For whatever reason, the right to left threading and top to bottom orientation is the most common to see in American Handweaving or at least in American publications. I think the reason is that front-to-back warping, rising shed jack looms is presumed to be the norm. (At some point you have to keep the variables to a dull roar, which is exactly not what I’m doing here with this answer.) So the simple answer is the vast majority of drafts you are likely to encounter would be set up with the world view presuming the weaver is orienting themselves to the front of the loom. It is a good question and one that I should add to the text–“Most of the times the author presumes you are sitting at the front of the loom, but you may encounter exceptions”.

          But it really depends on the cultural norm the draft is written in, how the author thinks about their loom and their loom type, and the warping choice would lend them pick one of the four setups to make it easiest for their style of loom and weaving norms to utilize the draft. For instance, if you are a back-to-front warper in this setup with the threading behind the loom is the opposite ordered right to left is a good choice because if you are right-handed you would read the threading left to right, which perhaps perhaps feels more natural read, but maybe not so natural to thread. (I am so prone to mix up my directions so hopefully I got all that right).

          An author might choose a different draft setup because where they are presuming the draft is read as if you are sitting at the back of the loom because their worldview is different. I am totally grounded in American Handweaving, and even here subcultures vary, but I’m aware that I have this worldview. Like Scandinavian drafts are often written as drawups, but the threading is still ordered right to left or sometimes left to right (the setup in the lower half of the four directions) because their view is to read the charts as the cloth is woven on the loom, which isn’t what is pictured in a drawdown. I ran across an educational video for Indian weavers, as in the country of India, and the structure were the same, but the norms were different.

  3. Thank you for the detailed answer, Liz. It’s very interesting. I find myself reading the drafts as you say the Scandinavians do. I read as the cloth is woven, so threading left to right and weaving bottom to top. I’ve always wondered if that’s what the author intended or if I’m doing mirror images. As you say, it doesn’t matter as long as you capture the order of the design.


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