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Back to Front vs Front to Back – a wee conversation

There are many choices in life: The Beatles or The Stones, plain chocolate or milk chocolate. Then there’s the really pressing question of our time: Back to Front or Front to Back?

It’s a question Sarah threw into the mix on Weave with Jane Stafford on Ravelry:

Would you mind talking about pros and cons for warping back-to-front as opposed to front-to-back? I learned to warp from Cay Garrett’s Warping All By Yourself, which teaches a front-to-back method, but I gather that you’re a big fan of back-to-front. I’d love to know what exactly makes that method superior, in your opinion! 🙂

As you may know, this is a question dear to my heart. I replied:

Hi There,
That is a very good question. There are 3 main ways to warp a loom. Back to Front, Front to Back and Sectionally.
I use back to front for almost everything we do in my world. For any yarns that are generally smooth and that includes cotton boucles we warp back to front. So about 99.9 percent of the time for all of our warps. We only use an adapted method of front to back for sticky yarns like brushed mohair. For brushed mohair I warp differently and I will demonstrate that in the Online Guild in October.
I feel (and this is just my opinion) that warping back to front is the easiest in most cases. There are other very respected weavers out there who think that front to back is the way to go. It really is a matter of preference. Sometimes we are just comfortable with the way we first learn and that is all good as long as you’re happy.

As far as being able to warp all by yourself I know you can do Back to Front, easy peasy all by yourself.

My reasons for warping back to front are these.
1. We go to an great deal of trouble to make a warp where every end in the warp is the same length. When you warp back to front you don’t cut anything until the very end…after the entire warp has been beamed.

With front to back warping the first you do is cut the warp and sley it and then thread it and then try with all your might to tie every end to the back apron rod and have all those ends be the same length. That is really hard to do….and if you don’t do a good job of getting all those ends the same length you have to move all the diffential through the entire warp and clean it up.

With Back to Front you don’t cut anything…you just spread your warp to the desired width in your raddle and then you beam. Every single warp end is still the same length. Beaming is easy.

  1. Threading from the cross is the big bonus of warping Back to Front. When you have beamed your entire warp and you thread into the heddles from the cross which is on your lease sticks it is much faster and you can be more accurate with your threading (and that is just my opinion)
  2. When you warp Front to Back you have to sley first and if you have complicated sleyings and you have colours to organize, say alternating colours, or specific sequences in colour and weave you have to make sure you get all that perfect into the reed and then from the reed you have to get them all in the heddles in the correct order. That is no easy task!!!!!

But if you are threading from the cross into the heddles and then into the reed it all flows perfectly. Sleying from the heddles is very easy because everything is already in perfect order coming from your heddles.

Everyone has their preference and all I suggest is that you try both ways and see what is easiest. I have tried all ways of warping looms and I adapt to the specific situation…but mostly, I warp back to front.

Maybe some of you who are reading this can comment on it….share your thoughts….it is all good…as long as you are happy and feel like you are moving forward.

:^) Jane

Putting heddle to the metal, Jan, aka Granny Janny, chipped in with another great point:

Back in the days when most heddles were metal, there was more wear and tear on the yarns from the yarn rubbing on the metal. By warping back to front the yarn only went through the heddle once and so there was less stress on the thread and thus less breakage. That was the explanation I was given when I did my instructors courses.

To which I replied:

Thanks Granny Janny, that is another bonus. For me, there are just so many bonuses to Back to Front.
I sure don’t think you have anything to loose by trying :^). The online guild demonstrates it 3 times in Episode 2.
My momma always said……….how do you know if you don’t try!
Well, actually she didn’t say that but it always sounds better if I say ‘my momma always said……..’. LOL

Sarah also responded to Jan’s point with a question:

I don’t think I quite understand how this would make a difference: warping front-to-back (at least the way I’ve been doing it), each end only winds up being threaded through one heddle, and only once… unless you mean that the length of the thread only passes through the heddle once?

It may be the case that I just need to watch your videos, Jane, for all this to become clearer… but there are things about the idea of back-to-front warping that continue to perplex me. The way I’ve been warping, the action of being drawn first through the reed, and then through the heddles, and then through tensioning sticks (are these what are called “lease sticks”?) beautifully untwists and untangles and straightens everything out as it’s wound on. So if you’re warping back-to-front, does the warp just get wound on in its somewhat tangled and twisted state? And is it possible to warp back-to-front at all unless you have a raddle (I don’t, and I’m not even sure that there’s anywhere that one could be attached on my Woolhouse counterbalance loom)?

to which I responded with:

Hi There,
What Granny Janny is talking about is how many times the warp passes through the heddles and reed. When you warp back to front your warp is spread out in a raddle. The warp has the lease sticks inserted into the cross at the back of the loom and once it is beamed you thread directly from your cross into the heddles and then thread through the reed. Your warp has not had to wind through the reed or the heddles while beaming. When you warp front to back…your entire warp runs through the reed and heddles and then it has to run through the reed and heddles again as you advance it while weaving. This means the warp has gone through the heddles and reed twice. Metal heddles and the reed abraid your yarn each time it has to move through it. Look to see the dust bunnies under your loom and you will get the idea. Those dust bunnies came from the abrasion through the reed and heddles. Warping back to front reduces that abrasion.

While warping back to front the warp is in perfect order running through the lease sticks and its width is determined by the raddle. I think you just need to watch it to believe it :^)
Jane

There’s nothing like hearing from a convert. Lisa chipped in with:

I am an absolute back-to-front convert. I learned to warp front to back and thought that I was pretty quick and efficient. But now that I’ve tried back to front, without a doubt I get warps on the loom faster and with fewer mistakes. There are so many advantages to back to front warping.

First, the threads never get as dis-arranged as they do with front to back. You spread the threads along your cross and then wind them nicely on the back beam all before you start cutting ends and threading heddles or sleying the reed. This means that the fussing about with the ends after they are cut only affects the very end of the threads. It never travels down the whole length of the warp as you wind it on the beam.

Second, as Granny Janny said, you abraid your threads less because they don’t travel through the heddles as you wind on and then again as you weave off your piece. They only travel through the heddles as you weave.

And third, I have so many fewer warping mistakes. Because my threads are sitting in the cross as I thread the heddles, it’s so easy to see which thread is supposed to be next up in the order of things. With front to back warping, when I had two or more threads in a dent in the reed, I would have to either transfer the cross to the other side of the reed to thread the heddles or I would guess which thread came next. This caused lots of crossed threads and other threading errors.

My most heartfelt recommendation to you is to just give back to front warping a try. I think that you’ll be a convert as well.

And there you have it. Give it a try. You might never go back.