The Old Warping Mill
This is a picture of Jake O. Trujillo finishing up a warp on his warping mill which was kept in the attic of Irvin’s grandmother’s house. This picture was taken in the early 1980’s, but he had built the mill soon after he built his loom in 1927. He’s removing the warp from the mill, “chaining” it up to bring it to his loom across the road.
This is a picture taken a few years later of Irvin and Hosana Eilert putting a chained warp on a loom. The challenge is to have every thread across the warp to be the same length and the same tension. This is critical to the integrity of every weaving produced from the warp. Warping a loom this way isn’t easy. When warping wide looms this way in years gone by, Jake would ask for help, and the three of us warped as a team of three. I don’t remember us being a happy team, but we worked together and we got the work done.
Our weavers are accustomed to having warps made for them. They bring us their warp beams and we fill them with warp. This is the way the weaving dealers in Chimayo have been working for many years. We need those warps to be long, and to be perfectly even in tension. Any errors in warping will mean that we have weavings that won’t lay flat and aren’t very useful. The tie industry of the late 1930’s introduced industrial-type warping techniques that were adopted by the early Chimayo weaving dealers. The technique used was to make a sectional warp on a horizontal mill and transfer that warp directly to a warp beam. The weaver can then take that warp beam to the loom for weaving.
Between the times when these first two pictures were taken, we moved the mill from the attic across the street to the yarn storage room of the shop. Irvin modified the mill by adding spokes and crosspieces. He also built in a braking system, and mounts for a tension box and a wide variety of warp beams.
The steps to the process are as follows.
Sixteen cones (called a buñuelo) of warp are set up on a cone rack and threaded through the tension box. We weave at eight ends per inch, so sixteen threads will make two inches of warp.
We create a cross at the beginning of each of our two inch bouts. If you are familiar with making a “chained” warp, you are creating that cross with the figure 8 at each end of the warp. This is done here by pulling the bout against a small section of rigid heddle reed mounted in the tension box to separate every other thread. The cross is held in place by two lease strings (purple threads in the picture) that pass from one side of the mill to the other. The cross will be our essential guide to the sequence of threads in the warp when we go to tie the warp to the old warp on the loom, or thread the warp through heddles and reed. The end of the warp that we start with will be buried by the length of warp, but will come out as the accessible end of the warp once it has been wound on to the beam.
The bout is as long as the warp needs to be. So a warp is ten turns long, or 15, or 20 turns. It’s critical that the count is right, that each bout is the same number of turns, so that we don’t reach the end of the warp and find some sections longer or shorter than others.
The end of each bout is tied onto a nail that is inserted into the mill’s crosspiece. As you can see in the left this picture, it’s the same crosspiece where we started the bout.
Each 2″ bout is wound on the mill all the way across the warp. The tension box must be moved for each bout, so that it is aligned with the right section on the mill. The warp on the mill in this picture has 20 bouts for a 40″ warp.
Now we bring the warp beam to the mill. Because we warp a lot of different beams with a lot of different widths and different axles, Irvin has designed a very flexible system to accommodate them all. What matters is that the warp beam is perfectly aligned with where the warp is wound on the mill. We use flanges on our warp beams that keep the warp at a specific width. As long as the beam is aligned correctly with the warp, it will distribute itself evenly across that width as it winds onto the beam. If it is incorrectly aligned it will catch on the flanges, potentially breaking threads.
Before we start winding the warp onto the beam we apply a brake to the mill. What we designed as a brake is essentially a wide rubber band with weights tied to the end that limits the rotation of the mill. Winding onto the beam requires a great deal of effort and some patience. But if it all has gone right in making the warp it will provide weeks or even years of perfectly-tensioned warp for creating beautiful things with.