The mechanics of warp painting are pretty much the
same no matter what paint or dye is used. A light- to medium-weight
yarn makes the best warp for painting - one you can set for plain weave
at 12 ends per inch (or more). The stronger and smoother the yarn, the
better; it receives a fair amount of abuse being moved back and forth
on the loom. A light-colored yarn that doesn't conflict with the paint
colors, the same color all the way across the warp, will show the painting
best. Wash the yarn before it goes on the loom, either before the warp
is made or as a warp chain. Be sure the fiber content of the yarn is
compatible with the paint you're using.
It is most usual to paint the warp in sections after its on the loom.
But some weavers prefer to stretch the warp between two dowels, and
paint before warping. This method is not as precise, because each warp
thread has an extra opportunity to slide relative to its neighbors,
but it gives access to longer stretches of warp.
Warp painting is not restricted to plain weave, but chose a pattern
that is at least as much warp-faced as it is weft-faced, since your
design will be painted on the warp, and the weft just holds the piece
Most looms don't have much space between the harnesses and the back
beam. Give yourself working room by moving the harnesses up and out
of the way (remember that the warp has been threaded), or by extending
the path of the warp from the heddles out beyond the back beam. Because
every loom is different, you'll have to design a system that works on
yours. You need a firm, flat surface under the warp threads to press
against as you paint. A piece of plywood covered with plastic-wrap can
be made to fit most looms. Wide enough to bear against the castle, instead
of against the heddles, is best. Place a cartoon of your design between
the board and the plastic to help you keep track.
Because it's impossible to keep warp threads in order while sliding
the plywood in and out, you'll have to straighten them each time. A
set of lease sticks can be put into the plain-weave sheds, behind the
harnesses, and pulled gently toward the warp beam before you start to
The paint can be applied in many different ways. A flat, stiff brush
dabs paint in distinct areas, a softer one produces a water-color effect.
Do all of one color, and then the next; or go back and forth from color
to color as you paint. Remember the other side of the threads. It's
difficult to cover the threads completely; some un-dyed spaces seem
always to remain. As with crackle in batik, you can think of this as
a flaw, or as a feature of the technique.
Wetting the warp before you paint helps penetrate the thread backsides,
but also causes the colors to wick up through the warp and blurs the
design. Moistening the warp with your brush after the paint is applied,
has the same dual effect: better coverage, more blurring. Simply pressing
paint into the threads with your brush does help. Or you can use a darker
warp color so that unpainted spaces show less contrast; but the warp
color will affect the colors of the paint. Leave some areas unpainted
and the skips in the painted areas are less stark. Remember that in
the end, the weft yarn will soften all aspects of the design.
Once you have painted a section let it dry without moving anything.
This can take 24 hours. A hair dryer can shorten the wait, and also
help set the dye.
After the warp is dry, separate any stuck together threads. Lift one
harness at a time and gently loosen the threads from the board, working
from the heddles back to the warp beam. Once the threads are loose and
separated, pull the painting surface out from under the warp. Gently
put every thing back where it belongs, tighten the warp, and weave out
Picking the right dye or paint to use will depend on your design preferences,
and on the fiber you use. Procion Dyes thickened with Keltex work well
on cotton and silk, produce strong clear colors and can be controlled
easily. But they require more time to prepare than liquid fabric paints,
and you must take into account the reaction time (just 1-2 hours of
All the above dyes must be heat set. This can be done by ironing: surround
the piece with clean cloth- or paper-towels to protect both your work
and your iron plate. Use a heat-setting that's appropriate to your fiber,
iron both sides. Rinse off excess dye in running water, wash thoroughly
with a mild soap, rinse well, hang to dry.