Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tutorial: Warp Painting

Earlier this summer, I wove this prototype hand-painted cotton ruana/shawl. I loved the way it turned out so much that I'm in the process of making three more for the Etsy shop. (If they make it that far. I've got tentative nibbles on two of the three already.) This week I've been working on measuring and painting the warp. A couple of folks have asked me how I do that, so I took some pictures as I went along. I used 3/2 Valley mercerized perle cotton from Webs ( and the Dharma fiber reactive Procion dyes ( (In fact, all of the various powders and such are from Dharma.) So the specific instructions are for that combination, but you could use the basic idea with whichever dye system and fiber you're working with.

How to Paint a Warp

-cotton warp yarn
-Dharma fiber reactive Procion dyes in various colors
-Soda ash fixative

Tools (Note: do NOT use any of these items for cooking ever again!)
-measuring cups
-measuring spoons
-wooden spoon
-bin for mixing chemical water
-smaller bins for the dyes
-sponge brushes
-saran wrap
-breathing mask
-rubber gloves

Chemical water = 3/4 c urea + 1 qt water
Dye = 1 c chemical water + 1 tsp soda ash fixer + dye to taste (about 2 tsp)

First, measure out your warp. I'm going to assume you already know how to do this part. In this case, I made warp chains that will be 3" wide.
Instead of tying up your warp with the typical choke ties, use a looser figure 8 tie. This will keep things pretty much in order, but the dye will be able to get under the tie to the yarn. The first time I tried this I tied things too tightly, and ended up with white stripes. It was a cool effect, but not what I wanted this time around. (It would be fun to experiment with, though!)
Chain up your warp to keep it under control. This is another thing I'm assuming you already know how to do, so I can keep the tutorial focused just on the dyeing.
Toss your warp in a bucket of water to soak for awhile. This will let the dye penetrate more evenly and completely.
Gather up your materials.
Protect your work surface with long strips of cellophane wrap.
Wring out your warp chains. Lay them on the cellophane strips, leaving an inch or so gap between each one and an inch or so at the edges. If your warp is shorter than your work space, you've got it easy. If not, you can do what I did and work in sections. I've got the still chained ends of the warp hanging off my table into totes, so I don't get water all over my floor.
If you want to get your warp chains on the loom in the same order that they're laid out on the table, you'll need to mark the chains somehow. I've used plastic with water proof marker here. I've also tied a string onto the end of the chains with one, two, three, four, etc. knots.
Now it is time to mix up your dye. First, make up your chemical water. For my 14+ yard long warp I ended up using almost 4 quarts. You can mix up more as you go along though, so no need to go overboard.
Put on your dust mask and gloves. You don't want this stuff in your lungs. Mix up your dyes. I made a cup of each color at a time, and mixed more as needed as I went along. (The recipe is up at the top of this tutorial.)
Now for the fun part! Wet down your sponge brush and have at it. The colors will wick up the cotton yarn, and blend into each other where they meet. Know your color theory as to which colors will blend to give you which effects. Colors that are across the color wheel from each other will give you more earthy tones. I chose wine red, turquoise, cobalt blue, and black, to keep things in the red/purple/blue range.

Check to make sure the color is saturating all of the yarn. Turn it over to look on the bottom. Squish the color around with your fingertips. You want enough dye to saturate, but not so much that you end up dripping onto the floor. (I did anyway. I'm a messy artist.) (Having some paper towels around won't hurt.)

When you're done painting your current section of warp, fold the edges of the saran wrap in over the yarn. Start at the far end, and roll up the warp and saran wrap toward the unpainted end.
Lay out another strip of saran wrap, and carefully carry your roll of painted warp back down to the end of the table.
Straighten out the next section of warp to be painted.
Back to the fun part!
When you are all done painting, transfer your warp rolls into something that you don't mind getting dye on. (They'll ooze). Make sure your tote doesn't have a hole in the bottom, or you'll have an awful mess. Trust me on that one. Now, leave the yarn and dye to sit for 12 to 24 hours. This will set the dye.
So, the next day unroll your warp bundles somewhere where you don't mind things getting a little messy.
Re-chain up your warp. Now it is safe to move it around again without much fear of tangles.
Take your wet drippy colorful bundle of warp, and rinse it out with cool running water until all the excess dye is washed away. I dumped mine in the shower this time.
Hang the chains to dry. Now you're ready to warp up your loom!


  1. It's certainly an involved process, and one which needs a lot more room than I have at my disposal. Much as I love the results, think this craft is one step too far for me - just loved reading how to do it, though! Thanks for sharing!

  2. wonderful work Lissa! you make it sound so easy. lol

  3. Wow, that's very labor intensive! I know it will beautiful when you're done!

  4. that looks wonderful, but couldn't you just use colored yarn?

  5. Debbi, sure you could! If you can find just the color combination you want, in just the right weight and fiber content, in the pattern you want. And then you need to find a way to line up the color repeats so they match up next to each other. I've actually done that with variegated yarn when I was weaving a belt, and it turned out pretty neat. But dyeing it myself gives me greater design flexibility.

  6. My pleasure! I'm glad to know it is useful.

  7. Thanks! I am going to give it a try. Don't you need to heat set the yarn?

  8. The dye sets by sitting wet within the saran wrap rolls for 12-24 hours.

  9. Melissa, great tutorial! I assume you also dyed weft to go with the warp...same method? I use the fiber reactive dyes to dye cloth, and it can be heat set just by putting into a dark container and sitting in the sun. I use a black plastic trash bag.

  10. Fascinating to watch you bring this to fruition. Thanks so much for sharing and the great pictures.

  11. Melissa, your colors are jaw-droppingly beautiful!!! I will definitely try this painting technique. What color did you use for the weft?

    1. As I recall, I used a blue weft for this one. I like trying out a half dozen or so options as the first 6ish inches of weaving on a warp. That has the dual purpose of seeing how the colors interact, and taking that time to get the tension and draw-in into working order before I start on the final project. And then I keep that sample for future records.

  12. Great tutorial! I just started doing some hand painting, and I love your method with the long 3" sections, all painted at the same time, with the same colors but not at the same spots on the yarns. I'm definitely going to try this!

  13. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this tutorial, it's been very helpful!!! Just working on my first dyeing project now!

  14. Looks great. What werethe urea and sida ash for. Did they go into the water bucket to soak before you dye. Maree

  15. Inspiring!
    Good idea for a new project.

  16. thank you for sharing ... I assume for an animal fibre warp you'd need to add some heat to set the acid dye.