At one point in The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier walks us through the old ritual of laying the warp from the point of view of Christine du Sablon, Georges, the master weaver's wife. As you recall, the warp is made up of the vertical threads on any textile. These are the threads that are initially set up on any loom, while the weft threads are the ones that are woven through, horizontally, once the loom is properly dressed.
We had already begun preparing the loom for weaving-- setting the warp threads into a raddle and attaching them to the beam at one end of the loom. Now it was time to wind the warp onto the back beam before attaching it to the front beam to make the surface to weave on.
Warp threads are thicker than the weft and made of a coarser wool as well. I think of them as like wives. Their work is not obvious-- all you can see are the ridges they make under the colorful weft threads. But if they weren't there, there would be no tapestry. Georges would unravel without me.
To warp a loom for a tapestry of this size you need at least four people to hold bundles of warp threads and pull on them while two men turn the roller to wind the warp around the back beam. Someone else checks the tension of the threads as they go. That must be just right at the start, otherwise there are problems with the weaving later on.
In Morocco, the process of laying the warp is slightly different with two women sitting besides two stakes that have been driven into the ground at a distance. A third woman walks between them looping her ball of yarn around the stakes. Around and around and around.
The two sitting women ensure that the tension around the stakes is uniform. At the end of all of this, the artisans slide the warp onto loom beams and the actual weaving process may begin.