WeaveZine: an online magazine for handweavers—Archives

Designing with Turned-Weft Ikat

Main Image

With a few simple dyeing strategies, you can design beautiful ikat warps at the warping board using Turned-Weft Ikat.

I enjoy the spontaneity of designing a warp directly on the warping board. Although my method is not fast (It takes me about twenty minutes to wind an inch of warp), it is easy and full of surprises. It also has the advantage that I can dye a batch of ikat yarn before I even have a project in mind. Then when I sit down to wind a warp; it's as if the threads themselves have created the patterns for me. Dressing the loom and weaving the piece becomes a relaxing, meditative process. It’s like watching a beautiful painting unfurl before my eyes.

Samples of turned-weft ikat
Samples I've woven over the past few decades. If you design the yarn; the weaving takes care of itself.


This article sponsored by: [[ad|nids=421]]


What do I mean by “Turned-Weft Ikat”?

Ikat is a dyeing technique in which the yarn is tie-dyed before it is woven. The word ikat comes from the Malay-Indonesian word “mengikat” which means “to tie” or “to bind.” In traditional warp ikat: a design is planned out and drawn onto a full sized cartoon; then the warp is wound and laid out over the cartoon; sections of the design are tied into the warp masking off select portions; finally the warp is dyed, untied, and then put on the loom to weave.

In traditional weft ikat, skeins are wound the desired weaving width, and once again the design is tied into the skein from a cartoon. In both instances, careful planning is required.

To bypass the planning stage and create spontaneous ikat designs, I developed “Turned-Weft Ikat”. Simply stated, I wind and dye skeins as if I was going to create weft ikat, but instead, I make the skeins into balls and then use them to wind a warp.

Commercial space-dyed 8/2 cottonCommercial space-dyed yarn may be used as an alternative to dying your own, and will create similar effects. I call this "Faux Ikat," because it does not involve tying and dyeing the yarn.

Creativity is like any muscle. The more you use it; the stronger it gets. The secret to building creative muscle is to work it, by setting creative boundaries and limitations in your work.

If a client approached me with a weaving commission and said, “I’d like you to weave something for me. I don’t care what it is, what fiber you use, or how much it will cost. Whenever you get around to it is fine with me.” Do you think I will ever weave this piece? No! There is no inspiration in a blank slate.

If, on the other hand, the client said, “I want a scarf to match this coat. My favorite color is blue. I am allergic to wool. I don’t want to spend more than $100. And I need it by the first of the month.” Will I weave this before the deadline? You bet!

Each parameter limits the possibilities and constructs a clear problem for you to solve. Someone once told me a story about an elementary school. When they put a fence up around the school yard, the children all played right up against the fence. When there was no fence, the children all played around the door to the school!

Turned-Weft Ikat Wrapping Strategies

Limiting yourself to a small number (three-to-five) of ikat wrapping strategies are great ways to create design boundaries with Turned-Weft Ikat. The three wrapping strategies shown below are guidelines. Feel free to create your own.

Note: In any wrapping strategy, be sure to tie in a marker. A marker is a distinctive section of pattern in the skein that is not repeated and easily recognizable. It’s amazing how impossible it can be to match up a single thread without a marker.

strategy one
Strategy 1: Half tied, half untied (notice marker in upper center.)

strategy three
Strategy 2: mostly untied, with a bit of pattern tied in (notice marker on upper left.)

strategy two
Strategy 3: Mostly tied, with a bit of pattern left untied (notice marker on upper center.)


Project Details

Before beginning any weaving project, write an intention and set up parameters. In design school we called this defining “the problem”.

In the following, I walk you through an example of designing spontaneously using Turned-Weft Ikat.


Make a colorful towel, using only yarns from my stash.

Warp and Weft Yarns

8/2 unmercerized cotton

  • natural, ikat-wrapped and overdyed blue
  • solids (blue, orange, and undyed) for stripes
  • varigated, commercially dyed (for weft)


24 ends per inch (epi)

Width in Loom

18 inches

Warp Calculations

24 epi x 18 inches wide = 432 ends x a 4 yd. warp = 1728 yds in warp

Weave Structure

Plain weave


Turned-Weft Ikat Terminology

  1. Strategy—a configuration used in tying a skein of yarn
  2. Marker—a space or color change that is very easy to see when looking at a  single strand of yarn.
  3. Phrase—a narrow warp chain that is one-half to three inches in width


Wrapping and Dyeing the Skeins

Now let’s prepare the yarn. (Skip over the following steps if you choose to select commercial space-dyed yarn.)

  1. Wind your skeins. The circumference should be one that easily fits around your knees (see picture below.) Also, don't make such a thick skein that you can't tie the resist media tightly around it. I use skeins fifty inches in circumference, and approximately two ounces in weight (225 turns with 8/2 cotton, equals approximately two ounces.) I also find that a fifty-inch skein creates very little waste when winding a four-yard warp using Turned-Weft Ikat.
  2. For my wrapping media, I use white plastic garbage bags cut into one-and-one-half-inch strips. It's cheap, works well, and is readily available. Other media you can use for tying the ikat resist: Japanese ikat cellophane, string, or raffia.
  3. Place a skein around knees to maintain a constant firm tension and make your wrapping easier. Wrap in a clockwise direction: over the top away from your body and under the bottom toward your body. Wrap tightly! When you reach the end of a strip, if you want to continue the resist area, tie the end to another strip using a basic overhand knot. Be sure to wrap especially tightly around the places where two strips are tied together.
  4. When you are done with a resist area, tie the strip you are working with around the skein with a couple of tight overhand knots.
  5. Make sure during the wrapping of your skein, to tie in a distinctive pattern—not used anywhere else—to use as a marker.
  6. Wrap your skeins using my three basic strategies, or strategies of your own devising.

Tying the wraps

Ikat creates the crispest designs when you wrap the yarn tightly. The wrapped sections should feel as rigid as a garden hose. This takes practice, however. If your early attempts aren't tied tighly enough, the color will wick into your resist areas. Fortunately, this also gives interesting and pleasing effects.

Dyeing the Skeins

Make sure to you use the proper type of dye for your fiber. If you are using a cellulose fiber (cotton, linen, rayon, bamboo, basically anything from a plant), you will need a dye such as Procion MX which works with the chemistry of cellulose fibers. If you are using a protien fiber (wool, silk, alpaca, basically anything that came from an animal) you will need to use a dye such as Lanaset that is formulated for protein fibers. Union dyes (like grocery-store RIT) will dye anything, but come in limited colors.

  1. Dye the skeins following the manufacturer's directions for your dye.
  2. Rinse the dyed skeins until the water runs clear. While the skein is still wet, carefully cut and unwrap all ties. Hang the yarn in a warm place to dry.

winding skeins into ballsWind the dyed skeins into balls, and now you are ready for the best part…
Gather all the yarn together (ikat dyed and/or space dyed and solids) and allow the yarn to “discuss” what it wants to do. Seeing the yarn altogether inspires me in ways I can’t explain.

The patterns are already there, and they are already beautiful.


Designing on the Warping Board

At this point, many people find it daunting to just sit down at the warping board and begin winding. Having a basic plan or sketch is helpful. Here are a few suggestions:

Divide Into Sections
The easiest, most direct and guaranteed plan is to divide the warp into thirds, with the center third as the ikat section. The variations and possibilities of dividing the warp are endless, but no matter how simple or complex the divisions, base them on odd numbers (3, 5, 7, 9 etc.)

The Power of Repetiton
Another design trick that never fails is symmetry.  Repeat any phrase, to realize a successful design.

Form and Freedom
Winding the ikat dyed yarn back and forth (not cutting each individual bout) creates a random pattern and is an exciting warp accent.

Now let’s go wind some warps!

Each ikat warp end will be placed individually and secured at the top near the cross and cut at the bottom. Watching the ikat patterns emerge as you wind the warp can become very absorbing; remember to breathe, and take lots of breaks.

Winding a Turned-Weft Ikat Phrase

To create the first phrase (a narrow section of warp) start with any ball of yarn. It’s like making the first mark on a blank sheet of paper. It truly makes no difference where you begin. You will make several phrases and later decide where they go in the towel when you go to dress the loom.


  1. First warp end: Find the marker.
    finding the marker
  2. Bend the yarn at the marker to make a loop about three inches long and tie an overhand knot to secure the loop. Make sure the knot doesn’t slip. (Note: if you are warping front-to-back, you do not need to make these three-inch loops. You can simply tie onto the peg. For more information, see Dressing the Loom.)
  3. Put the loop onto the peg at the top left of the warping board. The marker is now at the back of the peg, and the loop extends three inches towards the two cross pegs. (If the cross pegs on your warping are close to the top left peg, you can make the loop shorter.)
  4. Wind the yarn to the bottom peg. Wrap the yarn around the peg a couple of times to secure firmly and cut. Yes, I said cut.
  5. Second warp end: Locate the marker in the yarn piece coming off the ball. Hold the marker between the thumb and first finger of your left hand and bring your hand up to the top left peg.
  6. With your right hand, stretch the yarn across to the top right peg and try to match the pattern to the first warp end.
  7. When the pattern lines up, bend the yarn in your right hand around the top right  peg and hold in place while you bend the yarn in your left hand around the top left peg to make a loop. (Add some carpet warp as an extension if there is not enough yarn to make the three-inch loop.)

    adding extensions

  8. Once you have formed the loop, drop the yarn in your right hand.
  9. Continue holding the loop with your left hand, while you remove it from the peg, Tie an overhand knot to secure the loop.
  10. Trim off waste at the base of the loop as necessary.
  11. Wind the second end to the bottom peg, secure firmly and cut.

Once you settle into the process and "get the hang of it”, step back and look at the end of the warping board's pegs to see pattern you've wound. At this point, you have many options: you can continue winding the same pattern, shift the marker, change to a yarn that uses a different ikat-wrapping strategy, or add a solid.

Note: As you wind, keep track of the number of ends on your notation sheet, and label phrases before chaining off. This will help you keep track of how many additional warp ends or phrases you need to wind, as well as enable you to repeat a given phrase.

In this example, I started by winding five one-inch phrases. I used yarn dyed with ikat-wrapping strategy #1 and added accents of solid-colored yarns in natural, orange, and blue.

Here's how, after some consideration, I laid my five phrases in the raddle

  • Phrase 1, the center
  • Phrase 2 and 3 (repeats), outside pair
  • Phrase 4 and 5, on either side of the center

Five phrases in the raddle

I have five inches, and I want a towel eighteen inches wide. Obviously, I need to add more phrases, but what to add? What about more color?

I wound an additional forty-two warp ends of orange and divided it into two phrases. Then wound ninty-six warp ends of the blue and divided that into four phrases.

Adding in solids

Now I have eleven inches. The pattern seems complete, so I decide to add fine-inch natural borders to bring the warp to ninteen inches. (A bit more than the eighteen inches I'd planned, but I like a substantial towel.)

Hmm, not bad, but I wonder what some random ikat would look like instead of the solid white borders.

winding a replacement phrase
I wound a replacement phrase using my entire ball of yarn dyed with strategy #2, divided it in half, and made two equal chains. I did the same thing with the yarn dyed with strategy #3.

I removed the white borders to use in a later warp (designing with phrases means no warp chain is ever wasted) and inserted my new chains in the raddle, wound back, and took a look.

I liked this, so I completed dressing the loom.

Dressing the Loom

I warp from back to front. As you saw above, this enables me to spread the warp in the raddle, wind it back a bit, and see if I like the design. I am free at that point to change the type, number, and/or order of phrases and very easily change the design.

You do not have to warp back-to-front with Turned-Weft Ikat, but it is recommended.


When you warp front-to-back, you cut and tie both ends of the warp. Thus there is no stable end point in your warp. This means that as the threads slide past each other during beaming on, the design can shift. This can be a pleasing randomness in your design or—if you have created a precise pattern on the warping board—frustrating.

In warping back-to-front, the back end of the warp is not cut. You simply slide the three-inch loops onto a bar which is then lashed to your apron rod. This makes the end of your warp a fixed point—exactly as it was on the warping board—and keeps your designs from shifting during beaming on.

Choosing a Weft

The obvious choice for a weft would be to use one of the warp yarns in a solid color: white, blue, or orange. And indeed, this is what I often do.

As I was weaving this towel, however, I got an email from a student in an upcoming ikat workshop. She wanted to know what weft to bring to the class. I told her to bring anything she liked; which got me thinking. I looked through my stash and discovered an 8/2 space-dyed yarn from an earlier project. I tried it and was pleased with the added dimension and color provided by the variegated yarn.

weaving with commercially space-dyed yarns

As the decades roll by, I continue to discover new variations of spontaneous design. I hope I have inspired you to give Turned-Weft Ikat a try and that it will enrich your weaving journey as much as it has mine.

More and more I see my life in terms of weaving. In my younger days I acted like a shuttle racing through the fell, thinking only of the edges and balancing warp and weft. But now as I focus on the individual thread, I can sense the whole cloth. I gather together beautiful yarn, and let the cloth unfold.


Bonnie TarsesWeaving Spirit is where Bonnie blogs about her works in progress. Her website contains galleries of past work as well as information about her upcoming workshops. She invites your email questions and comments.