Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 5, 2010

Backstrap Weaving- A Word or Two and a Video on Warping.

I love how easy it is to warp for backstrap weaving especially after reading and hearing about what is involved with warping those bigger table and floor looms-all that threading! However, finding the place and equipment for warping for the backstrap loom is often the problem. Finding the sticks  to put a loom together seems to be relatively easy, making a nice beater takes a little time and thought but where and how to wind that warp-now that can be tricky.

As you can see above, my first weaving teachers in Peru taught me to make tiny bands using a tiny warping board. I learned two techniques with them and was eager when I got back to my home in Chile to incorporate both into one large piece.

Perhaps a  little over ambitious but you can see the results of my attempts to wind a longer wider warp. My warping stakes leaned horribly and I ended up with this wonky thing-look at the far loom bar and the tilt on it! Firmly grounded warping stakes are a must.

Well,  I persevered and put a lot of work into that piece but it was never quite right. At least I was satisfied that I could weave the techniques without the supervision of  my teachers.The piece itself ended up in a box. Recently I got it out and salvaged what I could and am now using it to cover some small photo albums that I take with me on my travels.

The colors and layout were inspired by woven sashes that I had seen on Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca,  Peru.


Photo album covers made with the two patterning tecnhiques I learned in Huancayo, Peru.



Hilda is poised ready to roll the ball of yarn to me.


A year later I went to Bolivia and studied with two sisters in Potosi. They weave their large pieces on a staked-out ground loom and only use a backstrap set-up for small bands. I love the way they warp there. Two women seat themselves at each end of the loom and roll the ball of yarn back and forth while winding the figure-of-eight. You can see at left that Hilda is pulling up on the end of the yarn with her left hand to maintain tension while she rolls the ball to me. I will do the same before rolling the ball back. The only problem–you tend to talk too much and lose count. Neither of us was counting in our native language-Hilda’s being Quechua and mine, of course, English. Between that and the chatting we lost count many times!

We are using respun acrylic yarn in the bright colors that the weavers in Potosi love. With two people, this would be a great way to direct warp for backstrap weaving.


The weaving I worked on in Potosi is almost finished here. It is a four-selvedge piece and there are a couple of inches to go to close the gap. It took all day to weave that last bit!



Warping the Potosi way (almost)


Probably nostalgia for the fun I had had with Hilda and her sister Julia in Potosi led me to try the following way of warping  when I got back home to Chile.

I can tell you right now that it is not as entertaining to do alone and it is pretty slow and difficult trying to manage two colors at once as you need to do for double weave and complimentary warp weaves.

Neverthless I got this warp done, it was well tensioned and even and I wove a big bold design inspired by designs of the Mapuche people of central Chile and Argentina.


One of the Mapuche inspired designs I wove into the above piece.


I traveled a lot more, met many weavers and saw a lot more ways to warp for a variety of looms and techniques, some of which I’d like to share with you here.


Making a dovetail warp for the collar of a poncho in Otavalo, Ecuador. Note the horizontal bar that helps stop the stakes from leaning in towards each other.



In Salasaca, my teacher Felipe wound a mini dovetail warp for me to take home just in case I forgot how to make one for the belt weaving technique he taught me. This was put together hastily. The sticks leaned and the resulting warp was crooked but it was just meant as a reminder and served its purpose..



Look at this beauty from Guatemala at a nice height so you can stroll up and down with your yarn.



Warping for a hammock in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This would certainly give you a work out.



With my teacher, Trini, looking on I am learning to make a dovetail warp for a mini hammock in Zapote, Ecuador




Probably the set-up I would most like to have–just the 5 stakes that my teacher in Santa Catarina Palopo is using here.



My favorite way—group warping! We are making a straight warp here with stakes and metal rods driven into the ground-Salasaca, Ecuador.


Probably the most interesting system I saw, which, unfortunately, was impossible to photograph, was near Huancayo, Peru where a woman had stakes embedded in the walls of the hall of her home at chest level so she just had to walk up and down the length of the hall to warp. Now if only I had a longer hall……….

So what do you do if you don’t have a warping board? I have seen a Youtube video where a guy wedges stakes between books in his book case and warps around those.

I was lucky to have this chair to use when I first got settled in here in Bolivia.  It was useful for narrow projects- practice bands, small bags and bookmarks.

The way that I showed in my WeaveZine article using clamps  is fine as long as you can clamp those stakes down really well . Don’t use your good table for this. I have heard of people turning chairs and tables upside down and using the legs. I once used a coat rack in a hostel room where I was staying. Whatever way your creativity and circumstances lead you, just make sure that the stakes or posts are very well grounded and will not lean in at all as you wind your warp. Even the smallest amount of lean will make a difference.

If you see yourself continuing in backstrap weaving and making longer and wider pieces, it will be worthwhile buying a warping board or making something sturdy and more permanent. It doesn’t need to be fancy as you can see from my little ”beauty” here.

This allows me to wind a 36”  long warp which I have used to make shoulder bags, sets of three mug rugs, placemats, table runners, pillow covers  and wall hangings. For making longer pieces such as belts and guitar straps, I have had to get creative.

Basic warping involves winding your yarn around two stakes, like those seen above, in a simple figure-of-eight path. Your loom bars will replace the two warping stakes and the cross you have created will allow you to set up your two sheds using a shed rod and continuous string heddles. I often put a second cross in once my warp is on the loom. (More about that in a future post)


Warping with a single color


If you want to weave a  piece with horizontal stripes in two colors or weave simple warp float patterns or any other complementary warp technique you will need to wind two colors together. Again, this can be done on just two stakes. I like to place my balls of yarn in flower pots so they don’t roll about and get tangled. Other hints and tips will come up in future posts or you can find them in the Backstrap Weaving Group forum at Weavolution.


Winding red  and yellow yarns together



Preparing to wind 2 colors together on my smaller warping board.  Note the large loop of yarn around the warping stake which can be easily slipped off the stake and onto your loom bar.



Warping with 2 colors together will result in a cross like this.



The colors on this tiny band can then be rearranged so that the original cross can be replaced by a new one where each color along with the green borders is in its own shed.



Many Andean weaves are complementary warp weaves and require an arrangement of warps into sheds of two colors as shown above right. This arrangement of warps will allow you to weave something as simple as horizontal stripes or more complex warp float patterned weaves.



The following is a video from my Flickr page which shows how I was taught in Peru to warp with two colors using four stakes. The colors are separated– each color into its own shed on the warping board itself as you warp–fast and efficient and especially recommended for wide warps. (The two additional stakes that you see in the video are temporarily fixed to the warping board with ”blu-tack”).

Just to finish off, here is what I am working on at the moment……


Two-weft double weave piece in progress


I fell in love with this design the moment I saw it posted at Weavolution. A member had woven a reproduction of a tablet woven curtain that hangs in a cave church in Abba Yohanni, Ethoipia. These curtains were produced and hung in many such churches in Ethiopia in the 17th Century. Rob S, who wove the reproduction, used over 300 tablets. This is just a small part of the overall curtain design. I am weaving it  in two-weft double weave. I have a strip of double weave bordered by plain weave. One weft weaves the plain weave and upper layer of the double weave. The second weft weaves the lower layer of the double weave.

This is quite a change after making all those colorful key fobs but now I have to deal with the black picking up every single speck of dust in the house! I hope to now reverse the pattern and weave a white motif on a black base. I am not sure what I will make of this piece. I’ll decide when it is done. 🙂


  1. Is there anyone who would sell a prewarped backstrap loom? I just can’t seem to get it right no matter how much I study the directions. I am able to make the heddles just fine but my warping is always a mess. I think if I were able to buy a warped loom, I would be able to see what it should look like and I would be able to warp on my own after that. I would love to be able to buy a kit of some sort.

    • I imagine you have all the sticks, Donna. I’ll send you a warp if you like. I’ll email you, okay?

      • Hi Lavern, I have just made the exciting discovery of backstrap weaving and so want to learn how to do it. I have watched your tutorials and read over your excellent directions but I seem to be having the same problem as Donna here. I actually wore out my first warping by undoing and redoing it so often. Everything looks right until I remove the cross sticks and work the heddle and shed loop…it just doesn’t come out right. I am wondering if the first and last warp that is tied to the warping post is throwing it off for me. I don’t know but am stumped by it. Any tips? I have my sticks and pillowcase backstrap for now…just beginning and am determined. THANK YOU for keeping this awesome art form known and practiced!! Peg

      • Hi Peg,
        It is almost impossible to say what is going wrong for you without seeing anything and knowing what you mean by “it doesn’t come out right”. I will tell you a couple of the “typical” problems. If the threads controlled by the shed loop won’t clear through the heddles, then you have probably crossed some warps when you made your heddles. You will need to relocate your original cross (the loom bars are still holding your cross) and redo the heddles. If it is just the end warps that are behaving strangely and it is the weaving that is not looking right then you might have put them in the wrong place when you put your cross sticks in the warp. Look at your warp again and think carefully about your figure-of-eight form and in which grouping the end warps belong. If you wound an even number of revolutions on your warping stakes, then the first and last warps should be in different sides of the cross.

  2. Thanks for showing all those different warping methods! I enjoy your photos and videos. I currently weave with a continuous warp on a large frame, but backstrap weaving is so much more portable that I’m studying it for my next piece.

    • Great! I would love to hear more about what you make on your frame loom. Perhaps some pictures?

  3. Thanks for your lovely explanations! I’m still here, and still working on getting it together. I hope to finish the warp I’m working on this weekend – it’s a black and white horizontal stripe, long enough to make into a belt so I can finally use something I made!

    Your explanations and pictures are outstanding, and have sent me into a whole new realm of weaving – finally, more time spent weaving and less time spent warping! (You have me considering getting rid of my floor loom…)

    • Please do send me pictures when you have finished your belt and tell me about how you warp-or do you have a warping board for your floor loom?

      • I actually warped for my belt _using_ my floor loom! The beater has 2 posts sticking up, one on each side of it above the reed. As a 45″ loom, it made an approximately 50″ warp with no “wiggle-room” for the posts, and I followed your technique. As my waist is far less than 50″, I had plenty of warp to find the ideal width, and just wove and wove until I ran out of warp. I figured I could cut off the inconsistent end and have a nice belt. Now I have to find a buckle…

        I do not have a warping board for my floor loom, but I have a warping MILL, which does not make a good warp for backstrap weaving. As the threads turn the corners of the mill, they tend to change length very slightly from the first to the last warp threads. This isn’t such a problem on the larger loom. I’ve been working to barter it for a warping board and a few other weaving items I need/want. A board will be far more useful to me.

      • That sounds like a brilliant warping set up. Thanks for posting about it as it is a handy tip for others wilth floor looms.

  4. Another great helpful post, Laverne, and very timely since there’s been more talk of warping challenges recently over on Weavolution. Even after repairing my warping board, I still find it hard to wind my warp at consistent tension. We have lots of strong clamps; I may try that with my next warp just to see if it’s me or the board. I’m determined to get better at it as I agree that the simplicity of warping is one of the many great things about backstrap weaving! 🙂


  6. Hi Laverne,

    this is amazing! you beat me to the post here – when I saw the post you mention on weavolution I started thinking about trying something similar – I’ve a long standing love affair with Ethiopian ecclesiastical art & iconography. You’re project has got me thinking even more on it now he he he. I’d be very curious to learn what you make of it in the end.

    • Hi Alexis,
      If you have collected other designs from Ethiopia or have links to websites where I could see more, please let me know.

  7. Who knew there were so many ways to create your warp strings! Great ideas. The bookcase idea does work great, as long as you shove as many books in there as possible for a tight fit. I haven’t tried going from shelf to shelf yet, just across one shelf, but it does work for going across one shelf. 🙂

    Your current project is quite beautiful!

    – Tara/siseltikva

  8. This is Awesome! I think you have helped me to overcome the crazy awkwardness that always happens when I try to get a class full of students to make successful backstrap warps all at the same time. I’ve really struggled to devise a system that works that I can build myself for multiple users at once. Now I have a lot of new ideas to try! Thanks!

  9. Thank you so very much for your immediate reply! Your tips are helpful and I will try again…and again…and again…I may take a picture of my problem to see if that will help. I so want to learn this but I know it takes much practice. Thanks again for all the information and tutorials and help you give us!

  10. Hello, First off, thanks so much for all you do and post! Second, I have a question about correcting tension. I have a warp sitting before me of pretty fine string. I wrapped it and dyed it three times, and in the rinsing the tension of the warp got all screwy. Now when I’m ready to eave I have a lot of errant strings that are hanging down and then others that are really tight. When I start to lay the weft in, the weave face looks bunched up and irregular, and it’s really heard to pull the not-heddle shed open (the slack strings just don’t respond). Is there a good way to fix a warp like this or am I better off just putting on the ball winder and then rewarping it?

    • Hi Peter. What a shame this happened to your warp. You would think that since thewarp is just one continuous thread, you should be able to somehow just bat it about and get the threads to adjust themeslves and the uneven tension to sort itself out…sadly this is not as easy as it sounds. There are quick solutions to an odd loose warp thread here and there but it sounds like your problem is more serious. Without seeing your warp and knowing more about the number ends and type of material, it is hard for me to offer a solution.It sounds like rewarping might be the way to go but it also sounds like you did some ikat on this warp? I am guessing that this will seriously affect the design. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful. I wish I could be there and get my hands on it to help.

  11. Hey Laverne, Thanks for getting back! Yeah, I did some ikat on it. The warp is probably about 250 ends (so about 500 threads in my warp, about 12 US inches across) of no. 50 cotton. It’s the finest I’ve ever woven with, so I don’t know how much of my problem is that I’m just not used to this fine thread. Anyhow, the ikat pattern is very loose in the fist place, so mabye it won’t look that bad. I am a little frustrated, however, because I was so careful to separate out the threads before dying, tying them in bunches of 20 to try to keep some control. But my dyes were too dark and I spent a long time rinsing, and I think in that process things really got shifted around. When I see pictures of your ikat I can’t believe it is actually ikat, because there seems to be no slippage at all. The only thing I am thinking is that I should try some sort of bracing contraption, something like a huge bobby pin that clamps on the end of the warp so that there is no slippage as dye and rinse. So maybe two flat wooden rods held together with rubberbands or mini c-clamps at the end of the warp. And definitely next time I will control the dye quantity more so I don’t have to rinse it so many times.

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