Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 18, 2010

Backstrap Weaving-balanced weave, double weave and balanced double weave


I made some New Year weaving resolutions. What about you? One is to weave at least one balanced weave on my backstrap loom per month. So I got one done in January which I’ll show you later and I am planning February’s project. You will see that I am all about process rather than product for this project as all I know is that I want to weave a shadow weave piece but I have no idea what I want the piece to be. I am counting on an idea developing as I go through my yarn bags.

Another resolution is to weave reproductions of the designs on some pre Columbian textile fragments that I have gathered over the years. How did I get hold of these tiny scraps and fragments? Well, some industrious Peruvian artisans have been recreating Chancay dolls and dressing them in bits and pieces of old textiles.

Sets of Chancay doll reproductions

The Chancay culture existed  on the Peruvian central coast from around AD 1000-1476. It is believed to have been conquered and incorporated into the Inca Empire in the mid to late 13th Century. The people of this culture were prolific weavers and, as the central coast of Peru is a particuarly dry area, many of their textiles have survived remarkably well preserved  and are kept in museums around the world.

I was dubious for a long time about the authenticity of the textile pieces. However, it just didn’t make sense that someone would weave structures, some of which are no longer woven in Peru, take all the trouble to stress the fabric in order to make it look old, tear it up, sew the pieces onto dolls and then sell them for very little in the street market.

A close look at a couple of the fragments with bird and bat motifs

I have yet to find a good image of an authentic Chancay doll to make a comparison but apparently the originals did not have embroidered faces. Rather, the facial features were woven into a piece of cloth which was wrapped around plant fiber to form the doll’s head. As with most things, I imagine these dolls started out as quite faithful reproductions of the originals and that the quality of the work has since deteriorated.

Two more pieces with bird and snake motifs

The original Chancay dolls have been  found in tombs and were possibly funerary offerings. Recently I found an article online which, not only confirms the authenticity of the ancient textile fragments used to dress and decorate the dolls, but also gives information abut the Chancay culture and speculates about the dolls’ purpose. It just gives me chills looking at and touching these pieces-something the museums won’t let you do! and wondering about the weavers, their looms and their lives.

Snake motif in pebble weave

I have been weaving the designs I have seen in photos of museum pieces for years. The two pieces above  center and right were made by me in the 90s. Imagine the thrill when I found a fragment, on the left, with a very similar snake design some years later.

A piece in slit tapestry that I copied on my backstrap loom

I copied the slit tapestry piece at left on my backstrap loom without the slits and made it into a small sewing kit purse with a zip on three sides.

This little purse goes with me on all my weaving safaris. Some people tell me that the design looks like figures from a 1980’s video game!

This was a very slow and tedious weave using split embroidery floss for the weft. I was quite happy to see the end of this one!!

Bird motif in pebble weave

Again, I had woven this little 4-color bird motif many years before finding the little fragment almost completely in tatters on a doll at the Otavalo market. I had to work hard to hide my excitement while cooly bargaining with the vendor-bargaining at the Otavalo market is expected. Although my bird is a little different and was copied from a book, it is still thrilling to see a  similar original piece.

According to the aforementioned article, birds were highly esteemed in these cultures “because of their ability to cross between earth and sky” as well as due to ” their association with water…..and source of guano for fertilizing crops”.

Pre Columbian bird motifs

I love these birds and they find their way into a lot of my weavings.

Balanced double weave bird figures

Which brings me finally to balanced double weave and my weaving resolution for the year.  This structure is no longer woven here so there is no one around to teach it to me. I found out that the Huichol people in Mexico weave it and recently got Chloe Sayer’s Mexican Textile Techniques which has pictures of some examples. I had dismissed the instructions by Suzanne Baizerman in Double Woven Treasures of Old Peru as they were written for the treadle loom but recently returned to them to find, to my delight, that I understood them. So I set to and wove the above band using the pattern chart in the book which just happens to be the very same bird motif that I have on a doll fragment.  I used four sets of heddles for this weave and kept the cross sticks in to help spread the warps. This was just a narrow band.  Now I hope to make a large wall hanging incorporating bits and pieces from several of the fragments.

Something that is on the loom at the moment….supplementary weft patterning. You can see the tiny fragment from which I am copying the design on the right. This was another exciting find as, at least here in Bolivia, I have not seen this technique used for anything other than hat bands and on one old chuspa in a book. I would love to know the original use for this piece.

You can find the chart for this design here. I have also put the chart for the Abba Yohanni double weave design from last week’s post here.

This is just a small selection of my fragments. I am sure that more will show up in future blog posts as I strive to reproduce them. There is one technique that I as yet have not been able to identify.

Now what about those balanced weaves? I am still very much into my recently gifted rigid heddles and have been using them to make samples and a few useful pieces.

"Strawberries and cream" pinwheel mats

The rigid heddles arrived while I was in the middle of this “strawberries and cream” pinwheel piece. Rather than struggle on with my multiple stick spacers, I added the rigid heddle to the backstrap loom and finished it in no time.

Last month we had a WAL at Weavolution weaving rosepath motifs so I used my rigid heddle as a spacer and beater and used four sets of string heddles for the motifs.

Spring garden table runner

A small log cabin sample

Sometimes I just mess around and make samples trying to discover what is comfortably possible on my backstrap loom. The above log cabin piece was the first balanced weave I tried before my rigid heddles arrived. I thought the squareness of the design would look good as a notebook cover. I’ll take this little notebook along for my next weaving classes wherever that may be. It is nice to find a use for even the smallest of samples. You can see my test piece for the llama bookmark has been padded with foam and made into a pin cushion saddle cloth for the ceramic llama!

As the title of this post suggests, there is also some warp faced double weave to talk about. The last of my weaving resolutions is to design some nice letters to weave in double weave. I have been very much inspired by Linda Hendrickson’s beautiful book Please Weave Me a Message where she has designed alphabets to weave with tablets. You may have listened to Syne Mitchell’s recent interview with her at WeaveZine. I hope to come up with something like that for double weave. My stick alphabet above looks very humble next to her beauties.

Lastly, I would like to show off some work by one of my blog readers. Ann Littlewood wove a supplementary weft patterned  band using embroidery floss for her supplementary weft. It is a great way to “paint” in designs and play with colors. It absolutely makes my day when I hear from people who have  used my instructions. 🙂

I will leave you with a cheery little Otalavalena, below, at her brightly colored market stall at the enormous Saturday market. Otavalo is a town in Ecuador which has a lively and popular craft market every Saturday and is where I bought some of my dolls. Goods from near and far are sold there such as braids and beads from Peru, molas from Panama and Colombia and belts from Bolivia and Guatemala as well as an enormous variety of weavings and crafts from all over Ecuador. While the market largely caters to tourists, locals also shop there for clothes, footwear and beads.

Thank you for the nice comments last week. I am glad you found the videos useful. One of  the visitors from Argentina, who has a limited understanding of English, had one of those “aha!” moments when she watched the double weave video. I hope to be able to show you one of her weavings soon 🙂

A girl from Otalvalo in typical dress-embroidered blouse, "anku" secured by a woven belt, beads, woven hair wrap and alpargatas


  1. Fascinating post! Thanks so much for taking the time to photograph and post it.

  2. Hi Laverne As always, a marvelous blog post. I got shivers reading about your shivers!! Really, those little fragments are precious treasures. If I went to that market I’d be in big trouble. The several bird motifs are just so sweet. Mucho gracias!

    • Thanks Bonnie. It was sooo hard to restrain myself and I tried to limit myself to buying dolls that had pieces that were meaningful to me.

  3. Again full of fascinating and inspiring information. Amazing what you create out of little scraps of textile. Such richness, such beauty!

  4. Seeing the picture of the pretty Otalvalena in her anku and embroidered blouse reminded me of a tiny child’s Otalvalo pancho I received 40 years for my baby girl. I still have it tucked away….a treasured keepsake. Thank you for sharing your insight and inspirations.

  5. OK, I took the big step, the commitment! Today, I ordered a back strap loom and yarn from Weaving To sweeten the deal, right now, they are offering 20% discount on much of their inventory.

    Theresa suggested I use tapestry wool yarn. These are a generous 170 yd skeins! I can’t wait to see these!

    Lavonne, do you use cotton or wool, or both?

    • I use cotton 90% of the time-a mercerized crochet cotton -not much choice here. When I lived in Chile and could get more things, I often used wool that I bought and respun. Now and then I use my own handspun llama fiber.

  6. I may be able to get you some pictures of pre Columbian dolls. Both my husband and I worked for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I still have my contacts there. The curator was a Peruvian specialest. He collected some stunning textiles for the museum. As a matter of fact, I’d be happy to put you in touch with the collections manager. (she loves textiles as well) That is where this passion for the backstrap loom started.

  7. Laverne, Thank you so much for the story of these dolls. I have one! My sister adopted two babies from Peru and brought me one. I knew it was a funereal doll, but that was all. It’s still packed from my move last year but now i’m anxious to dig it out and see if it has some of the ancient textile on it. I really don’t think so. She is one of my very favorite possessions, so i’m thrilled to learn more of her history. It has been such a pleasure to “meet” you and learn so much in the process….

    • Oh you must get your doll and out and take a look. Let me know!

  8. […] And while we are on the topic of knitting, I  found some information about one of my pre-Columbian fragments, once again, in Ann Rowe’s book. Apparently these pieces, which are constructed with what look like knit stitches and which are very thick, were used as straps and belts by the Incas and were made using a 4-strand warp twining technique. No evidence has been found yet to explain how exactly this was achieved…but it’s nice to know at least this little bit about one more of the fragments on my little Chancay dolls. […]

  9. […] and I shall be getting down to finishing these in the next few weeks. The one on the left is the supplementary weft reproduction of a pre-Columbian fragment and the other is a warp float reproduction of a yurt band. I was […]

  10. Hi Laverne! I’ve been using your site as a reference lately…I’ve been weaving for a while now, but thought I’d try my hand at backstrap, and i was wondering: How did you do the balanced plain weave without a rigid heddle? Could you do a tutorial? It would help a lot. Thanks! And I love your blog!!

    • Hi and welcome! I could put up some pictures some time but doing it without a rigid heddle is tiresome and you have to really want to do it! I did it simply because I didn’t have a rigid heddle at the time. I’ll add that to the list of stuff I want to put on his blog in the near future 🙂

  11. Hi Laverne, a friend gave me the link to your wonderful webpage. I am a weaver in Australia and spent 3 years weaving in Sweden. Your site has just opened a whole new world for me!!! Thank you!!! I am fascinated by the pick-up weaves, pebble weave, double weave…. and have since not stopped thinking weaving. I just started a sample band trying out different patterns and I am having a wonderful time. I will be using your site as a reference and guide to many beautiful projects. I am glad I came across this site. Fantastic!

    • Hi Simone and welcome! Where in Australia do you live?

  12. Hi Laverne
    You have a great website! I bought your book and saw some videos of backstrapweaving. I’m wondering how I can weave balanced weave or weft-faced weaves on a backstraploom. Is there a special trick, so that the threads are regularly distributed (I don’t want to use a dent)? Have you any experiance with this?

    • The first few times I attempted a balanced weave I didn’t use a rigid heddle or reed. I lashed the warps to the loom bar. The lashing string sat between the warp pairs and helped to separate them at a regular distance. This helped a little but not as much as expected. What helped the most was setting up multiple crosses behind the shed rod and placing sticks in those. Each stick was locked in place and helped keep the warps spread. I have to tell you though that I had to be constantly checking spacing and fiddling around with the warps. After that I used a rigid heddle and then got some lightweight bamboo reeds to use. I did a tiny weft-faced piece only once. This was easier to manage than the balanced weave as the wefts themselves helped keep the spacing. As they are firmly packed, unlike the wefts in balanced weave, they held everything in place.

      • Thank You for Answering. I’ll have to try out the possibillities and see …

  13. Hi Laverne,
    I am enjoying your website so much and it has inspired me greatly!
    Thank you it’s been extremely helpful, specially your videos, you do them at the right pace and extremely they’re clear to understand.
    Would you be able to direct me where I can find the patterns for the 3 Pre Columbian bird motifs? (the ones features on this post – Black background with red relief)
    Thank you again

    • Hi Shana,

      Those bird designs are from a book called Double Woven Treasures from Old Peru by Adele Cahlander and Suzanne Baizerman. I am glad you are enjoying the site and thanks for your comments.

  14. hey laverne, i have been trying to do balanced weave but realised its almost impossible without some sort of spacing, i e a rigid heddle, do you think you could recommend one for me? also i guess youd need ore than one for diffeent types of yarn… i would be grateful for any suggestions. love your site- it has made weaving possible for me! hanna

    • Hi Hanna,

      I don’t know what kind of width you are wanting to weave or what weight yarn you like to use. I use 12″ rigid heddles and have three sizes. They are all heddles that are sold by rigid heddle loom manufacturers like Schacht and Ashford. There are probably many more brands available but I think the sizes on offer are all pretty standard and can’t really recommend one over the other.I struggled for a few projects doing balanced weaves without a heddle trying all kinds of ways to keep the sett consistent, some more successful than others. Plain balanced weave seems to be the hardest to manage. I had more success without a heddle with finnweave and twills. However, using a heddle makes everything so much easier and is worth the extra effort required to get set up.

  15. Reblogged this on art for housewives and commented:
    Chancay dolls —aren’t they fantastic?

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