Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 26, 2010

Backstrap Weaving-Sitting at my loom and Salasaca strawberries.

A firm cushion, a stable place to tie up the loom and a broad well positioned backstrap.


I have been weaving with my backstrap loom for around 14 years now and feel very comfortable with the set up I have here at home-a stable place to tie up the loom, a good cushion and a broad sturdy backstrap. I try to have everything I need – needles, extra dowels etc –  placed around me within reach before I get strapped into the loom as well as an emergency unstrapping strategy so that my warp and sticks don’t end up in a tangled mess on the floor when I jump up to answer the door. I always grab the loom bar and hold the warp under tension while I slip off the backstrap cords and then gently place the loom on the floor.  Other non-weaving related essentials that need to be on hand include the remote controls for the dvd player and tv, the cd collection on one side and the laptop and snoozing cat on the other. The phone can just ring for all I care! although I do have an answering machine which I sometimes remember to turn on.

I have to say that I have never put much thought into the “correct” way to sit. I feel comfortable sitting with my legs

I am looking and feeling very uncomfortable weaving at Felipe’s loom in Salasaca, Ecuador reaching high and with the backstrap up around my waist. I did like the stake at the bottom of the post for bracing my feet and the baby chickens that would come and sleep on my legs while I wove!

stretched out and my warp angled slightly upward. There are sheets of wood under the bed against which I can brace my feet and I do get up frequently to walk about and stretch. Yet I still don’t know if this is the “healthiest” positon for a backstrap weaver’s body or just something I have gotten used to.

And what about the indigenous backstrap weavers here in South America who have been weaving since childhood? Do they experiment with different positons or does tradition alone dictate the way they sit and weave?

I know that I am usually very uncomfortable at first sitting at other people’s looms when I am learning with my indigenous teachers.

I like to try to do things just as they do but sometimes it’s difficult-either the loom is angled too steeply, the sitting position, sometimes on cold bare concrete,  is almost physically impossible for me or the loom has been set up for someone a lot smaller or larger than me.

Felipe, very much at home at his loom with three of his four sons, his wife and mother-in-law.

Let me show you some pictures of other backstrap weavers including some of my teachers, the way they position themselves at the loom and some of their beautiful work.

Valeria in San Roque near Otavalo sits with legs outstretched and feet braced against a block of wood. The looms in the typical weaver’s home will have several blocks of wood like this which can be added to accommodate different warp lengths and the leg lengths of the various weavers in the household. She has just finished what will become the collar for a poncho and is brushing it with thistles that have been mounted on a frame.

Valeria’s father, Carlos, weaves the ponchos. His backstrap is a thick twisted cord which he is padding with cloth. I don’t imagine that feels too comfortable. He is about to make the last few weft passes in this four-selvedge piece.

For narrower weavings, this piece of hide is the typical backstrap in the San Roque area. It is wonderfully sturdy, broad and comfortable.

Margarita is sitting crossed legged on a cushion and weaving this very narrow band with just a piece of yarn passing through the end loops and tied around her waist.

The tiny pebble weave bands that I made under Margarita’s tuition.

These ladies in Pisac, Peru are obviously a lot more felxible than I am as they kneel while weaving narrow bands which are used as decorative edging for their skirts.

A close up of the bands used in Pisac for skirt trim. I believe this is called “buyto”.

Catarina in Nebaj, Guatemala sits on a low chair. Hopefully she will be my teacher on my next trip to Guatemala. This looks really comfortable and I would like to have a small chair like this made for myself. I love how she has set up the phone on the table next to her. She is weaving a small huipil for her little daughter. She also wove the blue huipil that she is wearing.

Of course it always helps a weaver if there is a visitor to entertain the little guys. This is the little Nebajense who will be wearing the red huipil that is on the loom. The huipiles of Nebaj are amazing and I was fortunate to be there over Easter when everyone was out in the main square in their best outfits. More about that in a future post.

Another of Catarina’s beautiful huipiles.

In Zunil, Guatemala I learned how to make the typical hair sash of the area. The weaver is attached to a 4-shaft pedal-operated loom by backstrap. I sat for 4-5 hours every morning on a small wooden stool and had to take towels and sweaters for padding after a painful first session. Clara teaches a lot of the teenagers in the town so I was learning along with a 15 year-old neighbor.

Clara’s hair sash is on the right with my frst attempt on the left. I also had some of the essential parts for the little loom made by the carpenter in the town, photgraphed and sketched the loom and took measurements so that I can have one built here some day.

Clara also weaves this beautiful fabric on a large floor loom which is made into the typical skirt of Zunil

Most weavers I saw in Guatemala knelt to weave. This position is impossible for me to maintain for more than 5 minutes and so I would sit with legs outstretched for my lessons with Lidia. When Lidia once tried to sit and weave in my position, she just fell about laughing!

When I was in Guatemala in 2008, I met Karen Piegorsch who is President of Synergo Arts. Synergo Arts works to educate backstrap weavers about ergonomics and is currently introducing their ergonomic bench to weavers and carpenters in Guatemala ” to protect their health while producing more textiles of better quality.  As a result, they increase their ability to provide for their families, and also preserve their weaving culture.”.  In fact, their aim is to help all weavers and artisans work more comfortably.

In the words of the organization…

“Synergo Arts is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), tax exempt organization based in Arizona.  Our purpose is to help artists and artisans around the world use ergonomics to maximize their health, income, performance, productivity, creativity, and art or craft quality.  We do this through a grassroots approach to innovating and delivering resources in ergonomics education, consulting and design.”
Information on the ergonomic bench project and other articles about ergonomics for artisans can be found here and here.


Salasaca tapestries


I showed you a picture at the start of this post of Felipe in Salasaca weaving on his porch with his family. I went to Salasaca in 2005 for the frst time and met Felipe’s cousin Anita. I was looking for someone to teach me to weave the supplementary warp patterned belts of Salasaca. Anita is not a weaver although she owns a wonderful set of six beaters of varying sizes made for and given to her by her father when she was a teenager. She doesn’t have any daughters and is waiting for the first grand daughter to pass these tools on to. Anita’s sons work at floor looms producing the tapestries for which Salasaca has become known. The designs include those from Navajo weavings, artwork of M C Escher as well as traditional motifs of Peru.

MC Escher inspired design on a tapestry made in Salasaca

I have read that not one of their tapestry motifs is Salasacan in origin. The tapestries are made specifically to be sold to tourists.

The traditional Salasaca designs can be found on their clothes and it was the frutilla (strawberry) motif belt that I wanted to learn to make. As it turned out, they persuaded me to teach them to weave instead! Anita had me teach her youngest son, Juan  and their neighbor Natalia to weave Andean pebble weave which is a story that I will save for future post.

Two of the six beaters in the set that makes up the Salasaca weaver’s tool kit. The small one is used to pick up the warps. The typical spindle is called a “sig sig” after the pampas grass plant stems from which it is made.

Eighteen months later I returned to see how my students were getting on and you will have to wait to hear more about that. It was on this return trip that Anita introduced me to her cousin who happened to have a warp all set up with which he was teaching his youngest sons to weave. This was so lucky for me as it meant that I coud also have classes and not have to worry about messing up someone’s precious belt. The acceptable parts of the belt were going to be salvaged and sold to the local shoemaker who had recently started making sandals using pieces of the traditional woven belts.
Pieces of the “frutilla” design belt used to decorate sandals.

“Manamay” belt with Anita’s spindle and distaff

Salasaca people are small and it was obvious that even the largest pair of sandals would not do for me. In fact, quite a crowd gathered to watch me trying to stuff my big gringa feet into them. I bought them anyway as this was the only way I would get to have a sample of this textile. I could not persuade anyone to sell me a belt eventhough  I jokingly pointed out how unfair this was to Anita as her pig was tethered to the gate with one of her old belts! She did permit me, however, to take photos of her frutilla and manamay belts.

So I spent a few mornings with Felipe and wove on his loom. The trickiest part was remembering to let go of the weft before slamming the gigantic beater down – bruised knuckles to show for the times I forgot! We wove on Felipe’s narrow porch and, as his home is on a hillside, enjoyed a beautiful view over the fields and surrounding countryside.

Front and back of a “fruitilla” belt/

The belt at right belongs to Felipe’s mother-in-law and she kindly allowed me to photograph it. Neither she nor her daughters know how to weave although they are all expert spinners.
I had a lesson in circular warping from Felipe and his youngest son and then came back to Bolivia to document the process in my journal. The warping was quite complicated with several colors traveling at the same time in different directions and being anchored under toes. Then I wove two pieces to be the front and back covers for my journal.

The back cover

The back cover piece on the loom

The front cover. The zig zag designs are called “kingus” and the circular designs are the “frutillas”. As the colored supplementary warps shoud be thicker than the ground weave warps, I used doubled sewing thread for the ground weave and perle cotton for the supplementary warps. In Salasca they use cotton thread for the ground weave and thicker acrylic for the colored warps.

Anita, her son Juan and Natalia wanted to pose for a picture. This was on my first visit and I was only able to give them the pictures on my return 18 months later as they don’t have a reliable mailing address. Women in Salasaca wear traditonal clothes everyday-all that you see here in the picture except for the hat and every spare moment is spent spinning. They normally use other kinds of head coverings on a normal day. Juan put on his festival gear especially for the picture. Anita and her family own a store and you can see their floor looms and tapestries in the background.

I have plenty more to tell about the wonderfully friendy people of Salasaca but will save it for another post.



I have some projects from readers to show again this week.

Jeannine made a supplementary weft patterned band from her own design. You can read more about the whole process and see more pictures of her band and her pattern charts on her blog.

Ann finished her supplementary weft patterned band. It looks great with that fringe.  Both she and Jeannine are about to embark on another project using this technique.

Stitchwort wove a backstrap following the instructions in my article on WeaveZine and is now weaving what will be a bag for her loom. She is weaving the bag from her own handspun tencel and it looks so wonderfully sleek and shiny on the loom. I have been curious about tencel for a long time having heard so much about it in online groups and seen gorgeous pictures of pieces with wonderful sheen.

I was lucky to be able to organize a swap of woven goodies with a friend in Denmark and my package arrived this week-tencel at my request and a couple of her own spectacular handwoven articles. The tencel is everything I expected and more!

First, here is a photo of Stitchwort’s projects…

She is using her own handspun ramie as weft and I must confess I have no idea what that is. But I won’t give too much away as you can read all about her backstrap projects on her blog. I just love the shuttle she is using.


Tencel, Japanese silk and Argentinean silk

There’s my tencel on the two spools with a ball of silk that a colleague brought for me from Japan along with a skein of raw colored silk from Argentina. The Argentinean silk is a lot thicker than the tencel and the Japanese silk and so I was thinking of using the thin yarns as ground weave and the white silk as supplementary warp. I am terrified that I will mess it up and waste this precious stuff. I will definitely be sampling on a bookmark.

Any thoughts on this project idea?


  1. This is truly and exciting presentation. Please keep up the great work. I enjoy seeing and reading all of your travels and the first time I saw it I commented to a friend that it made me wish I were 20 and traveling again.
    I am dutifully keeping all of the materials for the day when I can try some on my own.

  2. thanks for showing my tiny band ; it gives me all the encouragement i need to go on weaving.
    I like the pictures of your teachers and weaving adventures very much.all those local artisan weavers should be in the spotlights more often; you are a good ambassador for their beautiful crafts.

  3. Again a very interesting story. So lovely to see the richness of South American weaving traditions. Sometimes I can’t help envying you a little for all the experiences you have while you are trawling for even more types of weaving.

  4. I am so enriched by your weaving adventures. I love your posts and pics. Is there some reason for backstrap weaving to always have the weaver sitting on the floor? It would seem to me that it would work as well if the weaver was sitting on a chair. I do see the one little chair and the cushion someone is sitting on to weave. I am into my 60s and its been a while since sitting flat on the floor worked for me. You have my head buzzing with project plans and weaving wonders. You have broadened my horizons considerably, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

    • Absolutely no reason why you can’t sit in a chair. I am on a cushion on the floor as I don’t have a higher tie up place. If I do use a chair, I find I really need something to push against with my feet. The weavers here will just sit on the hard floor with a scrap of matting to keep off the cold!! Those weavers on the cushion were visiting my hostel and were given cushions by the hostel owner. I doubt very much that they use cushions when they are at home.

  5. Congratulations you have a nice blog, my country has many beautiful places.
    If you can visit you will love Amatitlan.

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