Posted by: lavernewaddington | March 18, 2010

Backstrap Weaving-Simple Warp Floats: a little less simple, a lot more stunning!

SIMPLE WARP FLOATS – a little less simple, a lot more stunning!

I have been playing around with simple warp float patterns this week looking for new designs in books and on weavings that I have bought in my travels. I found a nice one in a photo of a textile fragment from the north coast of Peru in Ann Pollard Rowe’s Warp Patterned Weaves of the Andes which I will show you later. I also pulled out a belt full of warp float patterned motifs which had been sadly neglected at the bottom of my box of Guatemalan textiles. I guess it had been ignored and forgotten as it is a simple black and white piece looking very humble and plain next to the wildly colored  weft patterned pieces that are so typical of Guatemala.

What is strange is that I bought this belt in the same town where the women wear a particuarly wide and richly decorated hair sash – it is quite a contrast to see the two pieces together. I wonder if they are both woven by the same weavers.

Belt and hair sash of Aguacatan

As you can see, the belt does not have a continuous design, rather, a series of small motifs. No two motifs are exactly the same. As I pull the belt through my hands to examine the motifs, I can almost imagine the fun this weaver had deciding what motif to display next on her 9-foot 3-inch canvas! There are mistakes. There are motifs that obviously didn’t go quite the way she had planned but I get a feeling of playfulness from this belt that I just don’t get from the heavily ladened hair sash.

I have been thinking about what elements can make this simple warp float patterning more interesting and fun for weavers. I have written a tutorial for this technique here but it is a technique that never seems to get fully explored – just a “stepping stone” on the way to the more advanced techniques.

Here are a few ways, for starters, to make a piece patterned with this technique a little more stunning.

Three pieces woven using a simple warp float technique.

On the left and in the center are two pieces made by members of the Backstrap Weaving Group at Weavolution. Historicstitcher used bands of bright and lively colors alongside her warp float pattern. She used single rather than paired floats to give a more delicate look. In the center, Jeannine designed her own sunny warp float pattern and wove it beside a more somber border of vertical stripes. I think it looks amazing! And on the right is part of a bookmark that I made using three colors across the width of the design rather than two as is more usual.

As the name implies, this is a simple technique. If you imagine looking at a warp in profile, you will see in the following diagram exactly what is going on in this technique as it is woven.

A profile view of a warp where green warps are “floated” over a base of red and green stripes to form the patterns.

Let’s take another look at the black and white Aguacatan belt and see the different motifs the weaver has created – from very simple to not-so-simple.

As you can see, it all starts on the left with a base of black and white stripes. Then the weaver can decide which color she wants to float over the surface to make her designs. Her first design has been made with black floats, the next design to the right has been made with white floats. Moving along, she has made a quick succession of black and white float designs.

On the left, the weaver is again swapping from black floated designs to white, and back again. The one on the far left has an almost three dimensional effect. On the right she has started to combine black and white floats within the one motif. This means that in one weft pass she will be floating black warps. In the very next weft pass she will float white ones. When I went to weave this it took me a while to get my head around it!

She is getting increasingly adventurous now with her combination of black and white floats all within the one motif. Those designs on the left really play tricks with my eyes!

But, of course, things don’t always go to plan. On the far left it looks like she was trying to combine single warp floats with pairs but ran ino a few problems. Next to that, she didn’t manage to get the white design centered. While I don’t find mistakes in my own work terribly amusing, I do like to look at these little mishaps in other weavers’ pieces and imagine what was going on to cause the lapse in concentration. Perhaps her husband was telling a funny story, a neighbor dropped by for a chat or one of her kids was swinging off her loom. In any case, my examination of this band makes me really want to meet this weaver!

On the right is a different band where the horizontal stripes in one part are not evident at all as the entire surface has been covered with black warp floats.

All of this finally led me to my project of the week…

Simple warp floats used to reproduce a yurt band design.

This piece has been woven with the simple warp float technique using floats in both colors in one continuous motif. The horizontal stripes cannot be seen as the entire surface of the weaving has been covered with warp floats – the same simple three-span floats shown on the Aguacatan belt. Where the outline of the design changed direction, I had to use five-span floats.

A cell phone pouch for Lisa

I charted the design from a photo of a yurt band that was sent to me by Lisa Matthews of North Carolina. Ever since Lisa and I met on Ravelry back in June last year, she has been sharing  not only photos of Central Asian weavings with me, but also her love and enthusiasm for all the textile and fiber crafts of that region so I thought it would be a great idea to make this piece into a cell phone pouch for her.

On the turned edge of the flap you can just make out the horizontal stripes where I started this piece. From there on the stripes got covered by floats.

I edged the pouch and made a strap using a four-strand braid. Although I learned this braid a long time ago,  my weaving teachers in Potosi taught me a new and really fun and quirky way to do it by looping the braid strands on my fingers. I have made a tutorial for this with step-by-step photos and a video which you can see here.

Lisa writes a fascinating blog about her explorations into the crafts of Central Asia and has kindly allowed me to use photos of her yurt band here. In her own words here she describes her passion:



I’m extremely interested in the cultures of Central Asia both past and present.  Within the context of the historical reenactment group I participate in I am attempting to learn how to portray the daily life of a 10th to 11th century Steppe Nomad.  To do this I have been learning how to make yogurt, cook flat bread, camp in a yurt, felt, spin, and weave so far.  I’m very interested in both felting and weaving and feel that weaving on the Nomadic ground loom brings the ability to weave fantastically patterned pieces to even the novice weaver with a very, very small outlay of cash to set up the loom and get weaving.  The versatility of the ground loom is that you can weave anywhere you go and anything from fabric for clothing to tent bands to cut pile rugs and kilims on the same loom.  Yurt bands are something that especially interest me and I am in the process of learning how to weave them.  My husband and I were lucky enough to purchase a 48 ft long band thought to have been woven by the Krygyz and its handmade beauty has really inspired me.”


I love the simple border motifand I am thinking thatI may be able to do a tutorial on that here next week so you can all learn to do the two-color floats.

At first glance, you may think that this weave is Andean pebble weave, but a look at the back of the weaving will show you that it is not. Andean pebble weave is double faced, that is, the same warp float motif appears on the back of the weaving with its colors reversed. On a simple warp float piece, however, the warps that float on the upper surface create a gap on the lower surface through which the weft is revealed.

LEFT: The front and back of an Andean pebble weave motif. RIGHT: The back of a simple warp float motif reveals the red weft.

I was really fortunate to run into Lisa online but this wasn’t my first encounter with these Central Asian tent bands. I was lucky to happen to be in Washington DC when there was an exhibition of these pieces at the Textile Museum in 2007. This certainly made up for my initial disappointment at not finding any Andean weavings in their permanent displays. On top of that, I had a wonderful time sitting on the floor with a pile of books in their bookstore and spent hours in their library. Meeting Ann Rowe there was the icing on the cake!

The finished pouch on the Textile Museum’s post card. I still haven’t found a suitable closure for the pouch – open to suggestions!

Here is the new pattern that I charted from the old Peruvian textile fragment. There are several woven versions here as the picture in the book was not very clear. I finally decided on the motif on the upper left hand side. A larger version  of the chart is here.

Warp floats of brown and white cover the surface of the weave.

Above, the motif is woven on a background of horizontal stripes. If you were to cover the surface completely with floats, it would look like the photo at left.

According to Ann Rowe in Warp Patterned Weaves of the Andes, no archaeological examples of this two-color float weave have been found in the Andes although twentieth century ponchos have been made with this technique in Northern Argentina. There is a  photo of one such poncho with bold geometric motifs in Ann Rowe’s book


A few bits and pieces to finish off…I received some comments from people last week about how difficult it is to find a suitable place to tie up their backstrap looms at home. I know what this is like! I am fine here at home, but when I go to visit my mother in Sydney (my backstrap loom goes everywhere with me!) there is nowhere to tie up my loom so I braid in the evenings when we are sitting about and chatting. My brother and sister-in-law have been kind enough to put some hooks into the side of a large dresser in their guest room in their home so that I can slip a dowel in and weave away.

Here are a few photos of some tie-up options…


LEFT: Tied to a STRONG doorknob. Not the best option for narrow warps as the warp will slip on the rods and cause the loom to tip from side to side. RIGHT: Hooks in a piece of heavy furniture.

LEFT: The loom bar can be lashed to a heavy piece of furnture, a stair or porch rail, or the ladder on a bunk bed. RIGHT: The loom bar can be wedged behind a pair of clamps.

If you are at all into DIY, you should check out Sharon’s (aka Rose Goldilocks) blog where she has invented a nifty seat, footbrace and tie-up place all in one.


One more thing…

Sharon emailed me last weekend to tell me about a new Interweave publication – a magazine called Knitting Traditions 2010. Apparently it has instructions for Peruvian needle knitting, or cross knit looping, for making finger puppets. I would love to learn how to make three dimensional things with this technique. Well, that is definitely going on my shopping list for my up and coming trip to the US.

There are some gorgeous knitted finger puppets  for sale in the craft markets here but they are made in regular two- needle knitting as far as I can tell. All kinds of animals are made and they are pretty hard to resist.


LLama and sheep finger puppets

Front and back of my “knit” pre-Columbian fragment

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.

At right I’d like to show you the pencil pouch that siseltikva, from the Weavolution group, wove on her backstrap loom and edged with cross knit looping. It’s a really nice project idea for a narrow band and , as always, I am thrilled to see my tutorials being put to use.

My shadow weave sample using a 10dpi rigid heddle on my backstrap loom

Let me leave you with this picture of my latest experiment with balanced weaves on my backstrap loom. I wove this tiny shadow weave sample  using four sets of string heddles and a rigid heddle as a spacer. I can’t say that I am crazy about it! There are a few examples of careless heddle lifting there. I have been told that this looks great done in four colors – two contrasting colors for the warp and two tones of those colors for the weft. I really enjoy doing these balanced weaves – they are a nice change of rhythm and beat so I will choose my colors carefully and see if I can make something I like better from this weave.


  1. hi Laverne, this is a nice article this week ;and lots of photos again. thanks for including “my warpfloats”if anyone would like to try the design is on flickr;

    • Hi Jeannine,

      I thought I saw the chart for your warp floats on your blog. Perhaps I am mistaken.

      • it is on both. perhaps my blog is easier to access for your readers

  2. Laverne, these are so beautiful, I love the 48f yurt band and the hair sash of Aguacatan and your shadow weave sample is lovely too! Thank you for a great article.


  3. I’m still trying to take it all in! I love the design you pick up from the yurt band, its really vivid and beautiful. Awesome work with the photos as a visual learner I appreciate that more than I can express, thank you.

    I nominated your blog for the Kreativ Blogger award, you can pick up your award at my blog

  4. […] designs using simple warp floats. I used this design on the cell phone pouch that appeared in this previous post. I warped up this week to weave the design with the tutorial in mind. However, there were obviously […]

  5. The pre-Columbian fragment looks like tabletweaving (which is an old form of weaving, and has been spotted in many places). Each tablet has four holes, and is turned as you weave, producing a twining effect.

    The things I weave, when I thread the cards in alternating directions, produce the same “knitted” appearance.

    • Hi Eowyn,
      Rowe in her book states that the structure is the same as that that would be achieved with tablets but, as she says, no evidence of the tablets themselves has been found….makes you wonder, right?!

  6. […] Lisa and I met online through a discussion on her fabulous yurt band which you may remember from a previous post. Finally my little yurt band border bands get to meet their inspiration. You can see them there at […]

  7. I love the pic of the brown/white piece with the design you have graphed. I can see how you worked out to make the hook look curved. After I wove this design I tried a different variation and the hooks looked like some one sat on them and I had to adjust the design. You might enjoy this picture,

    • Hi Karren,
      I checked out your band on your Flickr page. You got it just right in the end. It looks good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: