Posted by: lavernewaddington | April 23, 2010

Backstrap Weaving- New Friends and Old Believers

Giddy with all the nice comments I have been receiving about my e-monograph on Andean Pebble Weave, here I am back in San Francisco. Ridiculous as this sounds, I have to tell you that my mental image of California has always been freeways and car yards. Don’t ask me why – I guess I have been watching the wrong kinds of movies and TV shows. I have spent the last week since the weaving conference up in beautiful Humboldt County in Northern California with my Weavolution friend Janet Finch.  Janet lives and works with her husband Larry on a berry farm up there and I doubt that you could find anything further removed from that ugly freeway image. What a paradise! Now I think my new Californian mental image will be something like what you see at left.

Aunt Janet’s Fiber Mill

Some of you might know Janet as “Aunt Janet” from the spinning lists and know about the spinning mill that she runs – a wonderful playground for the fiber fanatic – full of warm fibery smells, processing equipment, looms, spinning wheels, yarn and fleece at all processing stages…bags and bags of the stuff and lately it has become the hangout for a bunch of neighborhood backstrap weaving folk. Janet has rigged up hitching posts so that probably up to a dozen backstrappers could be happily weaving away in there at any one time.

So we took advantage of that, spread the word and set up some backstrap weaving for the week that I spent there and it was a lot of fun. It was all very casual – people came whichever day they wanted, stayed however long they liked and wove whatever technique they chose. It kept me on the ball as quite often I was helping people with three or four different techniques all at once!

LEFT: Georgie brought her homemade inke loom on the first day as she had already warped up on that. It was a nice loom with two sides, one of which was removable. First we worked on her selvedges which you can see improved very quickly. RIGHT: Connie learned to warp on four stakes for pebble weave as I was taught in Peru.

LEFT: Nineteen year-old Mikeila was visiting from Kenya to learn about organic farming. She joined in and really took to it  weaving simple warp floats and charting her own designs. RIGHT: Janet was trying out supplementray weft and had a gorgeous range of embroidery floss colors to work with.

Janet’s supplementary weft band.

Karen, a nun from the Redwood Monastery came along on two days. She is from La Paz, Bolivia and was happy to speak Spanish with me about her home. She arrived in the US when she was 17 and is so pleased to be able do a traditional craft from her homeland. She brought linen thread which was at the monastery and chose to learn double weave starting out with the simplest of motifs and a fine job she did. I love her tapestry crocheted hat from La Paz..

Linda and Jane were both doing simple warp floats. It was Jane’s first time working with a backstrap loom. They both wove the same motif but see what a difference different tension and beat can make to the design. Remember you can click on these photos to see larger images. Linda gave me some freeze dried indigo to take home and try – excellent! I can’t wait to go home and weave something dyed with indigo next to cochineal. Linda gifted indigo to the weavers in Chincheros, Peru and she could very well be responsible for the gorgeous blue and red textiles that they are now creating.

Linda has a lovely weaving website, by the way, and has a particular interest in natural dyes. She showed me one of her ikat pieces – just simple ikat dots in stripes of various colors but her color combinations and arrangements were stunning. It has really inspired me to give ikat another go but to keep the design simple as Linda did and play with color instead. I have found and bought my cold water dyes and so am ready to go!

Georgie came back another day with her backstrap loom and tried the more complex warp floats making the yurt band border design that I taught in a tutorial here on the blog. Jani also came for two sessions with a specific project in mind. She wanted to make a bag strap – the bag will come later. She wove the simple warp floats but decided that she was more into the plain horizontal stripes – not a pick-up kind of gal!

So that was our week of weaving and between all that there was plenty to enjoy on the farm…

I met Janet’s gorgeous angora bunnies whose fur gets plucked and spun into fiber.

LEFT: My second cell phone pouch with the yurt band border found its owner when Mikeila spotted it and promptly put her cigarette package inside – a perfect fit –  so that’s going off to Kenya now! RIGHT: Janet showed me an amazing Peruvian textile fragment that she got in some sort of sample exchange  – it is marked as being from the Chimu culture and is a slit tapestry weaving. The colors are so delicate and pretty.

We were invited by Karen, the nun from Bolivia, to visit the Redwood Monastery and that was a real treat. It is located on a three hundred-acre property where deer, wild turkeys and the occasional mountain lion roam -all very very novel for me and I was quite taken with all the wildlife! The church is decorated in a minimalist style with floor to ceiling windows looking out on the redwoods. Karen showed me the rec room in the weaving house high up on a hill where she ties up her backstrap loom to weave. She ties up to an enormous eight-shaft countermarche loom with a six-foot weaving width and a flying shuttle! Her backstrap sticks cetainly looks very small and humble up against that monster. Talk about from one extreme to the other!

Karen and Janet on the porch of the weaving house overlooking the dorms and redwoods. Karen’s is one of the few groups that has decided against wearing habits.

Speaking of enormous looms, Janet’s mill will be needing some re arrangements as she has been recently gifted her own monster loom. Yes – GIFTED!!  Her walking wheel and smaller looms will need to find new homes. I know of one loom that has been particularly unfriendly and won’t be missed – Janet has given it a name that I can’t even mention here!

Janet’s new toy – a Glimakra 8-shaft coutermarche loom. I am hoping that her poor wee backstrap loom won’t be neglected now…Anyway, this loom will provide a multitude of backstrap loom hitching posts! but I am sure that Janet has other things in mind for it…

One of Siv’s tapestries based on a traditional Flemish design.

It took two trips to get the loom from a Swedish woman, Siv Berg, who has had to find the loom a new good home as she had injured her arm in some way and felt she could no longer use it. I went along on the second pick up trip and found Siv to be a delightful and interesting person with enormous energy and a desire to tell us stories and share all her weavings . She is a wonderful tapestry weaver who has created pieces based on traditional Swedish and Flemish designs.

And it turns out that her son Bjorg spent some time in Argentina living and working with the gauchos on the southern sheep estancias and he totally blew me away when he appeared with this….

The traditional belt worn by the gauchos of Argentinas woven in warp faced double weave quite likely by a Mapuche weaver. They are designed to wrap two to three times around the waist. This was thrilling for me as I have only seen these in pictures and have actually always wondered if they were only worn for the tourist photo op. Bjorn was able to put me straight on that.

Siv showed us other textiles that she had around her home including a particularly fine huipil from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, where I learned to weave, in Guatemala. It is almost completely covered in double faced supplementary weft patterning and woven on a backstrap loom. She also showed us the complete traditional Swedish woman’s costume that she handwove and embroidered. I am afraid that the photo of her holding it here does not do it justice.

We could have stayed all day with Siv really – she is a fascinating lady and she must be happy knowing that her loom is going to a good home.

So I left Janet’s and headed on down to San Francisco once more and am having a couple of lazy days to catch up on this blog post and do a little online promotion of my e-tutorial. My backpack is somewhat swollen, not so much with stuff I bought at CNCH, but rather with what you see there at left. Janet gave me a whole lot of beautiful alpaca fleece to take back with me. Now you are probably thinking this is nuts – taking alpaca from the US back to Bolivia. Well would you believe that I have yet to find alpaca fleece in my travels in the highlands and that which is processed by the mills is only available for export. Janet gave me a big variety of colors including some incredibly soft stuff which she says is probably cria. I shall have to choose my weaving project very carefully for this lot.


BACK TO CNCH (Conference of Northern California Handweavers)

A little step back in time to share a bit about the cool folks I met at CNCH a couple of weeks ago.


Bambi, who made this all possible and who kept us all supplied with cookies and munchies.

The conference had countless highlights for me. Just one of these was the chance I had to meet people from the Santa Cruz Handweavers Guild who were demonstrating various fiber arts at their Education Booth. I was invited to demonstrate by Bambi who was busily spinning.

The problem was HOW to tie up my loom and I was just lucky that Janet had purchased a new set of wool combs that came with clamps so I was able to put the clamps on a table at the booth and lodge my loom bar behind it. Actually I only used one clamp and it worked really well.

Next to me was Annie McHale who was demonstrating inkle weaving. I have crowned Annie the Queen of Sashes and she has a great website showing her work. We had met up the previous day and she returned bringing me a bunch of beautiful bands to see. She makes the coolest guitar straps and was weaving one at the conference with letters writing a line from a Beatle’s song – what a great idea and it turned out so well!


There’s Annie showing her Beatle’s song line – I don’t know this song , but it has a special significance for the person who ordered this band. Next to Annie is Yonat, also from the Santa Cruz Guild, demonstrating inkle weaving and infecting us all with her high energy.

And then there was Ingrid. Now I would have had to have some kind of super high speed camera to catch Ingrid as she never stood still….and I didn’t manage to catch her!

Ingrid was demonstrating finger loop braiding and her lessons were highly popular and she was on the go all day. She tells me that she has seen my braiding tutorials here and that she is going to make some YouTube videos too to teach her braids – excellent!

One of Ingrid’s students at the show was kind enough to let me film her making a five-strand square braid and so I can share that with you all here – I LOVE finger loop braids – I used two strands of each of two colors and  one strand of a third color.

And then there was the shopping. I will just give you a taste of the colors here…

Colorful and highly popular African baskets. Yarn and yarn galore! My purchases…the book on sashes was a gift from Annie!! I bought an Ashford inklette, some beautiful belt shuttles and a 12.5 dpi rigid heddle for my backstrap loom as I still get a kick out of doing balanced weaves now and then.

Syne and Ruth Temple, who I know from Weavolution. Ruth presented Syne with the “Syne Mitchell action figure” complete with tiny rigid heddle and card looms! Now I must make her a teeny backstrap loom…

And some other cool people I met…I met Syne Mitchell online last year when I wrote the Backstrap Basics article for WeaveZine and lately we have been in close touch about the publication of my e-tutorial on Andean Pebble Weave which she is selling on the WeaveZine site.

So finally we got to meet in the flesh. Ruth Temple, who I know from Weavolution, was there too. It was actually from Ruth that I first heard about Weavolution – she wrote a comment on it on Ravelry back in the early days.

Franco Rios, a very active participant in my Weavolution Backstrap Weaving Group and undisputed King of DIY shows off his clipboard loom to Syne.

If you want to see some really nifty homemade looms and learn lots of cool DIY tips, check out Franco’s blog.

Lastly, I will show you a little about the gallery…

Tien Chu, one of Weavolution’s founders, entered her handwoven silk wedding gown and coat in the garment category in the gallery and won Best Of Show. She also won first and second place in the accessories section with other pieces.

I entered a set of three sashes in the wall hanging category and got a blue ribbon 🙂

The three sashes have been woven with three different Andean pick up techniques and represent three different regions of Bolivia. My aim is to extend this into a set of nine sashes covering all the techniques I have learned spanning the South American continent. Even the prize ribbon with the writing was handwoven by Lillian Whipple-you may have read her articles on WeaveZine.

Kathe taught, amongst others, a class on how to make the tassels used on the Old Believer belts.

Finally I would like to introduce you to Kathe Todd-Hooker, tapestry weaver and one of the teachers at CNCH.

I told you all last week about Kathe and Pat Spark’s involvement with the Russian Old Believer communities in Oregon. One of my blog readers was kind enough to embed a video with her comment last week which has a series of black and white photos of various Old Believer communities around the world. I thought it would make a fitting introduction.

The music that accompanies the photos is beautiful and haunting.

Feast your eyes on some of the backstrap woven and braided belts of the Russian Old Believers in Kathe’s collection…

LEFT: Supplementary warp patterned bands at top and bottom with a tapestry woven piece in the middle. The motifs on the supplementary warp patterned ones closely resemble some of those that are in the book on Lithuanian sashes that Annie gave me. RIGHT: These look to me to be Andean pebble weave-they are doubled faced and appear to be patterned with the same warp float structure as Andean pebble weave and they have me baffled! I am quite confident that I could reproduce them exactly.The motifs are not any that I have seen on Andean belts except for the border design on one.They again resemble those that I see in the Lithuanian sash book. If anyone knows anything about a belt weaving tradition in Europe using this structure, I would love to hear from you.

LEFT: Braided belts RIGHT: A single color plain weave belt with simple warp floats. Kathe told me that the belts are generally 60 inches long and three are woven to a warp.

These are the kind of plain belts that the Old Believers are now opting for. 

To be honest I think I have rambled on more than enough in this blog post this week!

I still have a lot to tell you about these belts and mostly about the fact that the skills involved in weaving them, at least in the communities in Oregon, are on the verge of being lost forever. Kathe was privileged to have been accepted as a weaving student by one of the older ladies in the community, then in her eighties, who has since died. I gather that it is by no means easy to be accepted and indeed a rare privilege. She was taught to weave a supplementary warp patterned belt and, once that was done, was simply told not to return. I imagine it was hard going as after a short time they made do without a translator.

Kathe is including information on the backstrap loom these weavers use and their weaving tools as part of a book she has written with Pat Spark called “So Warped, Warping a Loom for Weaving Tapestry”-soon to be released.

You can see at left the belts that are now being used. Woven by indigenous weavers in South America, they are brought to the US by members of the Old Believer communities in Brazil and Bolivia  when they travel to the US in search of wives and sold for a few dollars.

It seems strange to me that their interest in their traditional costume, in what would probably seem to most of us, garishly clashing colors is still strong. Yet ,what Kathe tells me is the most important part of their outfit, the belt, is neglected. The belt represents the arms of their church encircling them and they seem content with these plain quietly colored versions. Perhaps the skills have indeed been completely lost and they would welcome someone to reteach them. I would gladly oblige!


And speaking of threatened traditions…you may remember this little poppet from a previous post. She is the granddaughter of Luz, my weaving teacher in coastal Ecuador who taught me to weave simple warp floats and spin cotton. Luz and her family are probably the very last saddlebag weavers in the area who still handspin their cotton. Kathie, the anthropologist whom I accompanied on this trip has just uploaded to YouTube a video of nine year-old Melita learning to spin. Although, she doesn’t quite get it all coordinated, I am sure that it is just a matter of time . She certainly seems to be keen and interested and Kathie has played a very large role in documenting the weaving, dyeing and spinning traditions of the region and ensuring that they are not lost by encouraging the youngsters to take them on.

And just in case you didn’t know…

My e-tutorial on Andean Pebble Weave is now available at WeaveZine!

Thank you so much to all who have bought it so far and have mailed me with kind comments 😉


Thursday night..Dallas airport. Ah, the life of the standby traveler! I finally got on a flight to Dallas from San Francisco but too late to continue on to Charlotte, North Carolina and my friend Lisa. A lovely American Airlines lady gave me a cot, blanket and bottle of water and so here I am set up in one of the lounges cosy as can be, laptop set up and getting ready to pass the night. Hmmm…I wonder if there is a place to set up my backstrap loom here. Now if I could just figure out how to turn off the annoying tv!

Good night! See you all here Friday morning. 🙂


  1. I am so sorry I missed meeting you at CNCH. I started reading your blog several months ago recouping from illness. I had thought about the rh class myself, but wound up taking Kathe Todd Hooker’s soumack class.
    I wanted to tell you that seeing your pictures and reading your posts was such an inspiration for me to get my hand working again. I bought your
    e-book yesterday. What a wonderful treat. And so nicely put together. I love all the pictures. Thanks for sharing your weaving expertise in such an understandable fashion. Enjoy your trip, happy weaving Robin

    • Hi Robyn,
      Somehow I missed the fact that there was a soumak class at the conference and only found out on Saturday night and was kicking myself as I would definitely have taken it. And then by chance I was seated next to Kathe at the banquet! I would love to hear about what you learned in the class and see any sample you make.Thank you for buying the monograph-I hope you enjoy it!

  2. The story of the Old Believers is very sad and the video very moving. Some of the patterns on those bands look similar to bands I have seen from Asia. Would they have been woven on a heddle loom with the extra holes in it? The techniques are very similar to those of Andean weaving as shown here?

    • Hi Caroline,
      The supplementary warp bands-the narrower ones in my pictures- were woven on a backstrap loom with string heddles according to Kathe. The ones that have me baffled are thecomplimentary warp pebble-looking ones, not for the way they were produced but mainly because I did not know that this structure was woven in Europe. I know very little about European weaving history. It just surprises me to se something that is so familiar to me here turning up in these bands.
      Kathe gave a talk on the history of the migration of the Old Believers and their salong the way which I have not gone into. There is a very nice Wikipedia page about them that Kathe says is most likey written by the Old Believers themselves.

  3. Laverne, your enthusiasm and talent at what you do is incredible! I loved reading about your adventures and seeing all the beautiful pictures, thank you!


  4. Hi, Laverne.
    Your posts make my head swim with the possibilities! Someday, I wish to travel the world meeting weavers, but for now reading your stories will do. Thanks for dubbing me “the Queen of Sashes”! Did you see our picture in WeaveZine?
    I appreciate the link to my blog and got several visitors yesterday because of it. Today I posted the story about the guitar strap “Made of Money”.

    • Yes I saw us there on WeaveZine. Syne’s blog was fun. I must read about the “Made of Money” strap-so totally unique!

  5. Hi Laverne,
    The design found on the belts from a Russian online store ( is very close to what I see on the old believers’ belts.
    The weaver’s name is Svetlana. She lives and teaches weaving and other crafts in Moscow. You can see some pictures taken at the craft exhibition last year at I recently purchased a wooden implement (not sure what the proper name is) from Svetlana that is used for belt weaving and wove my first two belts. It is called “berdo” in Russian and you can see it at The interest in traditional crafts has grown in Russia too in the last ten years, at least as far as I can tell without being there. If you need anything translated from Russian I can help.


  6. […] braid, and move up to 7 loops before learning 9. This  diagram outlines the basic method. [NEW: link to Laverne Waddington's video of one of my students who has just learned it demoing a 5-loop braid! […]

  7. […] link to Laverne Waddington’s video of one of my students  who has just learned it demoing a 5-loop […]

  8. Hello, want to answer your question about the Old Believer Motifs on the sashes you show. I lived in an Old Believer village/ Monastery in Romania over the period of “99-2004 and found these similar motifs. I was talk to make “poisika” or sashes on a bench with nails. However, I was told that the fancier motifs were made by card weaving. The sash is a very important item to Old believers. They wear it in obedience to the biblical command to be girded for the coming of the Lord.
    Many of the local peasant women make these in very vibrant colors and they are worn by everyone! The Romanian sashes are finished with tassles but the ones made by the Old Believers in Alaska and Oregon generall do not. This is my observation anyway!

    • Hi and thank you so very much for this information. I would love to know more about the belts that you learned to make.

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