Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 11, 2010

Backstrap Weaving- Process and Prejudice (and a pretty braid)


My growing collection of works-in-progress



Well, I had my suspicions but now it is definitely confirmed. I am all about process rather than product. It gets harder and harder coming up with that “excuse” to weave. My usual excuse is “I need such-and-such so I had better weave one” – a thin disguise I am afraid. The truth is I just like to weave. I like the whole process-  charting, calculating, warping, heddle making, picking up the warps, watching the patterns slowly appear and take shape, beating and pushing each weft into place. At the end of it I am pleased if, after having taken photos of the piece, I can give the product to a good friend.

After all, just how many shoulder bags, purses, table runners and wall hangings do I need? As it is, there is hardly a patch of uncovered wall space in my tiny apartment. Mind you, I could do with a rug or two…hmm…


This is what came off the loom this week. My excuse…I found a new color in the mercerized cotton I use and there was one more Celtic knot I wanted to try from Kurt Laitenberger’s site. His site shows tablet-woven bands in a technique called Hochdorf.


I just can’t resist trying out a new color combination, reproducing a beautiful ethnic design that I have seen on the net, or attempting new structures. Now the explorations have extended to finding other looms on which the South American pick-up techniques can be comfortably woven – not for myself as I am very happy weaving on my backstrap loom – but for others who may not feel like being strapped into a loom. So I am developing a project stash as you can see above. There is also a pick up piece on my rigid heddle loom which wouldn’t fit into this picture.

One thing I wanted to do this past week was weave one of the pebble-like designs from the Russian Old Believer belts in the heavy duty sewing thread that I got in the US. Well, shock and horrror, that thread turned out to be polyester. Silly me not to have looked more closely. I was wooed by the beautiful colors and made a warp anyway but it felt awful. I guess it’s back to the doubled regular cotton sewing thread.


Russian Old Believer belts woven in supplementary warp and complementary warp techniques.


So that project got put on hold and I decided instead to chart all the designs from the pebble-like belts in Kathe Todd-Hooker’s collection so that I would have them ready once I got all the thread colors that I needed. I started looking at all the belts including the supplementary warp ones and there is not a single repeated color combination amongst the lot. However, it was interesting to see the repetition of certain motifs on bands woven in different techniques. As you can see above on the left the diagonal “comb” design woven with a supplementary warp is also woven as a border in the bands with the pebble-like structure. The “star’ border design also appears in the two pebble examples on the right as well as in the supplementary warp example on the far right.

And now I come to the “prejudice” part of the title of this post. I have to confess that I have never really liked weaving with supplementary warps. I am not a big fan of longish warp floats but I have decided that I really must get over this as I would like to weave some of the beautiful patterns on the bands below.


The Russian Old Believer bands in the central part of this picture have all been decorated with supplementary warps.


Annie McHale (aspinnerweaver) gave me an amazing book on Lithuanan sashes when I met her at CNCH which is packed with similar patterns. They are stunning and are just calling out to me to be woven!

I first learned this supplementary warp technique with my pebble weave teacher, Margarita in Huancayo in 1996. I guess I never really cared that much for the little motifs we wove and didn’t explore the technique much further. Pebble weave, on the other hand was a very different story!

At left is the first piece I wove when I returned to Chile from Huancayo. I combined pebble weave with the supplementary warp patterning in the one piece. I was new to all of this and way over ambitious and  got my warping all back to front and mixed up and so what you see here is what I wanted as the upper face of the pebble weave and the reverse of the supplementary warp patterns – those little green creatures on the left and right borders.

Below are the bands that I wove with Margarita and you can see what the upper face is supposed to look like. They have been glued into my journal where I have documented the technique.

You can see that like any beginner I was very selvedge-challenged! We used orange weft which was exposed on the surface of the weaving  adding an extra decorative feature. We could have created a smoother-looking single color background by using a yellow weft instead.

The following year I went to the Colca Canyon region of Peru and spent some time with a weaver in Cabanaconde. Together we wove the blue and white band on the right.

The motifs used in this area were quite different to those in Huancayo and the technique too had some slight differences.

As we used white weft, the background to the blue figures appears smoother.

Estela, in Cabanaconde used a very fine ground weave warp thread and a thicker supplementary warp thread. In Huancayo, both the ground and supplementary warp threads were the same. The fineness of the ground weave and the tightness of the weave made Estela’s band more atractive to me than those from Huancayo. I still wasn’t crazy about the technique, however, and although I carefully documented the differences in the weavings done in both areas, I was not motivated to incorporate supplementary warp patterning into my own work.


At the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival I happened upon the old familiar supplementary warp motifs in this weaving from Ayacucho. I had been to Ayacucho in 1996 before arriving in Huancayo. Back then, only one year after the capture of the leader of the “Sendero Luminoso” group, it was a beautiful but very sad place.


Shortly after this trip and returning to my home in southern Chile, I visited a sheep “estancia”  in the southern Argentinean town of Rio Gallegos. The owner showed me a belt that the Mapuche wife of one of his farm hands had woven and given him many years ago. It was yellow and decorated with motifs in many bright colors and I still remember how he snorted in disblief when I asked permission to chart it as I wanted to reproduce it. I couldn’t believe that I was there at the bottom of the continent seeing this very same technique. I am sorry I never got around to sending a photo of the reproduction to that doubting farm owner.


I chose a white ground weave and multi color pattern using the same yarns for both ground and supplementary warps as had been done in the Mapuche belt. It is a four-selvedge piece with the edges decorated with cross knit looping. This bag hangs off the side of my bed and holds whichever books I happen to be reading at the moment.


Since then I have found many gorgeous Mapuche designs in books which have been woven using this supplementary warp technique. I have an ongoing project which involves making a set of sashes to represent all the weave structures I have learned here in Latin America. I have gotten as far as making a yarn test for the sash I would like to weave using a Mapuche design and this technique. I much prefer using  fine thread for the ground weave and a heavier and fluffier yarn for the supplementary warp.


LEFT: My sample band for a sash in this technique. RIGHT: Another yarn test using sewing thread as the ground warp. The pencil is one of the small IKEA ones.


AlthoughI learned this technique almost fourteen years ago, I really haven’t done much with it. Such has been my “prejudice”. I almost considered it “inferior”, being much more fond of complementary warp structures. However, quite recently I wove these little purses…

Here both the ground and patterning warp are the same weight and I am still not crazy about the longish floats. I think small and fine is the way to go for me.


Two women in Otavalo wearing the traditional “anaku”


I have certainly seen a lot of patterning done with supplementary warps in my travels. Ecuador is full of this technique. There it is used to make the “chumbis”, or belts, used by the women to secure their long skirts.

I particularly love the long wrap skirt called “anaku” used by the women in Otavalo. These are said to be the skirts that most closely resemble those used by Inca women with their long split sides.

In Otavalo two anakus are worn. A white one with the split on one side is worn under a darker colored one with the split on the other side. A pleat is made in the waist to fit the wearer and both are held in place with two chumbis – the “mama” and the “guagua”(pronounced wa-wa), the mom and baby. Some weavers I visited in the village of San Roque explained to me that the outer belt is the guagua chumbi and is the one which bears the supplementary warp patterns.


The guagua chumbi is woven on a backstrap loom with acrylic yarns and is extremely firm and stiff. The white ground weave warp threads are finer than the red patterning ones.



I believe that these are both guagua chumbis. Each measures around three meters. I have noticed a trend towards wearing the double woven belts from Potosi, Bolivia in Otavalo. These belts are narrower and only wrap once around the waist. I wonder if they are as effective for holding up the two anakus. Look at the car motif on the red belt.


Below are some of the motifs from the blue chumbi. Any large white areas need to be filled with spots or squiggles of design to avoid having very long warp floats on the back of the belt. This is one of the things that feeds my prejudice againt this technique. I love these motifs but sometimes the weavings are a little too “busy” for my liking having all their spaces filled in.


Similar figures appear on the belts from Salasaca.


When I went to Salasaca, I did not learn to make the belts with these little human and animal figures. My teacher, Felipe taught me to weave the geometric designs that they call “kingus” and “frutillas”.


Felipe at work on his long continuous warp on his porch while his mother-in-law sits by. As usual there is a cat that wants to get into the act.



There are no over-long warp floats when weaving the tiny repeated motifs like those on the left. The  example on the right, however, has long floats on the back as the colors in the motifs have been alternated. These are the pieces I wove when I got back home to consolidate what I had learned and enable me to take step-by-step photos of the process.


Above left you can see one shed of ground weave warps – white with colored stripes which separate the columns of motifs. On the right, I have picked up all the supplementary warps required to make the design and am about to add them to the ground weave shed.

At left I am picking up the pattern warps with the tiny Salasaca sword. The beater I used when I was learning with Felipe was an enormous heavy version of this sword which slammed the wefts into place. Needless to say, the resulting belt was firm and very stiff and my knuckles blue and bruised!

Warping for these belts was a little complicated and required six stakes.

We set up some stakes in the yard so Felipe could show me how to warp. Quite often two colors were being wound at once in different directions and it was quite confusing. I added stakes to one of my standard warping boards at home and managed to warp successfully for my practice bands. In Huancayo too, two colors were wound at the same time – full bouts of ground warp alternated with half bouts of the supplementary warp.

So, I am taking another look at this negelected technique. I learned it, I documented it and practiced it a little but I think it is time I gave it a bit more attention and learned to love it. Who could help but love it? Look above at the gorgeous belt I bought in Cusco. The brown sections are patterned with white supplementary warps.

I am going to weave a few of the Old Believer belt patterns to start and get a feel for those designs. The first part of the process will be the charting.


You may remember the blue shuttle bag that I wove recently and which I was going to edge with a tubular band. In the end I decided that less was more and left it unadorned. I also thought it would be a good idea to practice that band first considering I hadn’t woven it for over ten years. Out came the chunky yarn and I chose colors that would photograph well – not the nicest color combination you have ever seen I am sure.  This band is what I consider the “poor cousin” of the complex ones woven in Peru and was taught to me in Potosi here in Bolivia. Now I am confident about the process and need to find the “excuse” or product on which to use it!



Here are the instructions for weaving the Margarita braid as taught to me by my sling braiding teacher, Zacarias in Yanque, Peru. If you have watched the video I made on the Palma braid here (embedded in the post), you will be familiar with what I mean by “near side”, “far side”, “uppers” and “lowers”. You will have seen how the braid is held in the fist, how a warp is passed from one side and paired with a warp from the other side and anchored and how the entire braid is rotated once a part of the sequence is completed.

So all I need to tell you now is the number of strands, their color arrangement and the parts of the sequence.

Remember that lowers always pass over to pair with uppers.

Part one: (Always starting from the left and moving right)

  • Black near side to red far side.    
  • Black far side to red near side.
  • Red near side to black far side.
  • Red far side to black near side.
  • Black near side to red far side.
  • Black far side to red near side.

Rotate  ninety degrees clockwise.

Part two: Start at black far side.

Part three: Start at red near side.

Part four: Start at red far side.

If you continue like this, you will be making “V”s on two opposing “sides” of the braid and inverted “V” s on the other two sides.

If you reverse the parts of the sequence, the “Vs will invert to first form a  diamond. The inverted “V”s will flip to form anX”. In the photo at left you can see the diamond on the left and the “X” on the right.

To create a black diamond with a red center, stop when you finish part two of the sequence. Instead of proceeding to part three, do part four. Now the sequence will reverse. You will proceed with parts three, then two, then one.

Play around with it and have fun!

The version I learned in Peru allowed color changes. We used twelve strands of a third color, for example white, that were hidden as the core of the braid. The white strands would slowly be brought into action two at a time replacing the reds until eventually the reds formed the core and the blacks and whites were active. I will show you this another time! 🙂


Phew! This has gotten really long but I really have to show you what people have been weaving this week.

We are still weaving along at Weavolution following my e-monograph on Andean Pebble Weave and other folks are following the tutorials in the Backstrap Weaving Group.

Lydia finished her pebble weave piece on her four-shaft loom and has made a wall hanging with it. Karren wove some bookmarks for a guild exchange using the simple warp float technique. The colors in both pieces remind me of the American southwest.

Jennifer has begun to create her own motifs in Andean pebble weave on the left and Jeanne is gradually weaving wider bands with more complex motifs.

Lydia’s first experiment on her four shaft loom was made into keyfobs. Carolyn has designed a bee to weave in Andean pebble weave.

And Lisa has taken her loom to the beach to continue participating in the weave along. This next photo falls into the category of…


I will leave you all here with a couple of beautiful drawings by Guaman Poma de Ayala. I told you a bit about him in this past post and wanted to include these pictures of the Inca woman’s skirt as we have been looking at the elegant Otavalan anakus here.


  1. Dear Laverne, First off thank you so much for your blog, I enjoy reading your words and I love looking and admiring your pieces. Thank you. I have been weaving and teaching backstrap for 15 years. I have been teaching pebble weave for quite of few of those years. I started out doing supplementary warp but as you have I too have enjoyed the pebble weave more. I have always taught backstrap on only a very narrow scale with no sticks. Although I have woven some with the two bars technique I was always intimidated to teach that technique. Well you’ve inspired me and I will now teach that technique. Wish me luck.

    • Hi Albert,
      I would love to see what you have been weaving if you would like to send me pictures some time.

  2. Hi Laverne,
    Fascinating as always!

    • Hi Cindy,
      Thanks for visiting. Looking forward to showing more of your bands here.

  3. I have been looking at the Guaman Poma web site and what a treasure! I love the drawings (I envision mucho tapestries) and the story is so intriguing.

    • Oh yes! Imagine those in tapestries!! It is an incredible piece of work.

  4. I really enjoyed your post this week. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Laverne, the Celtic Knots you wove are beautiful. I have also admired Kurt’s photos on Flickr. It is nice to see your version.
    Sorry that the sewing thread you purchased was a disappointment. You can try again when you are here next month.
    Thanks for the link!

  6. […] week too but couldn’t find the Margarita braid that I had started for the tutorial I posted here. I suspect my cat made off with it during the night so I made […]

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 )

Google+ photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: