Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 25, 2010

Backstrap Weaving- Putting Down Roots and Weaving a Guatemalan Tree (Part 1)

Celtic knot motifs in Andean pebble weave on my backstrap loom


It is exciting how much interest there is out there in backstrap weaving. Some people are attracted to all the beautiful pick-up patterns they have seen on ethnic textiles around the world many of which have been woven on  backstrap looms. Others are attracted to the loom itself – its simplicity, portability and  low cost. Some people are interested in the products they can produce using up their yarn stash with this inexpensive piece of equipment while others are more intrigued by the processes involved in the “slow cloth” it produces.

I think that some people may be unaware that most of the pick-up patterning techniques do not need to be limited to the

My boyfriend learning Andean pebble weave on my rigid heddle loom

backstrap loom and can be set up and woven on other looms. I have heard from quite a few people in the time that I have been active in the online weaving groups who have jumped headfirst into backstrap weaving and attempted some of the more complex pick-up techniques as first projects only to become frustrated and disappointed.

A few have managed to succeed and I am always reminded of the Spanish girl who wrote to tell me how she had taken my monograph on a hiking trip, picked up some sticks along the way, and woven a band in Andean pebble weave as her first ever backstrap loom project. She blew me away!

Unfortunately, I have heard more stories of people falling in love with the llama motifs on my blog, getting some dowels for a backstrap loom and attempting double weave as a first project. The poor backstrap loom now sits under dust on the shelf.

Jorge made a key fob and quickly got the hang of operating the two sets of heddles.

I would like everyone to be as in love with the backstrap loom as I am but, if you are really more interested in the patterns than the loom, why not lash your warps to other looms as I did for my boyfriend above? Now I have to tell you that Jorge had no particular urge to learn Andean pebble weave. He has been listening to me beat away at my loom for many years now with no desire to get down on the floor and join in but I needed to do a  timed test run for a lesson I had planned and he kindly obliged –  and very well he did too. He even allowed me to post this picture! He is pretty confident that the fellow members of his heavy metal rock band don’t read my blog. 🙂

For those of you who love the loom and want to get down and beat away, I have put together a kind of tutorial on what I would call the “Steps to Success”. It is a list of all the tutorials that I have put out there and the order in which I would recommend doing them. “Putting Down Roots” would be another good name as, taking it slowly, and following these steps will give you a firm foundation, develop your skills and have you well prepared for all those lovely pick-up patterns that we all want to weave. You will find the list here. It is worth checking out as you may have forgotten how many tutorials there were out there amongst WeaveZine, Weavolution and this blog. I have gathered up  seven that I would list in the beginner category.

Tool bag fabric almost ready to come off the loom

I wove like mad all weekend as I was determined to get two projects off the loom. I have several others churning around in my head and I needed to free up some loom bars. Above you can see the purple fabric that I have been weaving for a tool bag set. This is what always happens when I do pebble weave –  I turn the fabric over and then can’t decide which side I like best. Fortunately I have enough fabric to make two bags so I can have one with each of the sides showing.  Before I declare this project complete, there is the horrid zipper sewing task to get through. I have one bag finished so far.

The smaller of the two purple bags has not been sewn up yet. I would like to make more in these rich colors.

This came off the loom too this week. I should be able to make three coin purses from this - more zips, sigh...This was a yarn test for the Aunt Lydia number 10 crochet cotton. The black is the Brazilian brand crochet cotton that I get here. There was a small amount of pilling on the heddles in the black sections but virtually none in the red.


You may remember that I had planned to go to Guatemala on my way home from my recent visit to the US. I didn’t go as the US trip had been so long and I really needed to get home. It turns out that it was just as well as Guatemala City soon after was affected by a volcanic eruption which caused havoc. I would normally choose to avoid Guatemala during hurricane season but volcanic eruptions can happen at any time of year.

Guatemalan tree designs woven with acrylic supplementary wefts on a fine cotton ground weave

Anyway, I thought that we could do a little virtual trip to Guatemala in the meantime. I still have the bag of bright Guatemalan acrylics on the shelf and am no nearer to getting down to respinning them to use as warp.

I decided I would use them for some supplementary weft patterning, as they were originally intended, instead.

I wove a tree design using the various warp wrapping and inlay techniques that the Guatemalan weavers employ and this was fun as I hadn’t done any of this since 2008 immmediately after my return from my first visit there.

I learned these techniques with my teacher Martine and her daughter Carmen in Santa Catarina Palopo on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I met Martine in Panajachel where she sells textiles in the street market. She took me to her home and spent one morning setting up the loom and then her daughter took over weaving and teaching me for the next week or so. She was a good teacher. Each motif was repeated six or seven times across the cloth. Carmen would show me five times what to do and then would let me weave the last one or two motifs to practice what she had shown.

The weavers set up their looms with great care. Martine was obviously more skilled at doing this and Carmen only took over when everything was set to go. The warp is wound with two crosses. The second cross helps hold the shed rod in place.

LEFT: The basic loom set up with shed rod and string hedddles in place. RIGHT: An extra stick is placed in the second cross to hold the shed rod in position.

In order to create the patterns, two extra patterning sticks need to be inserted and stored up beyond the shed rod. One is stored on top of the warp and the other underneath.

LEFT: To set up the patterning sticks, the shed rod shed is opened and the first set of patterning warps are picked up. Pick one, drop two, pick one, drop two across the width of the warp.. The weavers use a pointed stick to do this. RIGHT: The pointed stick is inserted under all the picked warps and then pushed up toward the heddles. This will raise the picked up warps on the other side of the heddles. Another stick is then placed under the warps on the other side of the heddles. This is the first patterning stick.

The first patterning stick sits up beyond the shed rod until called into use.

LEFT: A colored weft is placed under the warps in the first patterning shed. This serves as a reference to make picking up the warps for the second patterning shed easier. RIGHT: The heddle shed is opened and the warps in the second patterning shed are picked up. Between each warp in the first patterning shed, there are three warps. You need to pick up the middle one of these three warps. You will pick one, drop two, pick one, drop two all the way across the warp. The pointed stick is inserted under all the picked up warps.

LEFT: The pointed stick is moved up toward the heddles which will raise the picked up warps on the other side of the heddles. RIGHT: A stick is placed under the warps on the other side of the heddles. Both the stick and the shed rod are raised and this creates a new shed underneath the two. I have my hand within this shed and will replace it with the second patterning stick.

Here you can see the two patterning sticks in place up beyond the shed rod.

Two wefts are used to weave the above typical patterns of Santa Catarina Palopo: a red weft is passed through the two main sheds (shed rod shed and heddle shed) to weave the ground weave and the brightly colored supplementary wefts are passed under or wrapped around the patterning warps to form the motifs. These are samples that I wove when I returned from Gautemala.

Motifs are usually started and ended with four rows of supplementary wefts in the patterning sheds forming a brick-like design. The colored pattern weft (in this case yellow) is passsed through the pattern shed and then the main weft (in this case light green) is passed through the main shed.

To open pattern shed one, the patterning stick is simply drawn down to the heddles. This will raise the pattern warps and a stick can be placed under them on the near side of the heddles. The yellow weft can then be passed through this shed. Then the shed rod shed will be opened and the green weft passed. RIGHT: To open pattern shed two, the patterning stick is also drawn down to the heddles (under the warp). The pattern warps won't pop up quite so easily for this shed so it helps to have your beater in the heddle shed and tilted as shown. Like this the pattern warps will be more apparent and you can slide a stick under them.The yellow weft is passed under these warps and then the green weft is passed through the heddle shed.

In this picture I have laid in the first pass of yellow supplementary weft in patterning shed two. The beater is in the heddle shed and I have just passed the main green weft through.

Here concludes Part One of this tutorial on Guatemalan single face supplementary weft patterning. So far we have looked at how to pick the two patterning sheds and store them on sticks up beyond the shed rod, how to open the patterning sheds and how to weave the basic brick design which separates the motifs on a piece. We also looked at the weaving sequence, that is, first passing the supplementry weft and then the main weft.

In Part Two, next week, I will show you how to create the outlines of shapes by wrapping the supplementary weft around warps and fill them in by laying in supplementary wefts. The Guatemalan weavers create all kinds of bird, plant and human figures. They even include some of their weaving tools, for example, a swift.

To finish off here, let me show you my weaving teacher and her family and some places around beautiful Lake Atitlan where they live.

RIGHT: Carmen is asking for guidance from her mother Martine. LEFT: Carmen's younger sister and niece and nephew. The little niece was so sweet in her tiny huipil, corte and belt.

Santa Catarina Palopo is oe of many settlements on the shore of beautiful Lake Atitlan. The sign outside the library shows words in the Kaqchikel language.

I hitched a ride another 20 minutes down the road to the smaller town of San Antonio Palopo and visited with some backstrap weavers making incredibly wide pieces on their looms and some siblings all dressed in the same typical colors of the town. It was a nice quiet place to stroll and hear the sounds of warps being beaten from within the walls of the homes and see the warping boards out in the patios. From there I took a launch ride on the lake back to Panajachel.

I went across the lake to Santiago Atitlan for the Sunday market. This town is known for its superbly hand embroidered clothing. I saw older women in the market wearing hair sashes wrapped around their heads. The men wear three quarter length loose white striped pants which are often covered in embroidered birds.

I sat by the roadside and tried to photograph the parade of people in their gorgeous embroidered and ikat dyed clothing as they walked by.

In San Juan La Laguna a women's weaving cooperative is producing items for tourists using only their own cotton thread dyed with natural substances.

Strolling back to San pedro La Laguna from San Juan I met Roi from Israel who was attempting to cycle around the world. I have never heard of him since. I wonder if any of you have run into him in your travels? The lady at right is from San Jorge La Laguna, high up on the hillside above the lake shore, which is known for its ikat woven fabric. Here she is demonstrating spinning the natural brown “cuyuscate” cotton which is highly prized and costly in Guatemala.

Speaking of epic cycling journeys, I was contacted through this blog by a lady who is cycling from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. She stopped off in Huancayo and had weaving classes with the very same weaver who taught me. Funnily enough she told me that Margarita is no more vocal in her instruction than she was with me fourteen years ago! I can just imagine this lady cycling about with her backstrap loom on the back of her bike. If we can get our timing right, she will come to Santa Cruz to visit me and have some more classes.

Last week I showed you what Jennifer , one of my four-shaft loom testers for Andean pebble weave was making on her floor loom. Well now it is finished and here it is!!

Stand by for the four-shaft loom appendix to my e-monograph….:-)

And Karren has been weaving more bookmarks in simple warp float technique with all her own designs.


  1. I so enjoy your blog and am anxious to begin backstrap weaving. I just need to finish my loom parts and get some fiber.

    • Great! Remember to take it slowly and follow the steps and please keep me posted on your progress.

  2. Wonderful lesson, Laverne – thanks yet again!

    I’ve been playing a bit lately with single weft double weave (with the brilliant colors I love). I’ll have to take some pictures and share them! I have a question, though – how do I smooth out the uneven ridges in the weaving? Every other weft-pass-bump is high and the alternate ridge in very low. Is it tensioning? Is it beating? Is it how I’m sitting? I can’t seem to smooth it out, even with practice.

    • Hi Erika,
      I would love to see what you are weaving in double weave. Please send me pictures when you have some ready.

      As for those annoying ridges…I get them too but never in double weave. They show up when I do plain weave but only at the start of a piece, not in fine yarns and especially on narrow bands. I wish there were some kind of scientific explanation for it but I suspect that it has something to do with tension, that is, too much tension at the beginning of a piece when the warps are stretched out straight and firm. I am only guessing and have not put that much thought into it as it does eventually go away as weaving progresses. Maybe someone who has the scientific explanantion will show up and tell us!

  3. […] Last week when I started the tutorial on this technique, I was using acrylic threads that I had brought back from Guatemala to create bright mutlicolored trees on a green background, pictured at left. […]

  4. Hallo Laverne! Love your site. May I ask, what camera you use for your close-ups of your weaving? I need to get a new one and I would greatly appreciate your help. You can emails me if you like. Best of health! Jane

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