Posted by: lavernewaddington | July 2, 2010

Backstrap Weaving-A Bolivian winter of flowers and sunshine and a Guatemalan tree (Part 2)

While people in my online weaving groups are posting pictures of lilies, poppies and butterflies in celebration of the northern summer, here in the southern hemisphere winter is in full swing. The Bolivian President Evo Morales suddenly declared June 21st, the winter solstice, Aymara Day and a national holiday.  Bolivia is now known as Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia rather than La Republica in recognition of the various indigenous groups which it comprises and this has me wondering if we will be having Guarani and Quechua Days as national holidays too.

However, it is hard to believe that we are in the middle of winter here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia where I sit at my laptop in tshirt and shorts wondering whether I should turn on the air conditioner as the suns comes around the building and throws golden rays through my bedroom window.
The highlands are experiencing their dry season and it is COLD. I spent most of one July and August up in Potosi at 4000 meters in a shabby room in a backpacker hostel – bare cement floor, pinned down in my bed under kilos of thick hand woven blankets and still cold! I remember trying to squeeze myself into the thinnest possible package in order to fit under the tiny trickle of hot water that came out of the electric shower head. The lowest possible water pressure was the only way to get  hot water. Washing clothes in the cold water brought tears to my eyes!
At left you see dry, dusty and sparsely vegetated Potosi with its landmark mountain Cerro Rico whose silver deposits sustained the Spanish economy for centuries.

LEFT: Miners keep effigies of the devil, whom they call El Tio, in various places within the mines as they believe that he is the owner of the minerals and needs to be appeased with offerings of cigarettes, coca and alcohol. RIGHT: You can beat the winter chills with a soak in the thermal waters of the volcanic crater lake at Tarapaya. I must confess that this photo was taken on a second visit to Potosi in January when it wasn’t so cold. Rumors that there are whirlpools in the center of the lake which suck people in keep most visitors in the cement pools in the valley below. I kept close to the edge of the lake at all times!

On my first visit to Potosi in 1997, I met Ulla, a Danish girl who was staying on in Potosi after having spent a year there as an exchange student. We learned to weave together with sisters Julia and Hilda. As Ulla didn’t have a patio, she set up an oblique loom in her warm little apartment and was able to weave comfortably there. It certainly beat having to bend over the grond loom. On her lap, apart from the kitten, you can see the “saca” or little woven sample that the weavers use to help them remember how to weave the designs.

I was fortunate to be in Potosi on August 31st for the Chu’tillos festival which celebrates San Bartolome. Dancers in typical costume from all over the province of Potosi parade in the street on the first day followed by dancers from all over Bolivia on the second. The best part is actually the weeks leading up to the festival as the groups rehearse late at night in the empty streets and laugh and chatter and have a lot of fun while doing so.

Bolivia extends from the dry, dusty highlands to the lush green lowlands known as the “oriente”, where I live. They are like two totally different countries in so many ways. In recognition of that, Bolivia has not one but two national flowers,  the patuju from the oriente (below left) and the kantuta from the highlands (right).

Both contain the colors red, yellow and green, the colors of the Bolivian flag. Santa Cruz abounds in flowers, trees and greenery at all times of year. It just never really feels like winter. Electric cables disappear within mazes of tree branches and it sometimes feels like the city is on the verge of being swallowed by the jungle that lurks on its outskirts.

The “tajibo” and “torobochi” trees that line the streets.

The pattern barely shows on the back of supplementary weft patterned pieces

So with all this in mind I have been weaving some sunny tree and flower designs in the single face supplementary weft patterning  technique that I learned in Guatemala in Santa Catarina Palopo.

This is a fun technique with little or no counting involved which allows you to play freely with shapes and colors.

The resulting weaving looks like a piece of embroidered cloth except that the “stitches” only appear on one side of the fabric.

Bookmarks made with Guatemalan tree and sun motifs

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.

I decided to buy some embroidery floss to work with and it took some time to get just the right thickness to go with my chosen ground weave warp. The ground weave is a 50 wpi cotton and I used 4 strands of embroidery floss to do the patterning.

The 50 wpi warp produces a wonderfully thin cloth just right for bookmarks although the pattern wefts do add some bulk.

So, let’s continue with the tutorial.

I have done a recap of what I showed you in Part 1 of the tutorial last week on a video. I have used  thick cotton and only a few warps to demonstrate the picking of the warps for the two patterning sheds, the placement of the patterning sticks in the loom, the technique for opening the patterning sheds and the weaving sequence. I don’t recommend using such thick yarn for your own supplementary weft project!

All the colored wefts that form the patterns pass under or wrap around the warps in the two patterning sheds. This green piece has 86 ends between the dark green border stripes.

The base of the little Guatemalan tree is a double horizontal line. STEP ONE: To form this, place a strand of around 40cm/16″ of supplementary weft under the central patterning warp. The two ends on either side should be of equal length. The central warp in my set up just happens to be in patterning shed 2 so I have started in the heddle shed.

STEP TWO: Cross the ends of the supplementary weft. STEP THREE: Start wrapping the left hand end around the 5 warps to the left of the central warp and return wrapping around 4 warps. The diagram below shows how this is done.

The steps for horizontal wrapping are shown here. The left end of the weft wraps to the left and returns and the right end wraps to the right and returns. These four steps all take place in the same pattern shed. The wefts wrap around four warps on their return journey to the center. STEP 5: Pass the main weft through the complete shed.

Open the next shed, which is, in my case, the shed rod shed and pass the main weft.

Open the heddle shed and raise the patterning warps in patterning shed 2.

Patterning shed 2 contains my central warp.

Every time I raise the warps in patterning shed 2, I will wrap my green tree base weft around the central warp to form a stem. The drawing at left shows the very simple vertical wrapping method.

The stem, therefore, is woven only in every second shed.

In this shed I will lay in the wefts to form the first pair of leaves.

Cut two lengths of weft around 24cm/9 1/2” long for the two leaves.



Starting the second leaf.

The little Guatemalan tree has three pairs of leaves and the stem continues growing until it eventually widens out into the tree top.

Once you have woven your six leaves, I am sure that it will be very easy for you to see how the tree top is formed.

You are weaving your stem with two strands of weft – one will start traveling to the right and one to the left while filling in the tree top in the same way that you filled in the leaves.

Finally there are the little spots that the Guatemalan weavers like to use to fill in blank spaces between motifs. I used them in my bookmarks as flower buds. You can see two yellow spots in the photo above.

To make a spot, you use two adjacent patterning warps as shown in the drawing above left. Use a strand of weft half the thickness that you would normally use. Around  12cm/5″ length should be plenty. First pass the weft behind the warp on the right as shown. Then join the two ends together and go wrapping them back and forth in the same shed about six times. Pass the ends through the main shed and out the back of the weaving.

The drawing above right shows how to make a diagonal line for a branch.

It is very easy to improvise with this technique. Have fun with it!


It seems I was in the mood for autumn colors as I got back to work on the yurt band piece that I started a while ago and really had a good time picking that up again. At first I found it very confusing after having spent so much time on Andean pebble weave lately. Usually one is picking up light warps on a dark background or viceversa  but in this technique you pick up lights for one weft pass and then darks for the next. This is a simple warp float technique ( see this tutorial and this one) that can look a lot like Andean pebble weave but is totally different in structure. I copied the design from an image of a Turkoman yurt band that my friend Lisa had showed me on the net,

The original Turkoman band on the left next to my reproduction. I left out the triangles that run down the sides separating the two main pattern areas.

The other project I worked on this week was finishing off the red and black piece, sewing it up into three coin purses and putting in those dastardly zips! I believe that I am actually getting the hang of these zips now.

Three coin purses with North and South American motifs in Andean pebble weave.



Today, (July 1st), the appendix to my e-monograph with instructions for weaving Andean pebble weave on a four-shaft loom went out!

Those who have already purchased my monograph will automatically receive it and it will be included in all future downloads of the monograph from now on at no extra cost.

My testers have made some lovely things on their four-shaft looms which I have been showing here on my blog over the last few weeks.

Lisa wove a band with several small motifs. Lydia made a wall hanging with a bird motif of Huancayo and Jennifer is going to turn her piece with the design from one of the Russian Old Believer belts into a backstrap.


Finally I would like to show what Helena, who is in the backstrap weaving group at Weavolution, has made  in supplementary weft patterning using various colors and Mexican designs. Beautiful!


  1. Impresionante los tutoriales! El de hoy realmente FABULOSO, gracias por compartirlo. Estoy aprendiendo mucho de telar y de inglés al tratar de leerlo, jajajaja.
    Un abrazo

    • Es la manera mas divertida y efectiva para aprender otro idioma…a traves de algo que te encanta!

  2. Your weaving is beautiful as usual! I love the information about Bolivia, the people and places.

  3. I look forward to your email each week. I love to see your beautiful weaving and your detailed information. I am new to weaving and have just started doing pick-ups on my inkle loom. You have inspired me to keep trying as I want to (in the near furure) try backstrap weaving.

    • Hi Cheryl,
      A lot of the skills that you are developing on your inkle loom will transfer to the backstrap loom so you are getting a good head start. It is often nice to try out the techniques on a loom that is a little more stable before trying out backstrap weaving. Keep me posted on your progress and thanks for visiting. 🙂

  4. Laverne, I love your colors, both the autumn ones which all go so nicely together, and the bright spring, summer colors. I think you are an inspiration to a lot of weavers. I hope you keep posting tutorials. I’m learning a lot, even though I haven’t tried any techniques yet. I know where to come when I’m ready!

    • Thanks for visiting Jenny and for your comments. Feedback like this makes my day!

  5. Verny, gracias!! Estoy muy feliz por haberte encontrado. He estado en Sucre y me alegra mucho ver tus fotos, ¡ qué gratos recuerdos!!
    Gracias por tus imágenes, por tus tejidos y por todo lo que nos entregas.¡Felicitaciones!

    • Hola Cecilia! Me intriga saber donde aprendiste mi apodo!

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