Posted by: lavernewaddington | August 19, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – Textile Travel Tales from DC and beyond.

Well, I am back in Bolivia after an exciting month on the road in the US. This was supposed to be a three-week  trip and I was aiming to be back home to celebrate my birthday on August 13th but…one thing led to another, as it invariably does, and there was so much to learn and do…

I spent an intense day in the nation’s capital revisiting the Textile Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.

We checked the weather in Santa Cruz on the morning of my flight from Charlotte, North Carolina and it said…”smoky with temperature in the high 80s”. This is the Santa Cruz winter! Smoky? Well I know well enough that this time of year is the seasonal “slash and burn” period as farmers prepare their fields not only here but also in neighboring Brazil for planting and the October/November rains. All refuse from the previous harvest is burned which makes the days hazy and turns the moon blood red in the night sky. At the height of the burn off the smoke descends in the early morning hours and can be as thick as a London fog in the streets.

Perhaps this is not the best time to be in Santa Cruz but we are compensated somewhat by the fact that this is the time when the tajibos are in glorious bloom.

After Convergence in Albuquerque which I wrote about two weeks ago, I headed to Maryland to stay with weaving buddy and Weavolution co founder Claudia and her friends Janet and David. I was installed in luxury in their lovely home, after my humble digs in the Albuquerque hostel, surrounded by luscious Montgomery County farmland.

The original Poolesville bank still stands in this town of 5600 inhabitants. The black-eyed Susan is the state flower. Juicy peaches on sale at a local farm store and my three Maryland hosts.


Some of the gorgeous places we visited all in close reach of Poolesville…the Black Rock Mill (used in the Blair Witch Project 2 movie), part of the historical C and O canal system – idyllic! Typical picturesque farmland and the Great Falls which I am told are truly thunderous in the spring thaw.

The first few days had me catching up on much needed sleep after the Convergence frenzy. We toured the town and some local sights. Claudia has a  comfortable air-conditioned basement studio with floor looms which make ideal tie up places for backstrap looms. Six of Claudia’s friends came over and we spent time playing with backstrap looms and the Andean pebble weave technique . It was a lot of fun and we were all exhausted by the end!

It was great to meet up with Kim again (at left) whose backstrap weaving skills are improving so much! We first met at the Weavoltuion meet-up at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and then wove together at Claudia’s place last spring. Kim always brings lots of smiles and fun and she is one of my special weaving pals. I met JoCarol for the first time on this trip and this was her first backstrap weaving experience.

Cameron is a tapestry weaver who wanted to give backstrap weaving a try and Kate took to it straight away. I am sure that she has gone home to weave way beyond the basics by now! Jill and Carol were also there and took home warps ready to put on dowels..

After the cool haven of Claudia’s air-conditioned home…did I mention that we were having days of ninety five degrees and up?…it was a bit of a shock  to be out in the open the next day experiencing a bit of small town fun. Claudia and sell their handmade knitted, crocheted and woven goods online and often take stands at craft fairs. I was lucky to arrive at a time when the town was having a farmers’ market and got to sit on the grass and weave while they attended their stand.

I got my loom out in the morning and set up on Claudia’s deck to make sure all was in order but soon had to duck indoors as the temperature started to rise. At the farmers’ market, a couple of tent stakes driven into the ground served to hold the end of my loom although I did have to wriggle about a bit in order to relax and take up tension on the warp.

I set up my loom and weavings on the grass, Janet worked at her spinning wheel which attracted more little boys than girls while David and Claudia took care of business. It’s amazing how many winter woollies got sold on that hot summer day!

Nothing I can write here can quite capture the joy of this afternoon. We were out there in the relative cool of the late Friday afternoon. Families were out walking their dogs and toddlers ran and rolled in the grass. Bigger kids started an impromptu soccer game in the middle of the field, frisbees flew and a live band played. Friendly folk stopped by to look and chat. It was simple wholesome fun and all felt right with the world. I guess this is life in small-town America – just wonderful!! I am so happy to have been a part of it.

Saturday saw us hitting the road and heading to Adams County Pennsylvania to vist The Mannings. “The Mannings”…the very name inspires awe and I knew that I was in for a special treat. This was Claudia’s birthday yarn restash trip brought forward a week for my benefit.

Kids in a candy store! The Mannings studio is housed in a beautiful old farmhouse. Rockers are provided on the porch so that those who are not fiber inclined can enjoy the serene setting.  Above, Sara Knisely, one of the studio’s instructors, is helping Claudia and Janet with their purchases. I restrained myself and came away with just one ball of cream tencel to go with the two colors that a friend in Denmark had sent me a few months ago even though they had plenty of yarn that was perfectly suited to backstrap weaving. The Mannings also has a wonderful selection of weaving and other fiber arts books, beautifully and colorfully displayed with each book placed cover out.  In fact, the entire store is so spacious and well set out with everything  gorgeously displayed. It was lovely meeting Carol Woolcock who showed me about the enormous premises.

Above are some images from some of our other fun activities in the area. We took advantage of the proximity of Gettysburg to The Mannings to visit the battlefield. I told someone later about this visit and he shrugged and hmmphed and said “It’s just a field”. Well he could not have been further from the truth especially since we had Claudia’s friend David with us who is a history professor and, by acting a our personal guide, brought the entire battle to life for us.

I got to go to a baseball game…Nats versus the Phillies thanks to Kim who had an extra ticket. Lots of fun even though the Nats didn’t win. Janet lent me her Nats t-shirt. I visited a felt fiber artist, Zita Simutis at Visarts Fiber Studio in Rockville and she showed me the first steps of felting a hand warmer. She intended laminating a piece of silk to the felt, a technique which I believe is called nuno felting and has created several interestingly textured pieces with this technique. As we cruised from place to place ,we were forever passing fascinating buildings like this tremendous Victorian mansion in Buckeystown.

Shortly after I took myself off for a day alone in the big city! Well, this wasn’t my first time in DC. I had been through for a few days in 2007 suffering terribly from sleep deprivation after a particuarly horrendous standby flight experience starting in Sydney Australia. My memories of that visit are, therefore, somewhat bleary athough I will never forget meeting Ann Rowe at the Textile Museum and the exhibition of Central Asian yurt bands there. Little did I know at that time that I would end up studying these yurt bands a lot more closely and even start reproducing their structure and design.

I visited the museum bookstore and was happy sitting on the floor and perusing as many books as possible. Another kid in a candy store! I read that the hooked Central Asian design that I wove above is called ‘kaikalak” and that this particular warp float weaving technique is called ‘terme” in Kyrgyz. It is defined as a warp faced alternating float flatweave where the design is created by using two or more sets of differently colored warp yarns. A tutorial on this technique is here on my blog.

Another exciting discovery was an image of the Abba Yohanni card woven curtain in the cave church in Ethiopia. This was the first time that I had been able to see the actual curtain and, what’s more, an entire article on this and similar curtains! It is in one of the Textile Museum’s journals and I just had to buy it!

Above you can see the original card woven piece next to my double weave backstrap woven reproduction. This fourteen-page article by Martha Henze is full of black and white photos of both silk and cotton card woven curtains in various Ethiopian cave churches. The author states that ” for an extended period of time, probably in the middle of the eighteenth century, an unidentified group of artisans in northern Ethiopia  produced large, exceedingly complex woven curtains by the nontraditional tablet-weaving technique for several churches in the region”

The article serves to record the existence of the curtains and states that there is as yet insufficient data to explain how and why these curtains were woven.

I am happy to now have several more images of the curtains at my disposal to admire and whose motifs I may be able to reproduce in double weave. The pattern chart for the Abba Yohanni design is here.

I then had to drag myself away from the cool comfort of the bookstore floor as I wanted to spend the afternoon in the National Museum of the American Indian. I had also visited this museum in a bleary-eyed daze in 2007 and was looking forward to seeing it with fresh eyes and with a lot more weaving experience under my belt.

Several thrills awaited me there! I had photographed the piece at left on my visit in 2007 – one shot with my film camera which hadn’t turned out particularly well. I had no idea what the weaving structure was and simply liked the design which I adapted and incorporated into the red wall hanging at right along with a couple of invented motifs of my own.

The motif appears again in the three little coin purses I wove above. These made nice gifts to friends on this trip. Now, three years later and three years wiser I immediately recognize the woven structure as balanced double weave. While investigating this technique when I wanted to reproduce a Peruvian pre Columbian piece, I discovered that the technique which is no longer practiced in Peru, is still used by the Huichol people of Mexico to create  beautiful bags and belts.

Now the challenge I have set myself is to reproduce  balanced double weave pieces with designs as complex as that seen above.

So far all I have made is the simple band with a sea bird motif at left woven on my backstrap loom using three sets of string heddles and a shed stick.

Coming up with an effective way to chart these designs will be the first step.

The Huichol people also produce these fabulously colorful yarn paintings.

Imagine my frustration, when attempting to find something on the internet about these yarn paintings, discovering that the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe is currently exhibiting the work of the Huichol people! Argh! I was just down the road from Santa Fe when I was at Convergence!! Can’t win them all!

The museum does not have a lot of textiles in their permanent display but I think I managed to find them all :-).

I very much enjoyed seeing the photos, past and present, and textiles of the Mapuche people of central Chile and Argentina.

The textiles were a little difficult to capture behind their plexiglass protection but I am grateful that the museum does not in any way restrict photography.  I expect they know what they are doing when they allow visitors to flash their cameras at the textiles.

Examples of compelementary warp, supplementary warp and ikat pieces of the Mapuche people. I love their big bold geometric ikat designs.

The complementary warp technique employed in the brown and white Mapuche piece is the same that I used in this piece which has my adaptation of a traditional Mapuche motif.

I was intrigued by this piece but strangely could not find any information nearby on its origin. It is a simple warp float technique and what I find most interesting is that the weaver has eliminated the appearance of the horizontal stripes on this piece by simply dropping those warps and allowing the weft to be exposed. As the weft is the same color as the non floated warps, it is hardly noticeable. I would have loved to have seen the back of this textile to see the resulting floats but, unfortunately, there it sat all rolled up.

There weren’t any examples of the textiles woven by the Ka’apor people of Brazil but this display shows the very interesting shuttle they use to carry the weft for their woven hammocks and the photo shows it in use.

Some of the other breathtaking pieces that the museum has to offer. It was exciting to see these gold pieces, many of which I recognized from books I have here at home.

I was hoping to see some of the Moche ceramics which often show scenes of weaving in progress but didn’t find any (which doesn’t mean that the they don’t exist at the museum – there was so much to see!)

Unfortunately the museum shop didn’t have that much to offer in the way of books to interest me but I did enjoy seeing the weavings of Peruvian Maximo Laura. I was able to see one of his pieces in the Small Expressions exhibit at Convergence this year and I believe that his piece actually took first prize in the same exhibit at Convergence 2008.

So that was my intense and very satisfying day out in DC. This was followed by an evening out with my gracious Maryland friends at a Scottish pub for an evening of shanty singing! And if everything simply must have a textile twist, there were plenty of gorgeous tartans decorating the walls there.

I visited a store called “Ten Thousand Villages” on my day out in Rockville. This store supports the ideas of fair trade and sells crafts from cooperatives in developing countries all over the world. I spent well over an hour in this store looking at all the fantastic craft pieces and finally tracked down a piece from Bolivia – the above pictured bear! made from alpaca. This was the last thing I expected to see from Bolivia and am thinking that there must be some weaving cooperative with products that are more representative of Bolivian culture to sell.

Which brings me back to Bolivia and the present although….there is the whole North Carolina chapter of the trip and the time I spent with the Vietnamese backstrap weavers there.

I have a lot to show and tell you about that experience which happily coincided with my birthday but I still have some research to do on that before I can be ready to post.

At left you can see weavers Ju Nie and Ngach who dressed me in one of their typical backstrap woven skirts.

I would also like to show you the Andean pebble weave guitar strap which I was weaving on my friend Lisa’s four-shaft loom. After putting together the appendix with the instructions for pebble weave on this kind of loom in my book, I was eager to warp up for something wider than a narrow band and make something long and useful. We found some great yarn from Turkey in a local yarn store which has proved to be perfect for warp faced weaving and comes in great colors. More on that next week.

I have taken the warp off the loom and hope to get it set up on my backstrap loom to finish. Wish me luck as the whole warp now needs to be retensioned having been cut – yikes!

I have been getting more feedback on my Andean Pebble Weave e-book. I met Kim at Convergence and she went home and bought it and has been working her way through the lessons. She has been weaving on her upright Navajo style loom and producing beautiful bands. With her permission I am posting photos of her samples here.

And I also hear from weavers who need a little help and advice along the way as they venture into backstrap weaving. Cheryl contacted me on Yahoo as I provide my email address in the book and, after sending me photos of her warp in various stages, we were able to sort out her problem. This pleases me no end. I also heard from a couple of weavers who have been having trouble with excessive pilling on their heddles and so I am posting an excerpt from my WeaveZine video on opening the heddles on narrow warps.

What I would like to point out is that this problem of “pilly sticky” heddles is very common when one is starting out and is simply to due to inexperience with opening the heddles smoothly and efficiently. Try not to drag the heddles up and down the warp but rather lift them straight up. I actually sawed all the way through some of my warps from rough heddle handling when I was with my Peruvian teachers!

Next week I will post a video showing how to handle the two sets of heddles required for Andean pebble weave.

Here is a very short video of Pitumarca weaver Antonia, whom I met at Convergence, weaving on  her backstrap loom. She is weaving a four-selvedge piece and is at that uncomfortable point where there is not much room left to manouver. You can see her doing the pick up using the point of her “ruki” ,or “wichuna”, as we call it in Bolivia. Then she is seen opening her heddle shed, working the sword into the shed and beating in the weft.

Just last night, I was contacted by Kathleen Klumpp, the American anthropologist with whom I worked in coastal Ecuador. Kathleen is with the weavers now and has invited me to join her and I just don’t know if I can fit this trip in. Let me tell you that I am SO tempted! She is working with the weavers trying to help them develop a product to sell which will enable them to continue weaving and practicing skills that are on the verge of being lost forever. Weaver Trini has been producing cotton saddlebags. As the market for these is now virtually non existent, she is now experimenting, with Kathleen’s help, in making shoulder bags with traditional designs. More about Trini and the coastal Ecuadorian weavers can be seen here and here.

Here is one of the first results!

I am so excited about this project and am so touched by Trini’s obvious joy in the above photo that I am making plans to go to Ecuador somehow as I write!!


  1. What an incredible trip! You met so many people and saw so many wonderful things…you must be so inspired. And I know personally, that you have inspired many in turn.

    And now you’re off to Equador? What an incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m so glad you can take advantage of it.

    But now, what I really want to know, and I speak for many I’m sure…

    What’s the yarn from Turkey that you made the guitar strap out of???????


    • Hi Ruth,
      Well it will be my second time in Ecuador with Trini and her family of weavers and hopefully not a “once in a lifetime” thing!
      As for the yarn from Turkey, all will be revealed next week but don’t get excited…it is not any kind of exotic animal fiber!

  2. You go girl!!!! so much to do…. just keep us posted and inspired…
    safe travels

    • Still thinking about this trip and hoping that I can somehow combine it with my up and coming trip to Cusco… Thanks for the nice wishes, Yonat!

  3. I know what you mean about the Mannings. I just spent 4 days there in a Tapestry weaving class. It was fabulous. So much yarn so little time and money!!

    • I would love to take a class there. They have so much to offer!

  4. Dear Ms. Waddington,
    I have been following with great interest your wonderful blog for some time. But this most recent posting is truly your best. You were obviously greatly inspired by your Maryland experience. The artistic impact upon your work by the fine people you stayed with there is obvious and immeasurable. You should return sooner rather than later. You owe it to yourself and to the entire weaving world!

  5. Your clear teaching technique is allowing my learning backstrap weaving. I enjoy following along on your adventures. I have been disabled for the past fourteen years and textile crafts have brought much joy into my life. This year I’m growing a few cotton plants in my home gardens here in Stockton, California. I also plan on constructing a couple of top bar bee hives to place out back in one of the large gardens within a year or two along with trying my hand at raising silk worms and processing the silk. Your teaching style is marvelous and makes learning a real joy. Thank you. Patricia

    • I am glad that you are finding the tutorials useful, Patricia. It will be nice to follow your projects especially the silk raising and cotton gowing…do keep in touch.

  6. Thanks. No one in the Maryland area springs to mind. I will be weaving with friends in PA next spring. Maybe you could join us.

    • Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I will be there!

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