Posted by: lavernewaddington | September 3, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – Warp floats and Woven Words

Rain at last!

Widespread scrub fires in the countryside here in Bolivia got a dousing recently so that the atmosphere here in Santa Cruz, which looked like that pictured at left during the height of the fires about a week ago, is once again relatively clean.

And just in time for the month of September which is a month of celebration in Santa Cruz.There will be all sorts of cultural activities and fiestas culminating in the Feria Expo, an annual international event, and September 24th, Santa Cruz Day which marks the day of the initial call to take up arms against the Spanish in the fight for independence. This year will be particularly festive as the city celebrates the bicentennial of this event. Along the way the first day of spring will be marked on the 21st which is also Students Day as well Bolivia’s answer to Valentine’s Day.

This week I have been studying the letters worked into the bag strap woven by the Montagnard weavers of Vietnam that I met while in the US. Once again I marvel at the possibilities that the simple warp float technique presents and the way it has been used by different weavers around the world.

From left to right: simple warp floats decorate a cotton saddle bag from Manabi province in coastal Ecuador, the same patterning technique on a blanket woven made by Montagnard weavers of Vietnam and a simple but very effective piece made in Sagada, Mt. Province in The Philippines. The latter was sent to me by Trish who lives in The Philippines. We met and spent many hours together in Los Angeles airport on one of my standby flight sagas.

In the examples above, the technique is seen in its very simplest form, floating single or paired warps of one color over horizontal bars of alternating light and dark warps.

As we have seen here before, the technique can be taken a step further by floating both the light and dark warps in succession, filling in the background to the main motif and thus covering the horizontal bars completely.

This technique is employed to pattern one style of yurt bands made in Kyrgystan where the technique is called "terme". I wove this sample piece to check if my charting was correct and made it into a small bag.

While doing a bit of a desktop clean up this week I came across an image of a Central Asian piece that Lisa had photographed at one of her reenactment events and sent me about which I had completely forgotten.

The photo on the right is the one that inspired the small bag that I wove. The picture on the left is the new buried desktop discovery and it is nice to see the same hook design that I copied on this piece too.

Here is a quick summary of the difference between the single color and two-color versions of this simple warp float technique.

Basically, when you weave the single color version, the weaving sequence can be summarised with four “S”s:

  • Shed….Open the dark shed and pass the weft
  • Select..Choose the dark warps that you wish to have floating and forming a pattern
  • Save….Save these chosen warps on a stick
  • Shed….Open the light shed, add the saved warps to this shed and pass your weft

We could even add a fifth “S” to the sequence which would be Start again.

Here it is again with pictures…

The dark Shed has been opened and the weft has been passed. The dark warps to be floated have been Selected. The selected warps have been Saved on a stick.

The light Shed has been opened and the dark selected warps added to it. The weft is then passed. Then you Start again, that is, open the dark shed etc etc…

Moving on to the two color simple warp float technique, the sequence changes to: (this time I start with the light shed for no particular reason)

  • Shed…..Open the light shed and pass the weft
  • Select…Select the light warps that you want to float to form your pattern
  • Save…..Save the chosen warps on a stick
  • Shed…..Open the dark shed and add the saved light warps to it. Pass the weft
  • Select…Select warps from the dark shed which will float and form the design
  • Save…..Save the selected dark warps on a stick
  • Shed…..Open the light shed and add the saved dark warps to it. Pass the weft. From here move on to the second step: Select.

In pictures:

After passing the weft through the light Shed, two pairs of light warps are Selected, Saved and added to the dark Shed.

Dark pairs are then Selected from the dark shed, Saved and added to the light Shed.

Here is the pattern chart for the hook design taken from the yurt band and woven piece that Lisa photographed.

Full tutorials for both the single and two color warp float techniques are here on my blog.

The single color version has videos too.

Click on the TUTORIALS tab at the top of any blog page here and scroll through the list of tutorial links.

As always, things should be taken in steps and so, before attempting this hook design, I suggest weaving samples in single color floats first. There are so many possibilities for this simple technique using a single floated color and so there is no need to rush into the two-color version until you are good and ready.

With some experience in the single color version under your belt, you can then try the two-color “S” design for which a full step-by-step tutorial is provided here.

I wove the above pouches in order to reproduce some of the motifs woven by the Montagnard weavers with whom I got to spend some time in North Carolina. The technique is a twist on the basic simple warp float technique. Their way of arranging the sheds and selecting the warps produces warp floats on the back of the weaving and exposed weft on the front but the basic steps in the weaving sequence are the same. The resulting bands of pattern are more flexible than those produced by the Philippine and coastal Ecuadoran weavers as they are not truly warp faced.

This week I worked on extracting and charting all the woven letters that I found in the photos I had taken during the visit. I then wove up a sample band.

There are a few unorthodox moves that they use to form nicer curves for the letters. Betsy Renfrew who is working with the Montagnard weavers tells me that someone wove a banner  with the words Montagnard-Dega Association for their office. I am looking forward to seeing that as the letter “s” is amongst the five or six that I am missing. I have been wanting to weave nice letters ever since I saw Linda Hendrickson’s beautiful book on card-woven letters Please Weave a Message. All I have done so far myself is devise a simple stick alphabet which I sometimes weave in double weave. Now I have another alphabet for my repetoire.

Another source for beautiful woven letters is Annie MacHale (aspinnerweaver) who weaves  a line from musicians’  favorite songs on the guitar straps she makes for them on her inkle loom.

Some weavers who employ the simple warp float technique choose to float single warps, others pairs. As the weavers in coastal Ecuador are weaving with their homespun cotton, they float pairs of doubled strands of cotton to form their designs.

This photo was taken by anthropologist Kathleen Klumpp and shows one of the completed saddle bags or "alforjas" . This particular design is called "rosa y hoja de naranja", rose and orange leaf. The piece was woven on a vertical loom using a circular warp.

Kathie is with the weavers right now and has been urging me to go and join her with Doña Luz and her family whom I met on a three-week visit back in 2007. Knowing the amount of laughter that shakes their stilt house every evening when the extended family gets together, I know that they must be all having a wonderful time. Unfortunately I could not get my program to fit with Kathie’s and I am unable to accept her invitation.

In 2007, sharing prints of photos from the 1976 visit.

Kathie has enjoyed a long, close and warm relationship with this family over the last four years visiting them to document the entire process that takes them from cotton boll to finished woven saddle bag and commissioning pieces to encourge them to continue weaving.

However, the story of her contact with these talented weavers started back in 1976 when Kathie was in Manabi province collecting data on village pottery making. She happened to see a gentleman on one of the rural buses carrying a most unusual saddle bag. It immediately stood out from other saddlebags that she had seen which were patterned with simple warp stripes as it was covered with geometric designs in indigo blue.

Her enquiries led her to Doña Luz Parraga and her family, master spinners and weavers in the settlement of Zapote and a friendship was formed.

At left you can see Luz’s daughter Trinidad, at fourteeen years of age in 1976, weaving and sewing an edging onto a finished saddle bag using a wooden rigid heddle fashioned by Luz herself.

After this visit, life interrupted, as it often does, and Kathie had to put her anthropological work aside. It wasn’t until her retirement that she was able to return, thirty years later, to the very same family, rekindle her friendship and continue her research.I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of that stilt house when Kathie emerged from the vehicle and walked up the dusty slope to meet once again with her old dear friends. The following year  I was able to join her.

Photos taken by Kathie of Luz in 1976 and during her return visit in 2006.

Here we are in 2010 with Luz and Trini at the loom. They have set up the warps which will go into twelve heddles to weave the orange leaf design after several days of studying the samples and struggling with the warps. This is a design which they had not woven for some time and were on the point of forgetting. Luz's eyesight is at the point where it is almost impossible for her to select the warps and Trini had great difficulty at first relating what was on her woven sample to the loom. Her perseverance paid off and, thanks to Kathie's encouragement, this design has been revived.

The rose and chalice design at left is probably the one that is most often woven. This design requires eleven heddle sticks. The warps which are programmed into each of the eleven heddle sticks are recorded on the woven sample at right.

On this latest visit Kathie is helping Trini to develop new products as the market for traditional cotton saddlebags is now virtually non existent. This shoulder bag with a zippered outside compartment and made with factory cotton, has an adaptation of another traditional design of the coastal area. With Kathie's help the family members have planted and are raising 150 cotton plants on their property so that eventually they will once again be able to use their own handspun and pass on the spinning traditions to future generations.

Here is an edited version of a video that Kathie has made during this visit showing Trini making her string heddles and weaving a piece. You will see how she uses a flat stick to help ensure that all her heddles are made the same length. Those of you who have studied the simple warp float tutorial will recognize the moves when she starts weaving although she doesn’t have to select her warps to float as they are already in the heddles. The full version of the video can be viewed here.

I love the way she opens the heddles! They open relatively easily as she is using a smooth factory cotton.

It was never so easy when I was with them in 2007 and we were using their homespun thread.

At left is a flashback to 2007 when I was with the family. I wove quite a lot of this piece as part of my “training” so here you see the two proud weavers in front of their finished work!

Speaking of opening heddle sheds, I have put together a video of my own this week to show a couple of ways that I use to open a sticky shed as well as how I open each of the two sheds when doing Andean pebble weave.

The warp in the Andean pebble weave segment of the video is the one that Maurice, Lisa and I set up on Lisa’s four-shaft loom in North Carolina. I had intended doing something a lot wider but had not anticipated the amount of warp length that was required for the four-shaft loom and so had not bought enough yarn. So I ended up with a piece that happens to be just the right width for a guitar strap and I already know a guitar player who will love it.

As you can see, it ended up back here in Santa Cruz on my backtrap loom and wasn’t as difficult to retension as I had imagined.

Setting up on the four-shaft loom was a bit freaky. Maurice, however, was completely unphased by this mess and soon tamed it into submission. The two dowels you see at left in the picture are part of a previous abandoned project and were later cut out.

Weaving underway...

Using that big loom to weave a narrow band may seem a bit strange but, if this is the only loom you have, you are not keen on trying backstrap weaving but really want to try Andean pebble weave, then all I can say is, why not?

What’s in the mail and the inbox?

Speaking of Andean pebble weave on other looms, Jennifer is weaving another pebble weave band on her inkle loom and has sent me pictures..

Inspired by Jennifer's progress, Marydargie on Ravelry warped up her inkle loom to weave the band in lesson one in my book.

In a discussion in the inkle weaving group on Ravelry we all agreed that mini inkle looms are not well suited to weaving pebble weave. A heavy-ish with a lot of room in front works well for this technique.  My Ashford Inklette needed to be clamped to a table as it was too light and felt very cramped. Although I managed to weave a band on it in pebble weave, it was not very comfortable.

Francois in California, who has been following this blog, sent me a picture of his finger weaving, at left. I dabbled in finger weaving many years ago attracted by the Peruvian bands Ifound in a book and was surprised to see the enormous piece that he has created. I imagine that this comprises several bands sewn together. Another great technique requiring few or no tools.

Another small discussion on Ravelry was started when someone asked about whether people preferred backstrap or inkle looms in general. I could find  advantages for both, naming as one of the inkle loom’s advantages the fact that the heddles are put in place as the warp is wound but…now I have learned a cool way to do that while winding the warp for backstrap weaving thanks to the Montagnard weavers…

I made a video of Montagnard weaver Ju Nie making these heddles, at left, as she warped and, after watching it many many times was finally able to catch her quick movements and make sense of it. On the right are the heddles I made this way using thick yarn so that I could photograph the process for my journal. I have also made step-by-step diagrams and a video of my own showing the process very slowly just in case I forget! I doubt, however, that I will ever use this technique on my own warps as I am a big fan of the extra hitch on the heddle stick bteween heddle loops.

From the inbox and the mail box...Quiltparalegal sent me this picture of a loom that her son bought for her in Laos with its incredibly fine bamboo reed and string heddles. It amazes me that these bamboo reeds are still being made. What a piece of work! Weave2, sent me a lot of thread made in Jordan where she lives. Here are some examples of the rich colors she chose. AJM showed me a backstrap loom he made for a friend even before he can get one for himself finished! Anna, who is cycling from Alaska to Ushuaia, is weaving on the road after having classes in Huancayo. She downloaded my book along the way and has been weaving some of the motifs from it wich you can see on the right. The designs on the left were woven with her Peruvian teacher. She is now in Santa Cruz and is coming to weave with me tomorrow!

Above you see vivacious, no, REALLY vivacious Lyn Lucas and David Anderson of Red Corn whom I met at Convergence. I showed you one of the beautiful huipiles of Chichcastenango that they had on their stand in a previous post. Recently I discoverd their Facebook page and I highly recommend taking a look and “liking” their page. There they post two to three videos on Guatemalan weaving every week. It is a real treat!

And to finish, I have created a new tab at the top of the page named FAQ INDEX. That is all it is at the moment…an index. What you will find there along with the index is the following notice….

It will take some time to put this together but I am really looking forward to having all this information which I have posted in various places online all in the one place once and for all! Curious about the questions? Hit the FAQ INDEX tab at the top of the page. Maybe you have some questions to add.


  1. This is the clearest explanation so far. Love your work and travels. Do not want to miss any and will be trying some of the techniques in time. Have saved all of these emails and purchased your online book so I am ready. Sitting in the middle of corn country and these make me feel as though I am traveling with you.

  2. Verny: Gracias por compartir tus conocimientos y las experiencias obtenidas en tus viajes.
    Me encantan las imágenes tanto de las personas como de los tejidos.
    He aprendido mucho contigo…

  3. I think it’s about time I put a warp on my inkle loom. Coming here to see the pictures of beautiful weaving and read what you and others are doing is as good as taking a 10 min holiday. Time I stopped working so hard and got back to things I enjoy 😉

  4. Wow, Laverne! You blow my mind every week.
    The letters are beautiful!
    I would sure like to try this method of lettering.
    Right now I am working on a custom guitar strap with a name woven into it, but it is plain by comparison. You always give me something to aspire to and reason to want to stretch my weaving skills. ~Annie

  5. Interestingly the folks selling the yurt band said this one was from Afghanistan however the one I own is thought to be S. Kyrgyz. This band was of lesser quality and had white cotton warp running thru it but it sure was pretty with the bright colors:>

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