Posted by: lavernewaddington | September 17, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – In pursuit of all things pebbly

A wee milestone to mark today: One year since the publication of my very first weaving article – BACKSTRAP BASICS in WeaveZine. I am hoping that this is the kind of article that will never look “dated”! Backstrap weaving is, afterall, an ancient practice and the project I presented in the article, a backstrap, is not exactly a fashion accessory! I hope that people will continue to find it useful for many years to come.

A million thanks to all those who have used the article and shared pictures of their woven backtraps with me. Some have been content with that one backstrap weaving experience while others have gone on to learn more and have created lovely pick up bands. I have made new online friends through that article and even gotten to travel and meet them. It really is a personal milestone worth marking.

This all comes on the very day that Syne Mitchell, editor of WeaveZine, has announced the details of her exciting new steps onward in the world of publishing.

I have had a couple more articles out since then in the WARP newsletter and Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot and am working on some things at the moment as deadlines approach which means that this week’s post is a bit shorter than usual. My fingers have been a little bit busier at the keyboard than at the loom these last days but, of course, there was time for weaving (I would go mad if there wasn’t!)

Last weekend I decided to launch into another pebble weave project. You may remember that I showed you some images in a previous post of belts woven by the Tarahumara orRaramuri (he who walks well) people of Mexico…

The belt above in the lower right corner belongs to my friend Annie MacHale. She was wearing it one day at Convergence. The others belong to anthropologist Martha Graham. This was another of those chance meetings. She was at Convergence too and stopped by the Weavolution stand where I was displaying my backstrap woven pieces including some of my pebble weave work. She returned the following day with some of her Tarahumara belts to show me and allowed me to photograph them.

The zig zag design with its adjacent triangles reminded me very much of designs in the weavings of the Guarani people here in lowland Bolivia where I live (pictured at left). The Guarani design is said to represent patterns on snake skins. There are motifs on both the Guarani and Tarahumara pieces that resemble stars. According to an article in National Geographic (November 2008 ) “Each star in the night sky is a Tarahumara Indian whose souls – men have three and women have four, as they are the producers of new life – have all, finally, been extinguished.”

I am, of course, only guessing that the motifs on the Tarahumara weavings are, in fact, meant to be stars. I haven’t been able to turn up much information online about the weavings but am in the process of purchasing an article from the Journal of Anthropological Research. The National Geographic article has a picture of men in ritual costume where you can just catch a glimpse of the woven belts under brightly colored cloth that they also wrap about their waists. I also found images of a women weaving on horizontal wooden frames which they hold on their laps while resting the other end on a rock. There does not appear to be any kind of tensioning device on the loom.

I found an image of a woven  belt that I particularly liked which had been collected in the 1890s and set about charting it. When you  see the design you will understand that after about an hour of this I was not only seeing squares when I shut my eyes from the charting paper but also swirling spirals!

These belts, from what I have seen, are generally 2 – 3 1/2 meters in length but I warped up on one of my shorter warping boards to sample.

Normally, I would weave something like this as a sample and, if I liked it, would then plan a project in which I could incorporate it. Not in this case! Weaving this was hard work!! The spirals went this way and that and I found it impossible to leave the chart and just weave. Just as I got accustomed to weaving spirals in one direction, they would change course so it was a very slow process and I decided that this effort must be put to some use. Fortunately I had a piece of black woven fabric that had been left over from another warp and the band looked pretty good on top of that.

And here is the end result…(as if you hadn’t already guessed! just love sewing in those zippers!)

Having the band separate from the body of the bag allowed me to play around a bit with the placement of the pattern and I decided that it looked nicest off to one side.  I have found other Tarahumara bands with unusual designs so I will get down to charting those so that I can incorporate the designs in  larger projects.

Here’s the long band which started out on Lisa’s four-shaft floor loom and then came home with me to go onto the backstrap loom to be finished. I was hoping to make this into a guitar strap for a friend in Utah. However, it seems that  the standard strap hardware does not come any wider than two inches so I have kind of dropped that idea. Roger didn’t know that he was about to get a guitar strap and he doesn’t read my blog so sshhh! we won’t tell him. Now I am thinking “loom bag”.

This is my current nifty loom bag, my tripod case. It is perfect with a zippered top and shoulder strap. It is just the right length for a loom and some tool bags and my backstrap. My portable warping board fits in there too but, maybe after all these years, I really need a woven loom bag and I have this one as a model. So I need to weave some plain fabric onto which I will sew my green band or maybe the band could be the sides. I just can’t seem to figure what color fabric would look good with that band.

Ah, so many new projects to get into and I continue to gather up information slowly but surely on past investigations like the woven belts used by the Russian Old Believers. Bits and pieces of information fall into my hands often sparked off by a random comment in a conversation with someone. I love how these things happen!

Here is something  that popped into my inbox the other day…

A friend of mine who was out and about snapped a couple of pictures of  ladies in their typical highland felt hats with some interesting hatbands.

You can see that the one at left definitely has a pebbly surface but I strongly suspect that these are factory produced bands. I would so love to talk to this lady and find out more about her hat band. If it is, in fact, factory made I am wondering if there is a growing trend to buying bands now rather than hand weaving them. I had always found the hatbands to be one of the most individual of woven pieces with widths and designs varying greatly.

The other band above has a series of single  woven motifs each separated by braids which is kind of interesting. I can’t get a close enough look to see what kind of weaving it is but it is certainly not the supplementary weft work which is usually used to decorate hat bands here.

These are the more typical hatbands woven with very fine ground warp thread and decorated with supplementary wefts

More hatbands with their colorful supplementary wefts above. You can see in the top example that the weaver used different weight threads. The red is heavier than the blue and gives better coverage. They key to success in this technique is to find the right weight ratio between your ground warp and main weft and the supplementary weft. Many of these designs are created using very long floats which could be a problem on an item that was destined to be handled a lot. The floats would catch on things. On a hatband this is not such a problem.

You can see that sometimes the supplementary weft creates the motif and other times it is used to fill in the negative space.

A tutorial on this technique (pictured above) can be seen on my blog here.

Here are some pictures from online companions who have been following my tutorials…

Heidai from Norway wove this band in one-weft double weave for the school bell with the school’s name included. She used  four-strand braids to finish it.

Amineko72 in France is  weaving a band from my Andean Pebble Weave book using her inkle loom. If you would like to try this on your inkle loom too, I recommend heading to the Inkle Loom Weavers group on Ravelry where there are a few people working on this together at the moment. Look for the Andean Pebble Weave thread. There is also a larger group working together on another thread called Pick-up using various books to make nice pick-up bands on their inkle looms. They have a very nice helpful community going there.

I just spotted Evelyn Oldroyd’s post on her blog showing one of the large pebble weave designs in my book on her inkle loom. She has made a very interesting warp with a comb design on the edges of the pebble pattern and the colors are gorgeous! I wish I could have posted the picture here but I haven’t gotten her permission yet as I just spied the post. Check it out on her blog.

And now… back to my pebbly pursuits!


  1. Hi Laverne! That spiral zig-zag band is beautiful, but I can almost feel the cross-eyedness that would happen in weaving it! Thank you for linking to my blog and yes, you have permission to share my photos. In my rush to post yesterday I missed putting in links – corrected this morning.

  2. […] cultures online, finding that I know the technique and being able to chart and weave it like the  Tarahumara band that I wove last week. When I visited the Montagnard weavers I saw a variation of a  pick up […]

  3. What a wonderful and inspiring site!

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: