Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 8, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – Spreading the Obsession:warp faced and weft twined


Simple warp floats in red and black by Eladio Salas Torres



Three things have influenced the weaving I have been doing this week and they are spread across three very different parts of the world:

– a new book in my collection of weaving books on Bedouin weaving which has taken me on a fascinating trip through Saudi Arabia and other lands inhabited by the Arabian Bedouin with their colorful woven tent dividers, bags and camel adornments;

– the intricate weft twined work that the Montagnard weavers of Vietnam, that I met in the US, incorporate on the edges of their warp faced textiles;

– the beautiful combination of red and black in the backstrap woven piece by Eladio Salas of Mexico that I showed you last week.

First I took a step backwards as I had decided that I didn’t like the weft twined piece that I was practicing on last week. Fortunately I discovered that un-twining is a lot easier and faster than un-weaving. It is just a sample piece for skills-building but I just was not happy with the colors and motifs I had chosen and it had to go! Half of it got pulled apart and I did some searching on the net to figure out how I would like to continue. So now I am continuing with a swirl design from a Jarai tribal textile and will finish it off with other Montagnard motifs.

Meanwhile the Bedouin designs were calling to me…fabulous red, white and black warp faced pieces interspersed with bands of weft twining. I noticed that there was a small three color band of design that was common to many of the pieces which Joy Totah Hilden identifies as al-‘uwairjan pick up patterning and so I decided to sample that before launching into a big project.


The three-color al-'uwairjan pick-up patterning. It is used to create triangles and diamonds and other simple designs and creates long floats on the back of the textile.



I worked, of course, on my backstrap loom.


In Hilden’s book I see that  Bedouin weavers use staked out horizontal ground looms with their heddle bar suspended on forked sticks, rested on top of oil cans, cement blocks or other such objects or tied to sticks driven into the ground.  The weaving is suspended just a few inches above the ground. As the weaving progresses, the work is not rolled up. Instead, the weaver sits on the completed work and inches her way along the warp to stay close to the weaving line. Weaving is even done inside the home with the loom bars and warp held under tension in ingenious ways. One picture shows the loom bar tied to another bar which has been lodged behind a doorway.

Images of Bedouin textiles and looms can be seen here and here.

Here was my chance to put the reds and black together and learn some traditional Bedouin designs. The main panel of my weaving is done in a technique which I believe is called warp substitution. This pick up technique creates long floats on the back of the textile. I have never been a fan of long floats and much prefer double faced weaving but I wanted to use the technique employed by the Bedouin. To eliminate the floats I could have woven the very same designs in double weave.

The center panel of my piece is woven with the warp substitution technique called “shajarah” (tree) pick up patterning.

This weaving also gave me the opportunity to try weft twining on the loom. Many of the pieces shown in Hilden’s book have not only weft twined edges but also several bands of twining at various stages within the weaving. I have been enjoying my off-loom twining experiments and was looking forward to comparing them with twining on warps under tension on a loom.

I have kept these first attempts at on-loom weft twining narrow and simple.

I had to consider how many warps to use in a bundle around which to twine the wefts as well as the right  thickness of weft yarn so that the warps didn’t get spread too much thus widening the piece. Should I twine loosely or tightly? It took a few attempts to get it right. The warps did get spread slightly and so I had to work to get them back into place so I could continue with the warp faced weaving.

I plan to leave the weft ends on as a decorative feature. This piece will be a wall hanging. I was thinking about using it as part of a pillow cover but my cat, no doubt, will chew those weft ends off.

Feeling a bit more confident, I did a slightly wider weft twined band at what will be the center of the piece and added in a little bit of chaining.


A wider band of weft twining.


It is lovely doing the weft twining on the loom and the added control that one has by having the warps under uniform tension allowed me to use a much finer yarn than I have been using on the off-loom pieces. I expect with more practice I will eventually be able to do fine off-loom twining too….some time in the distant future! 

The motifs in the warp substitution band have been copied from images in Hilden’s book and from those I have found online.

You can see the bands of al-‘uwairjan pick up on the sides.

I am now just over half way through this piece and hope to finish it with a wider and more complex piece of weft twining.

I will add to the weft ends that are hanging from the sides to balance both sides and perhaps add some tassels.

Hopefully it will be ready to show next week.

There are many beautiful weft twined camel adornments in gorgeous red, tan and mustard tones that I would like to use as inspiration in other pieces.

While we are in red-and-black mode….

I promised you last week some more information on the lettering used by the Montagnard weavers in their bag straps.

Anyone who knows how to do simple warp floats as detailed in my tutorial here will pick this up in no time. The lettering is done in simple warp float technique with some variation.

In simple warp float technique you are using a shed of each color, for example, all the red warps in one shed and all the whites in the other. You weave alternating red and white horizontal bars and then go floating one of the colors over the other to form your designs.

The difference in the Montagnard method is that they have one shed of red and another shed of alternating red and white which you can see at left (with a two-warp red border).

In the red and white shed, they drop all the whites which exposes their black weft – you can see black dots on the above lettered band. They use twenty-nine warps in each shed to weave their letters, that is, twenty-nine reds in one shed and fifteen whites alternating with fourteen reds in the other.

When they want to weave a letter, they…

-open the shed with the reds and whites and drop all the whites except the ones that they need to form the letter.

-pass the weft.

-save  those whites and add them to the red shed.

-pass the weft.

open the red and white shed again and keep the same whites from the previous weft pass along with the whites  needed to form the next part of the letter.

-drop all the other whites.

-pass the weft.

-save only the whites needed for the next part of the letter and add them to the red shed.

pass the weft.


This will be double dutch to those of you who have never done simple warp floats. Well what are you waiting for? Here’s the tutorial! Become familiar with the simple warp float technique first and then try the letters.


  • If you use a red weft instead of black you will create the impression of a smooth solid color background.
  • This is not a double faced technique.
  • This technique does not produce the stiff band typical of true warp faced weaves.


There was a question in the Inkle Weaving group on Ravelry about doing one-weft double weave on an inkle loom and so I warped up my Ashford inklette and have added some pictures to the one-weft double weave tutorial for this. I only warped up to take the pictures and wove a triangle as a sample. This morning I had some time to play around with the warp…

This is very easy to do on the inkle loom. One-weft double weave produces a thick band with sharp motifs on a solid background. It is double faced.

Flipping the loom upside down, this is what you see…

This is the first time I have tried this on the inkle loom. Weavers in the Backstrap Group at Weavolution have tried it but warned me that it is a bit stressful on the loom. I wasn’t sure if my inklette would be able to take it but I actually don’t find it stresses the loom at all.

You will warp your loom normally except that you will be using doubled threads.


Here are the warps in the heddles. You can see that there are two strands of red border warps and one strand each of blue and yellow together in each heddle.


See the full tutorial with all the details and more pictures here.


You may remember my blog post about Anna who came to visit and learn backstrap weaving with me here in Bolivia. She and boyfriend Alistair are on their way by bicycle to Ushuaia after having started in Alaska in May 2008.

Well they have just completed the Lagunas trail in the salt lake area of Bolivia and Chile and are currently luxuriating in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Anna described that riding section (which turned out to be more of a pushing section for the last five days…deep sand and a strong headwind) as one of the most physically demanding things she has ever undertaken.

Anna and Alistair teamed up with a couple of German cyclists for this part of the trip and Anna has been spreading the obsession by teaching new friend Carolin to backstrap weave. They are carrying printed pages from my Andean Pebble Weave download with them.

Here are some fun pictures of them weaving on the road…


Anna on the left gave the first weaving class to Carolin in the town of Uyuni in Bolivia before heading off on the lagunas trip. The little table has been fashioned from "madera de cacto" (wood from the dead pillar cactus)



Carolin with her tiny loom tied to her bike and weaving on the salt lake.



Anna designed a fitting motif with which to practice her newly acquired double weave skills.



Anna warping in camp somewhere in the desert. She said her fingers nearly froze off! I recognize those pencils...


So nice to see my apprentice so enjoying her new skills! Apparently Carolin will be doing a long sailing trip after this bike journey so we can expect to see the backstrap loom being used in the middle of the ocean some time in the future!

Anna brought me some spindles and llama bone picks from Sucre.

I gave her very precise directions to the curandera stalls  in the crazy campesino market which sell llama fiber, weaving tools and all kinds of home remedies.

She not only found the curandera area but I believe she bought the things at the very same stall at which I shopped when I was there.

I have sent some of the spindles to the Netherlands and the US and have one left if anyone is interested. I have a few llama bones left too.

Drop me a line if you are interested. 🙂


  1. HI Laverne,

    I would love to buy the spindle, but only if it is hand carved!!
    I use spindles every day(along with wheels) to create all the yarns I use in my work.
    I live in Queensland…

    Love your blog!


    • Unfortunately it isn’t hand carved, Pam. What is your work? I wish you had put a website address for us to look at.

  2. Hi Laverne,
    I would be interested in both. Let me know more details about cost.
    Thank you,

  3. I have just returned from Scandinavia, where I was exposed to Sami belt weaving. I bought a small double holed belt loom. Do you do any of this kind of rigid heddle weaving?

    • Hi Joanne,
      Hi Joanne,
      I sometimes use a rigid heddle on my backstrap loom but not the two-holed variety that you mention. I would, however, love to try it one day. What I would really like is to travel to Finland as you did and see the Sami belt weaving being done by the weavers there. I know that Grace Hatton who writes this blog:

      uses a two hole rigid heddle on a tape loom. I believe her husband makes and sells these rigid heddles ans she would probabaly be a good source of information. Did you buy any books on the topic in Scandinavia?.

  4. Dear Laverne,

    yay a new post!
    we`re packed and ready to leave, so i have to read next week, but just saw the photos, fantastic, thanks. I love your weft twined work!
    Been trying the Margarita braid, which is working out fine with your explanation and `ll send you a photo when back in internet land…

  5. Great weavings. Thanks for coming up with new and interesting posts. I love this weaving.

  6. Well Done Dear, I will send some of he photographs tomorrow, I have been quite busy since yesterday.

  7. Thanks for your reply Laverne–I would really prefer a hand carved spindle!

    I am a tapestry weaver and also weave saddle blankets, and knit-mostly socks just now. I spin and natural dye all my yarns. I did put my website addie in the space provided but guess it didn’t show up–

    It needs updating, have a couple of new tapestries and several new designs of saddle blankets.


    • Pam, I visited your site and your work is lovely. I am sure that I saw your Odd Socks tapestry somewhere online only yesterday and it is driving me crazy trying to think where!! Did you put it in an exhibition recently?

      • Yes it is on Facebook–the tapestry is presently in an exhibition.


  8. Hi Laverne,

    What a beautiful Bedouin band! Please, let me know if the warp substitution technique used in the center of your piece is the same described in Double-Woven Treasures from Old Peru, by Cahlander & Baizerman, on page 69 (Band 3 – Warp Faced Plain Weave with Warp Substitution, 2-H. It seems so.

    Are you going to teach us how to weave the picked-up three color border? (It´s a suggestion for the next post…)



    • Yes, Helena, it’s the same technique. You end up with a mess of floats on the back but it is very fast to weave. You could minimize the length of the floats by putting some thought into the placement of the motifs, filling in as much negative space as possible, but the Bedouin don’t seem to do that as I guess the long floats just don’t bother them.

      The three color border is so so easy. Again you end up with floats but they are not that long. Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. the pieces in the blog post are beautiful! I love the colors, so striking….

    i too am interested in a spindle and the bone, can you drop me an email when you have a chance.

    i am still working on key fobs, and have another warp to lash to my sticks. I did break down and try the supplemental weft tech. – i love it too 🙂


  10. hello,
    I’m french and I live in Santiago in Chili
    I used to weave with a very simple brackstraploom I made after seeing one on a webstite. When I found your blog, I thought Wow, I can do so much more with this. I just bought your book, now, all I have to do is practice and I think, since I’m not to far away, I’ll go to bolivia soon to see some weaver’s incredible techniques with my own eyes.
    Thanks for all

  11. […] warp floats using two color combinations in the same piece while Helena in Brazil has taken the Bedouin patterning one step further with a large strip of diamond pattern bordered by the classic triangle motif. I […]

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