Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 15, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – Weft twining with a twist


Weft twining is showing up all over the place. I just discovered what I think might be  classified as “sort of”‘ weft twining in an unexpected place in my journal of notes on my first trip to Ecuador. So I have decided to call it ‘weft twining with a twist” as I don’t know how to define this. Perhaps you can help me. More about that a little later…

I have just about finished the Bedouin piece I was working on last week. I just need to make some tassels from some of the weft ends and figure out what to do with the warp ends and I will be done.

I found two more designs in books and online for the last two panels. The design on the right is from a book that I have had for at least  ten years and I can remember years ago marveling over the pictures of the Bedouin looms with their long long warps stretched out over the stony ground. It is exciting to now be able to weave some of their designs myself even though I used my backstrap loom rather than a staked out one.

I twined a broader band of design at the bottom this time with three colors and “s” wrapped the warp ends. I also wove  two plain narrow black bands which I sewed to the edges to cover the weft ends from the twining.

This one will go on the wall as a long narrow hanging and now I would like to get down to planning a much wider one.

As I told you last week the main designs are done in a technique known as warp substitution which creates long awkward floats on the back. The floats can be eliminated by weaving the designs in double weave but I wanted to stick to the traditional technique. However, I couldn’t resist warping up to try the designs in double weave. I warped up my Ashford inklette as I had showed you last week a little about doing one-weft double weave on this kind of loom.


On the left you can see one of the designs from the large Bedouin style piece woven white on black using 26 doubled warps in the pattern area. On the right, the inklette is tipped upside down so you can see the same design in black on white.


Now I think I want a belt with these black and white designs made on my backstrap loom. The piece on the inklette is a sampler. You can see that I have put a very short warp on it.

I haven’t paid all that much attention to my off loom weft twined piece but I did make a little progress. I am still having a few tensioning issues with this and the piece is getting gradually wider. It’s good practice until I can get to the stage where I can make something useful with this technique.


I am using a swirl border and large motif from Montagnard twined textiles on the left. On the right you can see how the weft twists to encircle each of the hanging warps.


As I was twining away this week my mind was taken back to a trip I did to Ecuador in 2005. There in a small town near Otavalo I met a man who is still making alpargatas, the traditional footwear of Otavaleño men, by hand.

Admittedly most men are choosing sneakers over alpargatas these days but on market day in Otavalo I saw a few older men using them. The very oldest men tend to get about with bare feet.

You can see that the foot covering and heel straps are fabric which are worked in a “sort of” twined technique. The sole is braided and coiled “cabuya” fiber (a kind of agave). The cabuya soles on the tiny pair of alpargatas in the above picture have been mounted on rubber.

I asked around as I really wanted to see how these fabric pieces were made and was told to go to a tiny town, a short bus ride out of Otavalo.

I imagined that I could just stroll into town ask around and be pointed in the right direction. Not so! and this day spent touring this town along little lanes between the fields in search of the alpargata maker is one of my favorite memories of that trip to Ecuador. Everyone was very friendly but no one seemed to have the slightest idea about this person I was seeking.

Finally two people pointed in the direction of some hills behind the town and I headed there not really knowing if I could trust this information. People are so eager to please and will often tell you what they think you want to hear.  Of course I should have known that the best place to ask theses things is at the corner store. Corner store owners know everything about everyone and the owner’s daughter was dispatched to take me by the hand right to the door of the alpargata maker.

Aurelio, the alpargata craftsman, can be seen braiding cabuya fiber which will be later coiled to make the soles of the alpargatas. His wife at right asked to have her picture taken with her finest traditional Otavalo clothes.

Unfortunately, Aurelio was not in the process of making alpagartas when I met him. In fact, he had just taken the woven pieces off the mold but he was more than happy to show me his tools and equipment and tell me about the process.  The alpargata fabric is worked around a mold rather than on a loom. I bought the two finished pieces of cloth from him along with the heel straps and a tiny boy’s pair of alpargatas.


The triangular fabric pieces are "woven" around a conical wooden mold which you can see on the right. The foot covering pieces called "mantas" are there with the "taloneras" or heel straps. The braided fiber will form the soles.


The conical mold or ‘horma” is made of wood and covered with  non slip leather. On this the “mantas” and ‘taloneras” will be worked. Aurelio has several molds of different widths and lengths to cover all range of shoe sizes from boys to adults.

To begin “warping”, a length of cord is tied from the top to the bottom of the mold. Cotton thread is plied and then wound around the mold. Starting from the center cord the plied cotton travels around  the mold and passes around the cord before returning in the opposite direction. And so, back and forth it travels until the required length is reached.


I am using a cardboard mold here for these photos just to demonstrate this along with some very thick cotton string which I have roughly plied just to give you the idea.


Aurelio plies his cotton evenly on a drop spindle unlike my uneven thick cotton string above which I just twisted by hand. You can see the neat twist in the end loops of the piece below.

The “weaving” process then begins…

A single strand of cotton is passed on a needle between the twist in each of the plied cotton  strands from bottom to top, turning at the top and returning through the adjacent twist to the bottom. Designs are formed by passing the needle through the same twist twice, that is, on both the upward and downward journeys, thus creating a float. When the work is finished, the center string is cut and the piece of fabric can be opened out.

So what do we call this? Twining? EDIT: Since posting, there have been a few comments suggesting that this is most likely what is known as ply-split darning (not to be confused with ply-split braiding). Thank you to all who contributed their thoughts and suggestions.

The results look the same. You can see that the “stitches” created have the same slants as those created by weft twining. If you compare the method used by Aurelio to make the mantas with the picture I showed of the weft twining earlier you can see that the same thing is being achieved.

I have been twisting wefts around static warps. For the sake of the comparison we could say that Aurelio draws the “warps” through static twisted “wefts” with the same result. (The moving element on the needle is, however, the weft and the twists the warp).

I have not thought about creating designs with floats this way in my weft twining . I love this textured patterning in one color and can’t wait to try it.

Here are other typical patterns used on the mantas of the alpargatas…


Common designs worked into the alpargata pieces.


The finished mantas….

The finished alpargatas…

These are a small boy’s size and so, eventhough I only saw them being worn by a few older men in the city of Otavalo, they are quite likely being used in towns and villages in the area by males of all ages.

Women also use alpargatas but theirs are now factory made from synthetic materials. The heel straps, however, are still being made by craftsmen like Aurelio. I did not see a synthetic version of the men’s style.


This tiny black pair is a baby's size.


I wish I had better images of the alpargatas in use but here is what I have…


If you look very closely you may be able to make out that one of the men looking at beads at the Otavalo market is wearing the white alpargatas. The weaver at right is wearing the typical women's alpargatas. Cord is tied from loops in the heel straps to hold the shoe onto the foot.


I am happy to see that a couple of Weavolution buddies have been inspired to give weft twining  a try too. Franco has had this on his “to-do” list for some time and has decided to shift it to the top. He has been making a weft twined bag around a cardboard support. You can see it on his blog. Jennifer has been experimenting with it on her cricket loom and I am sure she will have something to show us next week.

I can’t tell you how many things are on my own “to-do” list. Adding to it this week…a belt with black and white double weave Bedouin designs, a larger Bedouin style wall hanging with weft twined bands included and now… float patterns in weft twining inspired by the Otavaleño alpargatas.

I hope that you will be inspired to try some weft twining or perhaps one-weft double weave on your backstrap or inkle loom.


  1. how about ply splitting? I have a feeling that might be the name of that technique…or at least some component of that structure. LOVE your Bedouin cloth, can’t wait for Thursdays…..

    • Yes, ply splitting! I followed up on this with some reading today. My first adventure into ply-splitting and quite by accident! 🙂

  2. It looks like ply split darning (not braiding), although I’ve not seen floats (but I’ve not seen much ply split darning).

    For sandals with weft twining, see “Prehistoric Sandals from Northeastern Arizona” by Hays-Gilpin, Deegan, and Morris; and “Treading in the Past, Sandals of the Anasazi” by Kankainen. Martha Stanley in Watsonville has worked out the details — and makes rugs using the techniques.

    • Hi Anne,

      I have been doing some reading today and have found out about ply-split darning. Yes, I do believe that this is ply-split darning. Thanks for the tip. The whole world of ply-splitting is completely unknown to me. Here is Peter Collingwood’s definition:

      If a set of parallel elements, like a warp, is split at right angles by another element, like a weft, it is “ply-split darning” a structure found world-wide……

  3. Single Course Oblique Twining, perhaps? Its definitely ply splitting of some form as defined by Peter Collingwood and looks a very similar technique to the items on Linda Hendrikson’s web-site. How fascinating that its found in South America! Collingwood found it in northern India where it was used for camel girths.
    There are very basic instructions on Hendrikson’s web-site, enough to give a comparison with the Andean technique. And Collingwoods basic instructions can be found at I need to go and read, ;-)!
    PS. You’ve done it again! so much to learn, so little time!

  4. What an insight; ply splitting and twinning have the same structure, made in very different manners ( different static and mobile elements).

    • Assuming I have gotten this right…That certainly seems to be the case. I am still in the head scratching phase!

  5. I enjoyed the story of how you found Aurelio and his wife. The designs are quite striking yet the form looks easier to set up than a tapestry box loom.

    One Montagnard tribe (the Bih) makes a twill woven pattern in a single color that resemble the alpargatas but it is woven on a backstrap loom.

  6. Under the pair of photos above (left, your weft twining; right, Aurelio’s twisted threads and threaded needle), part of the caption reads “Aurelio draws warps through static twisted wefts.”

    I’m wondering if the orientation of the photo is misleading: if it were rotated 90 degrees, would you more easily see static warps with the weft on the needle? Or put another way, isn’t the weft usually the element that moves?

    It looks like ply split darning — which, along with ply split braiding, is found in Colombia (as well as India), and more recently there has been mention of ply split braiding in another South American country, maybe Argentina.

    • I agree with you Anne. Yes, I do think it is ply-split darning. The photo is aligned to show the way it is actually worked by Aurelio with the twisted elements lying horizontally and the wefts passing from top to bottom rather than from side to side as wefts usually are. I am interchanging the naming of warp and weft simply to aid the comparison which I see now is confusing and so I have amended the text to reflect that. Collingwood’s definition mentions elements being at right angles to each other rather then moving obliquely which I think is the key piece of information.

      I heard via Linda Hendrickson of ply-split braiding being done in Columbia and she put me in contact with a woman who learned it from people of the Wayuu tribe.

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