Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 22, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – In my own backyard.


My weaving explorations seem to be taking me further and further afield these days…outside my city, my country (Bolivia) and even outside the continent and I have found myself visiting SE Asian weavers in the USA and learning about weavers in the Middle East from books.

Sometimes I forget about the treasures that are here right in my own backyard.

I wrote about the Ayoreo people who live in this area and their looped bags in a post a couple of weeks ago and the difficulties I have had in winning their trust so that I could learn more about them and their crafts. I had given up but have decided now that I will pursue this once again. In the same way I was reminded of a Guarani weaver with whom I made contact here over six years ago.


I used to visit Angela, a Guarani weaver, every Saturday morning over a period of a couple of months about six years ago. She had her loom set up in a handcraft store and was warping to make a hammock.


It was such an opportunity to meet up with Angela like this as it is very difficult to find weavers right here in the city let alone a weaver who has a loom and a place in which to use it . Angela’s hometown of Izozo is about twelve hours drive away from here. Angela would weave in the store twice a week. On my Saturday visits I got to see her warp most of the loom, but missed seeing her setting up the heddles. I saw her start the weaving and part of the designs. The white cotton hammock had three bands of green, yellow and black pick up designs. Angela’s motifs included flowers, geometrics, pineapple plants and scenes of people in their typical daily routine.


The motifs are hard to see on my scanned photos. On the right you may be able to make out two ladies “machucando”, that is, pounding plaintains in order to make “masaco”, a typical Santa Cruz snack.


I would ask Angela where she lived hoping that I could maybe visit her at home and have some lessons. She had told  me that she had a small loom in her house. She would stretch out her arm and say “leeeejos” (“lejos” means far) as if to discourage me from visiting. Unfortunately, her son fell ill before we could really bond and she stopped coming to the store. Eventually the loom disappeared and now even the store is closed. I did manage to give her a copy of the photo of herself and her baby boy before I lost touch with her.

After Angela’s disappearance, I found bits and pieces about Guarani weaving in books and found that the technique she was using to weave her hammock is called Moisy. They also use a pebble weave which in the Guarani language is called Karapepo. I bought a hammock and bag in the Karapepo technique

I was able to copy the deigns from the hammock using Andean pebble weave technique and make this guitar strap.


From books I learned that the earth and the cosmos are represented by the star and snake skin designs. These are pretty much the only designs you will see woven in the pebbled Karapepo technique. In the Moisy technique, however, the weavers have a far greater repetoire and the designs are not like any others that you will see any where else in Bolivia. They speak of the lush tropical fruitiness of Santa Cruz! Leaves, flowers, vines, butterflies, animals and people involved in their daily routines or dancing and celebrating carnival are depicted on the hammocks, wall hangings and bags.


Cell phone pouches made with the Moisy technique with flower and butterfly motifs. A band of horizontal bars serves as the strap and velcro has been sewn on as a closure. A black band was woven and sewn simultaneoulsy to the edges using the weft as the sewing thread to give a very nice neat finish.


And here is the best part of the story…I bought the above cell phone pouches from Angela last weekend at her home. Yes, I found her again, was invited to her home and got to spend the afternoon with her looking at her looms and weaving. The little fellow pictured with her above is now 8 years old and she has since had another son – that makes five sons in all now! Her eldest is married with his own family.

How did I find her? Very much by chance. The English institute where I taught English for eleven years started offering classes in the Guarani language shortly after I left. My boyfriend, who still does translation work at the institute, recently noticed the loom and weaving pictured at left in the library which had been made and placed there to celebrate the start of the new Guarani program. When he asked the receptionists about it they showed him the lovely cell phone pouches that a Guarani weaver had sold them. Fortunately, they had the weaver’s number and it turned out to be none other than Angela.

One of the karapepo cellphone pouches that Angela made for the receptionists – quite a different style to the blue and black ones she made using the Moisy technique.

I was very keen to see how Angela sets up and weaves her pebble weave as well as to learn how to do the Moisy. I was pleased to see that she uses the very same crochet cotton to weave as I do. When I visited her last Saturday she had just warped up to make a colorful wall hanging on the smaller of her two looms, had just finished a book bag for a university student and was also in the middle of weaving a belt with fighting roosters which had been ordered by a Brazilian business man who mounts the woven pieces on leather and then apparently sells them for a very good price in Brazil. Angela’s enormous hammock loom is there in her patio and she can warp up several small projects on it at a time. She seems to have enough orders to keep her very busy.

She showed us one of her hammocks, the finished book bag, her cell phone pouches, greeting cards depicting carnival celebrations in her hometown of Izozo, pillow covers, belts and purses.


At left, the smaller loom warped for a wall hanging in Moisy technique and at right Angela is warping a narrow band to show me how she sets up for Karapepo technique.


She stretches a cord across the loom around which the start and end loops of the warp dovetail. Except for when she is weaving a hammock, she usually creates a third selvedge by starting her weaving right at the dovetail string.

I filmed her warping, making heddles and weaving the Moisy technique. As usual when I have the camera in front of my face. I find it hard to really absorb what is going on and so I had to come home and watch the movies over and over before I could grasp completely what she had been doing.

I like the way she makes her string heddles chaining them together. You will see her doing this in the video.


Angela’s chained heddles.


She, on the other hand, loved my heddles on their sticks (I had taken my backstrap loom, which she found very amusing, with a double weave piece on it to show her) and so I taught her my way of making heddles.

Here are two short clips of Angela warping using the dovetail string and making heddles. As she makes the heddles she is explaining to me the meaning of the designs on my guitar strap and telling me about the snake skin and how the snake that taught the first Guarani woman to weave in a dream is also embodied in the Parapeti River. Her little boys can be heard chattering in the background in the Guarani language.

In the next video, she is weaving the belt with the fighting roosters in Moisy technique. She has three sets of string heddles and another shed above the cross string. You must see the way she does her pick up. It is quite unique!

The lower of the three string heddles holds a shed through which she simply passes the weft without having to do any pick up. The two upper heddles hold the separated colors. She pulls on those two heddles working her way from left to right to pick out the colors she needs. Watch her left hand gathering up the selected warps. Her eyes are down at the weaving line watching the design so she knows which colors to pick. Then she opens the shed which the lower string heddle controls. Then she does another row of pick up before opening the shed above the cross string, through which she can pass the weft without having to pick up warps. This shed is a little difficult to open as the warps have become entangled in the string heddles.

So I had to go home and see if I could figure out the Moisy! The best way was to try and reproduce one of her woven motifs. I found that I had to pull the weft really tightly through the shed to have my design look like hers. It makes a very, very sturdy fabric. For those of you who have my Andean Pebble Weave book, I would compare it to the thickness you achieve when you use the three-shed border. In fact, I quickly realized that the three-shed border is the very same structure.

There is my attempt to reproduce the flower on the cell phone pouch. It really helped a lot knowing that we both use the same thread so I knew what width to expect right from the start. I really had to pull the weft tight and force it into that width.

The motif is not exactly the same but I understand the technique.

I tried to chart it and then found my chart was wrong and so ended up just reading it directly off the cell phone pouch which was a really good exercise.

I did notice that Angela is weaving the rooster belt a lot more loosely. .

I confess that, although I started out with my warp set up as Angela showed me with the three string heddles, I hated it and changed to another set up after a while with which I felt much more comfortable. I would like to try Angela’s pick-up technique on her vertical loom and hope to visit her again soon. She has invited me to come and see her floral designs on the colorful wall hanging she is making.

In the meantime I will work on my charting as I would like to make a collection of these uniquely Cruceño designs.


What else have I been up to?

Well I started my double weave belt using the Bedouin designs that I wove into my wall hanging.

I have charted all those designs and have put them on a separate page on the blog for all of you to use and enjoy.

They use twenty-six pattern warps, that is, twenty six revolutions of doubled threads. The double weave tutorial with more basic designs to get you started is here. (Bear in mind that double weave is not a technique I would recommend for your first backstrap weaving experience).

There’s an example of one of the charts above and you will find the rest of them here.

I seem to be gathering a collection of black belts. At least they are all in different techniques with designs from different cultures. The uppermost one is two-color alternating warp floats (my made-up name for it…we could use the Kyrgyz word “terme” for it). The center one is the yet-to-be-finished double woven example with Bedouin designs and the lower one is, as you must all know by now,  Andean pebble weave as taught to me in Huancayo.

I have also been weft twining but using floats this time to make a textured design in one color which is inspired by the alpargatas worked in ply-split darning that I showed you last week.

I am totally unimpressed with the results so far!

I’ll keep at it. Who knows, it may look better as I progress. Maybe I should overlap the floats by two warps instead of just one. What do you think?

What have my online weaving buddies been up to?

Anna, who is cycling down to Tierra del Fuego has turned up in Salta, Argentina and has added braiding to her skills following my instructions for the Margarita braid.

This is one of the two braids that was taught to me by my sling making teacher in Peru.

I usually advise people to start with the Palma braid first as a skills builder but she jumped right in and, as you can see, has done really well!

I have gathered up all the information on the Palma and Margarita braids that is embedded in various posts here on my blog and put it all together on one page here.









Zacarias in Yanque Peru taught me these two braids which are used to make the typical slings of the area.







Marsha Knox of Pandula Arts Creations has been playing with simple warp floats in two-color alternating pairs on her Gilmore Wave loom and has created some great designs of her own. More designs like these can be seen on the Guatemalan belt in this post.



Lisa has been up to her eyeballs in dyeing but took some time out to enjoy a night in her yurt. You will probably recognize the  band encircling the yurt that she was lucky enough to purchase at a reenactment event and which I have shown off many times here on my blog. It is woven in the “terme” technique.


Finally…you may remember my posting a video some time ago, which had been made in March this year, showing little Melina learning to spin cotton from her aunt in coastal Ecuador. This is the family with whom I stayed in 2007 and learned about the process of weaving cotton saddlebags and the simple warp float technique. I accompanied anthropologist Kathleen Klumpp on this trip and Kathleen has just returned from another trip there with a new video of Melina’s improved skills seven months down the track.

Kathleen tells me that Melina is not yet able to support the weight of the spindle and so rests it on her thigh.

The original video of Melina’s first steps can be seen here. How quickly she has picked up the skills! Aunt Trini and Grandma Luz are master spinners and she is lucky to have such skilled teachers but I think that Melina’s success is largely due to Kathleen’s encouragement. How wonderful too that Kathleen has made and shared these videos so we can all follow this story.

And I have been inspired by a very sweet recent comment from Graciela here on the blog. I don’t know where she is from but she has inspired me to get my act together and put up the tutorials translated into Spanish that I have been promising. Another task for this weekend and I will try try try not to get distracted!

Pssst! There’s a Spotlight article about my backstrap weaving in the latest issue of Handwoven…



  1. You make my head spin, Laverne! In a good way, but still…. I’m on the baby steps. Very grateful for all the seeking, documenting and experimenting you do. Keep it up, on all fronts!

  2. Congratulation on the beautiful article in Handwoven!!!!!
    love your new designs and achievements, love the floral round designs. You go girl!!!!!!

  3. WOW, this is fire brand! I love your work and the article………

  4. Laverne,

    Your blog is amazing, but I cannot view the videos – can hear them though!

    • I wish I could help with this Joanne or even offer an explanation. I went immediately to the blog when I read your comment to see if I could view the videos and everything seems to be working just fine.

  5. You are just awesome Laverne! I have hunted all over for a copy of that Handwoven. Guess I will have to order it on line. In the meanwhile I am trying to come up with enough money for the Andean Pebble weave book.

    You have once again humbled me by putting me on your blog. I greatly appreciate your encouragement. I am in the process of completing my pink/purple band. I am already contemplating wider pieces than this loom will support.

    As the backstrap is easier to warp, I may switch over to it eventually.

    By the way I did do one tiny band in one weft double weave. Very slow process, I didn’t even do any design, just practicing the movements. Went back to warp floats. I kept remembering your comment that most never fully explore this technique and just use it as a stepping stone to other techniques. I love the look of it so I for one intend to keep exploring it!

    Thanks again for your wonderful blog and all of the information. I am an avid follower and fan.

    • I think it is a good idea to learn the pick up techniques on your Gilmore Wave and then transfer them to the backstrap loom later. It was good what you were doing with the double weave too. Just learn the steps slowly and don’t worry about weaving patterns until you are comfortable with it. I am so glad that you like the warp float technique so much. It really is very versatile and you can move on now to completely covering the background stripes and getting a totally different look.

  6. I haven’t emailed you since I saw you in Albuquerque. You are truly amazing.
    I got Handwoven and enjoyed the article, and seeing a mention of me. thank you!!
    I have many projects going, but not backstrap yet; another day. Keep going as I read every blog and enjoy seeing you in action.


  8. I love your story about Angela. Patience and persistence, faith and trust, right in your own back yard!

  9. Dear Laverne,

    thank you for your great post.
    How wonderful you met Angela again. I remember you talking about her and now you`ve already been at her house. Nice videos, her fingers are as quick as yours! Hope you two will enjoy eachothers knowledge and skills more in the future. Interesting the difference between the 2 and 3 warp pebbles.
    I like the floats in the twining, maybe try a few different overlaps. (i`m sure you already have).
    We`re in cafayate, winetasting this arvo….

  10. […] went to visit Angela again (see last week’s post) one morning this week to see how she has been progressing on her wall hanging and give her copies […]

  11. Laverne, gracias por brindar esta posibilidad de conocer, profundizar, maravillarse, propiciar el desafío de seguir aprendiendo. Excelente blog.
    Ya me suscribí!

  12. yo tengo con migo un backstrap loom warp y listo para tejer pero se me olvido como continuar.

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