Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 29, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – There is no one “right” way


I 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 of some of the photos I had taken during the previous visit.

She had several projects going at once and was very pleased as she had just been given an order for 1500 woven greeting cards from her regular Christmas customer. Now she is planning a trip to her hometown of Izozo to organize the other weavers there to help complete the order. She told me that when she took on this task last year she had been able to weave ten cards a day.  Imagine!

The smaller of her two looms is occupied with this gorgeous wall hanging which I watched her warp on my last visit. As I told you last week, the designs that the Guarani women weave in the Moisy technique are nothing like anything you will see anywhere else in Bolivia.

And here is something else she is working on in the Moisy technique…

The band says Centro Cultural Boliviano Americano which is the institute where I taught English for eleven years. The teachers are wearing these around their necks to hold their ID cards. Gee, I wish we had had these when I was there! The band includes a small snake skin design. There are over sixty teachers there and so I imagine that this task is keeping her somewhat occupied as well!

Lettering! I was excited to see that but haven’t taken a good enough photo to get a really detailed look.  I think I will ask her to weave me an alphabet band if she ever has the time!

Another thing about which I am very tickled is that she has put one of her sets of heddles on a stick. She had asked me to teach her how to do it on my last visit and now here she is using it. If you watched the pick up video in my last blog post you will see that opening the lower of the three sheds is a little tedious with the loose string heddles that she makes. So now she is using the stick on this lower heddle with the extra hitch as I showed her.

The actual stick that she is using as her heddle stick is a large wooden needle which she uses to pass the weft when she is weaving a four-selvedge piece. When she is closing the final piece of weaving and there is very little room in which to manipulate the sheds, she passes the weft under and over each warp with this needle until there is so little room that she has to use a regular steel needle. I loved this needle and, as she has three, she offered to sell me one.

And then I remembered to ask her about spinning. Yes, of course she knows how to spin cotton and she had a tiny bit of cotton to demonstrate. Just a touch of saliva on the spindle tip got her started. Of course, she is usually seated when she spins. This was just a quick demo. She told me that in Izozo both white and brown cotton is still cultivated (there is not a single boll to be found around Santa Cruz although it used to be a very large and important cotton growing area) and that several women still spin and ply their own cotton and carry their spindles about with them when they are plying.

However, she told me that those who grow the cotton are very careful to keep their hold on the small market and won’t sell it with the seeds. Sounds good to me! Deseeding cotton is not a fun task. I did a bit of that in Ecuador although it was fun there as we sat together in a chatty group and worked.

Angela’s whorl is plastic and a spindle that I bought years ago from the store where she used to work has what appears to be a piece of the sole of a shoe as its whorl. However she tells me that in Izozo, clay whorls are used. Guess what I have asked her to bring me from Izozo when she returns next Wednesday.

Above you can see the spindle I bought here in the city. The shaft is essentially the same as that on Angela’s spindle. I love the little knob carved into its end.

I also took home the yellow and black sample pebble weave band that Angela was warping up in the video that I put in last week’s post. She has warped this and set up the heddles quite differently to the way I was taught in Peru and so I can take a closer look at it now at home.

And this is kind of what I am alluding to in the title of this post. There is no one “right” way to do these things and I am constantly astounded by the similarities and differences I see in the way people are setting up their looms and weaving as I travel around. I had never seen anyone make string heddles the way Angela does and she was keen to learn the way I had been taught by my Navajo weaving teacher years ago. There is always room to learn something new and adapt your techniques. I am looking forward to a chance to try Angela’s way of doing pick up. It doesn’t work on the backstrap loom, believe me I tried it!

I wish I could do a tutorial on all the ways I have been shown to make string heddles so that you can try them all and see which way you prefer. Making the string heddles takes practice…string and fingers all over the place and then you just get them done and find that there are some that are woefully short…

I ran into Jamie’s blog last weekend where she had been battling to make string heddles following my video. It’s a good thing that resourceful Jamie came up with her own solution to the problem, made some heddles and wove a pebble weave piece.

Above right you can see the individual string heddles that she made and successfully used on her warp. She says that this way is much faster. Well, I had to tease her about that because I disagree 🙂 but I can definitely see that these are much easier in that you get guaranteed even length heddles. If you are an inkle weaver you probably already have a bunch of these heddles lying around that you can use. If you don’t, Jamie made a nice tutorial on her blog showing you how to make them.

Above left you can see Helena’s (telarahna on Weavolution) solution with her nifty reuseable heddles. She says she needs to clean them after a project as bits of yarn fluff adheres to them but then they are good to go.

So, if you have been trying to make heddles the way I have shown it here and have been getting frustrated, there you have two nice solutions. Try different ways and see which you prefer and, as Jamie so rightly says in her blog, it’s easy “once you get the hang of it”.

Speaking of “getting the hang of ” something, I spent a great part of last weekend trying to get the hang of tubular woven bands and am pleased to say that I succeeded!…eventually.

This is kind of my warm up for the tinkuy (gathering of weavers) which I will be attending in Cusco next week. I signed up for a class on tubular woven bands but, as it is only a morning session I have doubts about whether we will have time to cover the tubular band that I really want to learn.

I used Adele Cahlander’s booklet pictured above. It is still available out there for under ten dollars. I have had this book for at least thirteen years and have never made the tubular bands. I guess I tried at one point as I have scribblings in the margins and have penciled in the colors that I was using but it seems I gave up as I have nothing to show for it.

The book has two versions of the band that I wanted to make. One has a sequence of six steps and the other eight. The problem is that there is not a picture of what the six-step version is supposed to look like. It is in fact a slightly imperfect version of the eight-step one and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why my six-step band did not look like the bands on the cover of the book. I did not feel encouraged to try the eight-step version if I could not even get the simpler version right but in the end I decided I would just go ahead and try it.

In the pictures above you can see the eight-step version on the left. See how it has two neat diamonds enclosing a center spot. In the six-step version the diamonds are not quite so neat and well defined, they overlap and cross and they actually get progressively messier as you proceed. This is just so you know what to expect if you buy the book and have a go yourselves.

Once I had this sorted I had the crazy urge to edge everything I could get my hands on with this tubular braid! I learned a tubular braid here in Bolivia many years ago but it is a very much simplified version of this one and looks nowhere near as nice.

This is one of those bands that are generally simultaneously woven and sewn to the edge of a textile using the weft as the sewing thread. So this is what I did with my Tarahumara bag and I love it!

I was so excited about having learned how to make these bands that I could have quite easily dug out everything I have woven and edged them all with them . But I resisted and decided to weave a miniature piece where I could put several finishing techniques to use. The Cahlander book also has instructions for crossed warp bands which are very interesting. So I decided to make  a small amulet type of bag, edge it with a tubular band and make a crossed warp band as a strap.

Crossed warp bands are used here in Bolivia as ties on the ends of belts like the one from Potosi seen above left and as chin straps for hats like the two wider bands on the right.

And then I fished out Karen Searle and Suzanne Baizerman’s wonderful work on finishing techniques and found the instructions for Bolivian pompoms I had made years ago to decorate my zampoña.

This book is full of all kinds of useful finishing techniques from around the world

First I had to brush up on the crossed warp techniques.

Then I wove the wee bag. I decided to keep it simple and warped up for plain warp faced weave so I could weave in a small motif with a supplementary weft (see the tutorial here).

A very simple design and there’s the pattern chart for you if you would like to use it.

Next I wove and sewed on the tubular band.

And I had fun making and attaching the tiny Bolivian pompoms.

But darn, I didn’t have time to make the crossed warp band for the strap so I have just placed thread there in the photo so you can get the idea. I am thinking of doing cross knit looping as an edging for the top of the bag too. Now I am mad for not thinking about this earlier. I think that these would have made nice gifts to take to the tinkuy- bags covered with little Bolivian techniques (although the suplementary weft motif is not Bolivian).

However I did find time to put together a NEW TUTORIAL. This one is on warp faced weaving with warp substitution which is the technique I used to weave the band with Bedouin designs that I showed you a couple of weeks ago.

Below is the sample band I wove in order to put together a set of instructions for you.


This is a great stepping stone to one-weft double weave.

You will learn the kind of pick up you need to do for one-weft double weave without having to deal with the extra manipulations and steps involved with weaving the doubled layers.

If you are interested in Bedouin weaving Helena (telarahna on Weavolution) gave me a link to an article by Joy Totah Hilden, author of the book on Bedouin weaving from which I got a lot of these designs.

Alaa (weave2 on weavolution and Ravelry) also gave me two great links to follow on this topic here and here.

And for the Spanish-speaking visitors to my blog, I have put up one tutorial so far in Spanish – the one on simple warp floats (although I haven’t found a way to say “simple warp floats” in Spanish. The literal translation sounds ridiculous!). There is a tab on the header photo and side bar.

Para las personas que hablan español he traducido el primero de los tutoriales que puedan ver aqui. De vez en cuando pueden chequear haciendo “click” en la pestaña “tutoriales en español” en la parte de arriba de la pagina. Alli podran ver si he traducido algun otro tutorial mas.

I may have time to squeeze in one more post before I go to Cusco on November 4th, but if you don’t hear from me you will know where I am 🙂


  1. ¡tutoriales en español! ¡qué alegría!

  2. Great blog post as usual. I’m wondering about the coastal Ecuadorian technique of achieving equal heddle length by using a bamboo slat as a measuring tool.

    I have a YouTube video “Setting up heddles and weaving 1” with Trinidad in Zapote, Manabí looping a pattern heddle stick so that folks can see the technique. My channel is equadore1 for anyone to see.

    Laverne, why don’t you consider including this technique as well. Best, Kathie

    • Hi Kathie,

      I embedded an edited version of your wonderful video of Trini making her string heddles around a slat and have shown photos of this too in past posts. People have seen it and liked it. One of the gents in my group on Weavolution uses a ruler to make his heddles so that he gets even length. I have to say that I don’t have any problem with this myself after 14 years of doing it but it is something that is challenging for people just starting out. Maybe step by step photos on it would be good. Thanks for the tip.

  3. That spindle shaft with the little knob on the end looks exactly like a drum stick. Which got me thinking about all the drum sticks I have laying around and never use anymore.

    I haven’t started weaving yet but I’m very interested in learning how to. I think I will make myself a little backstrap loom after Christmas, we’ll see.

    Meanwhile I enjoy your posts and tutorials very much, thank you.

  4. I’ve tried to obtain a copy of Cahlander’s book from multiple sources without success. Any chance you can provide a tutorial for making the tubular edging? I teach homeless folks to weave, and this technique would be a great thing for them to try – eminently portable, and saleable for these challenged weavers.
    Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide.

    • I have since learned a much easier way to do it from the Peruvian weavers themselves but let me see if I can find a copy of the book for you. There were copies around when I wrote the blog post related to this.

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: