Posted by: lavernewaddington | November 19, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – The tail end of the Tinkuy tale.


I have been busy since the last post on the tinkuy – weaving, packing and traveling! Yep, I am on the road again…can you guess in which country?

Golden leaves and pumpkins…a common sight for many of you I am sure but certainly not something we ever see in Bolivia especially not as we roll into summer. More about this trip in next week’s post.

For now I will finish off my tinkuy report and show you what I managed to get up to on my loom in my brief stopover at home in Bolivia.

I arrived home with tubular woven bands and discontinuous warps on my mind. I finished off the tubular band that I had started in the tunkuy workshop with Nilda. Nilda was an excellent no-nonsense teacher, commanding our attention and clearly demonstrating and explaining the moves to her twenty-eight participants!. She prepared excellent handouts and got us all up and running on what was a fairly complex sequence of moves which involved, picking up, twisting and diverting warps. We were turning out lovely tubular bands by the end of the session and enjoying ourselves.

The CTTC has a beautiful center in Chinchero with large courtyards for weaving, warping and dyeing displays, workshop rooms, a store and exhibition area. We were blessed with a gloriously sunny morning and entertained by a sudden and violent change of weather in the afternoon as a storm converted the grassy courtyard to a blanket of white hailstones.

The courtyard where we worked was also alive with the colorful skeins of yarn which had been dyed in the previous day’s workshop.

With the aid of four helpers from the Chinchero weaving community, we all hitched ourselves to posts in the lovely courtyard of the CTTC Chinchero complex and wove away with always someone on hand to help if we got ourselves into trouble and, believe me, we did! Despite Nilda’s clear instructions I managed to start with my warp upside down but, with Jessica’s help, soon got that sorted out and then it was just a matter of following the steps in the well prepared handout.

All were quiet at first as we concentrated on our work only interrupted now and then by pleas for help but, as we became more familiar with the moves and, more importantly, understood better why we were making them, we could relax, chat and compare our progress.

Linda Ligon gets a few tips from one of our good humored helpers.

We started out making bands with very thick yarn – easy to see and handle while we learned the moves. D Y Begay took this picture of me at work and sent it to me.

Some of the weavers from Guatemala and Bolivia were among the participants.

Above left you can see our thick practice band and at right a finer one which we warped  in the afternoon session. After lunch we had the choice of weaving a finer tubular band, which I did, or learning to weave and sew a much simpler tubular band to a piece of fabric. The simpler band’s design was contained in its warps and so did not require any pick up, twisting or warp diversion. This was an excellent sample to use for learning how to manage the simultaneous weaving and sewing. Nilda was wise to give everyone a simpler task in the afternoon with all of us feeling a wee bit snoozy after the delicious lunch spread. The storm woke us up though!

Anita Osterhaug, Ann Rowe, Judith Crosbie and DY Begay at work on their bands. 

Betty Davenport was one of my “pole buddies”.

As for the previous day’s dyeing workshop, I saw the dyestuffs, the drying skeins and all the gorgeous colors and that is about all I can tell you for now…sorry! I am hoping that Dorinda will be able to fill me in on what they used to achieve that beautiful collection of colors. Each participant took home seven skeins.

My roommates Dorinda and Maxima participated in the dye workshop as this is precisely something on which Dorinda has been working in Cochabamba in her PAZA project.

And here are the principal dyestuffs that were used.

Another interesting part of the workshop day for me was seeing different warping methods.

I was tickled to see this warping board which is the same as the one I have built for myself at home. This is the one we used for warping our tubular bands.

I was tickled to see this warping board which is the same as the one I built for myself at home. We used this one to warp our tubular bands.

This lady is warping a narrow band around nails driven into to the ground. I noticed that she had the two outer nails leaning very noticeably to the outside to compensate, I would say, for their tendency to lean in as the warping progresses. That is the problem with this kind of warping set up. I am sure that from her vast experience she knows exactly how much to angle the nails when she drives then into the ground.

And then there was this large warping set up. Notice the metal bar which extends from one post to the other to stop any possible leaning as the warp is wound up the posts. Judith was watching the weaver warping on this set up and called me over to look. She drew my attention to the fact that the weaver was turning the warps at each end post around a piece of thicker plied yarn. In this way the warps were locked into position and this thick piece of yarn I imagine would be lashed to the loom bars in order to create the third and fourth selvedges.

Judith had been watching long enough to learn how to do it and was then able to help the weaver. I was able to make a short video where Judith shows and explains how it is done.

I am thinking that this would be a great way to wind a warp for ikat.

Here’s a shot of what the warps look like wrapped around this “starter” cord.

So, tubular bands were one item on my weaving list this week and I warped up a few to take away with me. These require nothing more than a string to attach it to your waist while the other end could easily go around a toe. You don’t even need to make string heddles as you work directly from the original cross.

The other thing I was determined to do before I hit the road again was experiment with the discontinuous warp technique. You may have seen the amazing piece being woven by a weaver from Pitumarca in last week’s blog post. She had warped panels of four different warp colors.

I wonder if this technique was born from weavers’ boredom with their warp colors in long pieces. I know what it is like being locked into certain limited colors for the entire length of a warp-faced piece. That is why supplementary weft patterning can be so much fun as you get to change colors as you please.

I got a pretty good idea about how this was warped by looking at the above piece. I also got a good look at Antonia’s piece at Convergence which you can see below and got to talk to her a little about it. This piece is an absolute marvel! She has panels within panels.

This, combined with a very nice photo of warping in progress in Nilda Callañaupa’s book, gave me just enough information to get a project started.

I just happened to have this rough wooden framed which had been abandoned on the terrace of my apartment block about two years ago. Stashed behind the fridge all this time it has finally found its calling! I put nails in it behind which I lodged and then tied the loom bars. I cut a groove into the wooden frame into which I could place a metal rod. This looks very roughly like the frame shown in Nilda’s book. From there it was just a matter of winding two separate figure-of-eight warps which dovetailed around the metal rod. Two people were shown warping in the picture and I must say that I could have done with an extra pair of hands.

Above is my two-panel warp with crochet cotton.

D Y ,whom I met at the tinkuy, went to Pitumarca to check out the warping process after I left Cusco (how I wish I had stayed longer and gone with her!!) and, knowing how interested I am in this, sent me pictures and has kindly allowed me to use them here.

Her picture shows a wool warp in natural colors. You can clearly see how the two yarns take turns encircling the metal rod.

Now here is my piece on the loom…

I was just fumbling around trying to figure it out as I went. It turns out that the winding of the discontinuous warp was not really difficult. What was hard was creating the four selvedges, something which I have not done in years and I have to tell you right now…DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING IT with cotton!! Creating four selvedges with cotton is horrid!

Just to make clear what this entails, I have made a rough sketch….This is the way I was taught by my teacher in Potosi.

A: You have your loom set up with heddles and shed rod in place.

B: You lash your warps to the two loom bars. I always put a metal rod through the warp ends and lash that to the loom bars.

C:  Weave half to two thirds of the piece.  I have found that the amount woven varies a lot from place to place.

D & E: Turn the loom around so you can start weaving from the other end. You will have to move your shed rod to the other side of the heddles before you do this.

F: Keep weaving with the heddles and shed rod until the space is too small to allow you to continue. Then remove the shed rod and use the heddles to form one shed and needle weave in the other shed. Eventually you will have to remove the heddles and needle weave the last few weft passes.

G: Phew! Finished! Make that a double “phew” . Those last few weft passes are agony!

I had forgotten that the only three times I have ever woven a piece with four selvedges I used hard spun acrylic and wool yarn. These yarns can take the abuse of having the heddles wrenched around when trying to squeeze in weft passes in those tiny spaces and these warps are not so easily pierced and shredded by the needle. Using cotton was a disaster with serious pilling, shredding and breakages. I managed to finish it but it wasn’t pretty. A friend has since told me that over twisted and hard spun wool tends to relax once you take tension off the piece and this better fills out the spaces in the terminal area. Lessons learned.

So, at left is a photo showing only the pretty parts…!! My terminal area is rolled under the loom bar. You can see that I have removed the metal rod and have yarn in its place.

I wove in a pattern using a supplementary weft – a bird which is standing on its head in the picture. The bottom panel has been finished and I have started on the upper one. Of course I didn’t have to make this a four selvedge piece. I could have woven it with fringe at either end. This is perfectly possible with only two panels. With three panels or more you have no choice but to make the center panel/s with four selvedges.

Let’s look at the other more successful four selvedge pieces that I made in the past with sensible hard spun yarns.

My teacher in Potosi is putting in the final wefts in this piece that I wove under her instruction. This was a particularly difficult piece to finish as it had bands of double weave which meant that we had twice the regular number of warps to needle weave. I wove this with the brightly colored overspun acrylic which is the yarn of choice in this area.

The next project with this teacher was a chuspa, again in overspun acrylic, and I stopped weaving the pattern early in order to make the finishing process a bit easier. The horizontal bands show where I started to close the two ends of the weaving. My teacher left me on my own with this one!

My Bolivian teachers told me that the skill of a weaver is evident in how small she can make the terminal area. The challenge is to continue weaving the pick up patterns as long as possible before having to resort to those final rows of plain weave. My terminal area on the chuspa is enormous. I have seen pieces with mind bogglingly small terminal areas. Weavers in Tarabuco, on the other hand, often weave only one side of their chuspa with pick up design and leave the entire other side in plain weave.

The example above was woven with tightly spun Navajo wool warp. I was weaving a supplementary warp technique. It is a looser weave and was a little easier to finish.

Okay, lessons learned….the next discontinuous warp piece I do will be in cotton with two panels and only two selvedges! It will have fringed ends. Then I will get down to spinning some llama fiber or respinning some commercial wool in order to attempt a four-selvedge piece. Maybe I will do three panels with only the center one having four selvedges. I will ease into to the process this way. For now I will stick to plain weave and supplementary weft patterning and slowly build up to do doing warp pick up patterns.

I would love to do a sold color panel with a pick up patterend panel within it as Antonia was doing above.

Here are some more of the pictures that D Y sent me…

The finished two panel warp with natural wool colors.

A gorgeous warp with multi-level panels.

A closer look.

The metal bars around which the warps dovetail are removed at some point leaving a thick piece of yarn in their place.

D Y told me that the yarn lies alongside the metal rods during the warping process so that when the rod is removed the yarn is there to take its place. You can actually see this in the photo in Nilda’s book. I also received a comment on my blog from Janet Willoughby from Ends of the Earth who made a dvd documenting the discontinuous warp process and other weaving in the Cusco area and she also confirmed that this is the way it is done.

I used the umbrella ribs pictured above (yes, I destroyed my umbrella for this) to pull the yarn through as I didn’t know at the time how else to achieve this.  I also used them to help pull the wefts through the sheds in the needle- woven finish. My umbrella wasn’t destroyed in vain. The umbrella ribs have convenient holes on their ends through which you can thread yarn. I just have to taper the ends somehow so that they are more needle-like and then they will be very handy tools. (Thank you to Gladys Miller who told me about using umbrella ribs years ago).

Of course my visit to Cusco area would not have been complete without a trip to the city to visit the CTTC store and museum. The store is a feast of color and gave us yet another opportunity to watch weavers at work at their backstrap looms.

D Y and I spent a day in Cusco together visiting the CTTC, the plaza and the market to buy spindles as well as strolling around the relatively quiet Sunday streets.  The museum at the CTTC is nicely put together and there we got to see the textiles that had been woven as reproductions of the garments worn by the famous Ice Maiden, the young girl whose frozen body was found in the mountains near Arequipa in 1995. It is believed that she was sacrificed and buried on top of Mount Ampato around five hundred years ago. The story of the weavers’ quest to reproduce these textiles was told in detail  at the tinkuy. A tremendous amount of work went into that project and the weavers told of often being reduced to tears as their early attempts to reproduce the structure of the weave failed. They persevered and succeeded and it was amazing to see the results in the museum. There are pictures of these pieces in Nilda’s book.

And now to finish with a few more videos. There probably isn’t anything here that you haven’t already seen in several YouTube videos but I have edited a few snippets together just to give you an idea of the variety of skills we got to see in action during the course of the tinkuy. They are very short as I was concerned about eating up my memory card.

SPINNING AND PLYING…The first group of women is from Patabamba. In the second and third sequences you will see spinners from Chinchero.

MAKING TUBULAR BANDS AND OTHER WOVEN FINISHES AND A SEVEN STRAND BRAIDED ROPE…. The first weaver from Tarabuco is weaving and sewing a plain weave band to the edge of a chuspa. There is no pick up patterning in this band and so she is simply alternating her heddle and shed loop sheds. You can see that one half of the chuspa is decorated with pick up patterns while the other half has simple stripes.

The second weaver is weaving and sewing a patterned tubular band to a finished weaving. She works from a cross which is held on a forked stick where she picks up, twists and diverts the warps to form the designs. She also uses an auxiliary shed stick which you will see in the video. Look at the speed with which she moves the warps!

The third segment shows a lady braiding a rope using seven strands.

DOING PICK UP…three weavers are seen here showing the different ways they pick up their warps to form patterns. The first weaver from Accha Alta picks up warps to form her patterns at the weaving line. She picks with her fingers to help transfer the warps to a stick as she progresses across the warp.

The second weaver from Potolo, Bolivia creates a temporary picking cross at the weaving line. She has a stick under all the black warps and has opened the shed with all the red ones. She picks up the warps using a stick while reading the pattern right at the weaving line.

The third weaver from Tinkipaya, Bolivia works at a permanent cross which is held by cords up beyond the heddles. She picks using her hands while glancing down at the weaving line to read her pattern.

So many different ways with so many beautiful results!

And last of all, here’s ten-year old Juan Miguel weaving next to his grandma. I love this sequence and like to try to imagine the conversation. I imagine grandma is giving her little grandson some tips which he doesn’t seem to be heeding! I love the obvious amusement and pride in her expression and attitude.

In the second sequence, everyone around Juan Miguel is packing up to go into the conference room and I imagine grandma telling Juan to pack up too. Maybe his response is…”Just one more row abuelita, the lady is filming”.  Juan Miguel continues to concentrate and weave away with a quick glance up at me – a true weaver enjoying his work!! At the very end you hear a commanding voice just as I stop filming. That was mom and, at the sound of her voice, Juan Miguel drops everything and hurriedly packs up.

Helena (Telarahna on Weavolution) in Brazil has been weaving yurt band designs following the tutorials here and here and pattern charts here on my blog. She has put the red and blue, as the yurt band weavers do, very nicely together. Helena never ceases to amaze me. English is not her first language but she has searched the net, bought books and used the information on my blog to teach herself to weave. Most of her resources are  in English and she has been a great source of information on indigenous weaving in Brazil for me too.  I hope she will inspire you all!

Part One of this Tinkuy Tale can be seen here.

If you have enjoyed reading about the artisans in the Cusco region of Peru in my report on the Tinkuy de Tejedores and are interested in the work of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco, I urge you get a copy of Nilda Callañaupa’s book….


  1. I have sooooo enjoyed reading about your experiences Laverne. Thankyou for sharing them–I use a four selvedge warping technique I learned from Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei, tapestry weavers who live in New York, but travel frequently to teach.

    • Hi Pam,
      I used to do four-selvedge pieces when I did Navajo style tapestry weaving many years ago – you just reminded me. That too was hard work but easier and more precise than on a warp-faced textile I think. Always something to dread at the end of a piece but so satisfying once done!

  2. OMG! This must have been a very heady experience. One of these days I’m going to go a-travelin’ to visit weavers. I would love to attend an event like this gathering of weavers. Thanks so much for sharing, Laverne! I love the videos.

  3. ¡Guau! Siempre me pregunté como hacian esos cambios de colores en los telares, y no podía imaginarme la respuesta. Como siempre, impecable tu información ¡Gracias por compartirla con nosotros!

  4. Thank you for sharing and explaining so much!

    Maybe I should give the broken umbrella that is lying under my desk a new home with the weaving tools.

  5. Maravillosa experiencia !! Gracias por el trabajo que te tomas en compartirlas con nosotros !!!

  6. […] Part Two of my Tinkuy Tale can be seen here […]

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