Posted by: lavernewaddington | December 24, 2010

Backstrap Weaving – A New Anniversary and Past Lives

Never mind that I am back home here in Bolivia with Christmas lights in the palm trees and ninety plus degree heat and that I spent my entire childhood having summery Australian Christmases… I still think of snow and glowing fireplaces at Christmas time, particularly so this year. Perhaps it is because I just came back from the US where I got a good taste of the wintry chill or maybe it is the constant talk on the news of the big white that has hit Europe. My brother was piloting one of the QANTAS flights that was supposed to land in Frankfurt while one of my best friends from high school just flew to New York from Sydney in the hope of meeting and spending Christmas with her daughter who has been studying in London. All of this has kept snow very much in my thoughts.

Believe it or not I spent much of my twenties, one of those “past lives”, here for Christmas…

This is part of the old village in the ski resort of Val d’Isère in the French Alps. Nature usually cooperated and gave us a nice cover of snow for Christmas. I spent five months of the year every year for five years here.

We lived in the lower level of this old stone farm house in a village just outside the resort. In the old times the animals would be housed there for the winter and we had the original stone feed troughs in our home which the owners had covered over with wooden slats and converted into sofas/beds. The small building on the left of the farmhouse is the chapel in which a small service was held on the night of December 24th attended only by those in our village. After the service everyone would place large candles in the snow between all the houses. It was magical!!

This is how it would look early in the season. There I am at the front door ready for a day of skiing. And then the BIG SNOW would come!

Here you can just see our door and windows. Fortunately there was another well protected entrance. My friend, who was a heavy smoker, would go out in any weather and conditions to smoke his Davidoff cigars!

And then this would occasionally happen…

We would get cut off from the resort due to avalanche danger. The first time we got stuck for three days with little more than potatoes to eat. We always made sure that we had supplies after that.

Christmas day would be like any other. We were all ski bums there living without our families and so we would just get up and go skiing. I have kind of gotten used to not celebrating Christmas and we let it pass here in Bolivia as if it were any other day.

I got back last week from my US trip buzzing with ideas. There had been plenty of time on trains and in airports to think about what I wanted my next projects to be and so I didn’t waste any time getting warped up and back into my backstrap loom when I got home.

I wanted to put the weft twining I had learned with Montagnard weavers Ju and Ngach into practice and I decided on a table runner using their traditional colors and designs. I want to twine both ends of the piece. The Montagnard weavers usually twine only one end of their skirts and blankets. I warped for two strips of pick up designs and planned a traditional supplementary weft motif for the very center.

People often ask me how to keep the warps in better order when warping for a wide piece. The picture on the left shows how chaining doubled yarn as you warp can help do this. It also helps you keep place in your count. I didn't, however, chain this Montagnard warp. I find that simply using thick cross sticks and binding them well together helps keep everything in reasonable order when I take the warp off the warping stakes.

I placed a piece of cardboard in the warp to leave enough room for the twining and  got the weaving underway. I then returned to twine a little.

I will do this first twined edge on the loom. I plan to take the weaving off the loom for the final edge and suspend it on a stick as my teacher Ngach does. See previous posts here and here for details. This way I can compare both ways for speed and neatness. On-loom twining appears to come out neater but it is SLOW!

The off-loom twining that I did with Ngach wasn’t as neat with small gaps appearing now and then between the “stitches”. I don’t seem to have developed the knack as yet of preventing these gaps. In any case, I can’t wait to put my new bobbins to use.

You can see the little cement bobbins that I bought from Ngach alongside the larger and heavier ones made by Ju’s husband. Ngach told me that heavier ones worked better and so I bought another pair from Ju.

At left you can see the warp float design with the supplementary weft motif in the center. At right is the first part of the weft twining. I am using the same Cebelia number 20 thread that my Montagnard teachers use. This first part of the design is the same motif that Ngach and I twined together in our classes. I am going to do another design taken from other Montagnard textiles that I photographed for the next part.

I found I needed a break from the twining…several hours just to do seven rows! and so I went on to finish the woven part of the table runner…more like a table center piece really.

Then I returned to continue the twining and you can see that I am more than  halfway through the main motif. The piece does widen with the twining and I think that twining around larger groups of warps may be the solution to that problem. I did notice this same problem on the skirt that Ju had just gotten back from Vietnam on which her sister had done the twining. There was a slight rippled effect on the skirt edge.

Now all that is left to do is twine away! Once the first row of design has been done, it all becomes quite mindless and I can use the time to plan my next project….There are several projects in my head all fighting to be next. Some were inspired by all I saw and learned at the Tinkuy de Tejedores (which you can read about here and here) in November…tubular bands, discontinuous warps and the tocapu designs on which Mary Frame spoke.

More recently, my friend Lisa sent me a link to this amazing documentary video on the Li weavers of Hainan Island.

(EDIT: I have heard from a blog visitor who can’t view this video. Here is the YouTube link just in case)

I had taken a picture of the loom pictured below at Pam Najdowski’s Textile Treasures stand at Convergence. Pam confirmed that this is indeed a Li loom. She has these looms to sell as well as other implements from Chinese minority groups. Although they are not shown on her website you can contact her here and ask about them. I bought a couple of bamboo reeds from her. Which reminds me…that’s another project on the list.

She was also kind enough to share pictures taken at the Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. That settles it! – I am definitely going to this market next year, not to buy anything…just to marvel!!

Well this led me on a little hunt online for other Li textiles and Chris Buckley, who is a collector in China, allowed me to use this image of a Li blanket he has which I love and can see myself reproducing, perhaps not in its entirety…it’s so big…but at least a small part of it.

Which brings me back to those “past lives” and a saying my friend David told me…”Youth is wasted on the young”(or something like that).

Would you believe that I spent six weeks in China and made two trekking trips to Nepal in my world wanderings back in my “youth” and didn’t go out of my way to seek any weavers? That was in my life before weaving. I was into running up and down mountains in those days and I did the three-day trek up the stone steps on one of the seven sacred mountains in China staying in monasteries along the way. It was a wonderful trip in itself, but imagine all those wonderful textiles and weavers that I didn’t notice!

Well, it wasn’t all about mountains in China. We did and saw a lot in those six weeks including these rock-cut Buddhas near Datong at the Yungang Grottoes which were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries. There are over 51,000 stone Buddhas in this site.

After the mountain adventures in Nepal, I did go to see a workshop where yarn was being prepared for weaving and rug knotting. We even bought a rug, which got stolen, but that’s another story!

So, now I try to make up for the wasted weaving opportunities through the wonders of the internet and books but I have to say that I have no doubts that I will get back to these countries one day (as long as my brother keeps working for QANTAS, that is!)

Here are a couple of books that I bought fairly recently…Spiritual Fabric by Japanese author Sadae Torimaru was recommended to me by a Weavolution buddy and is subtitled  “20 Years of Textile Research among the Miao People of Guizhou, China”. The book covers an enormous range of textile topics and the photos are beautiful. It is not quite a “how-to” but is certainly inspiring and gives a lot of information about the techniques with numerous photos. The author herself states “My only regret at the time of publishing this book is that the scope of my research has become so much broader than I initially expected that it has compromised the depth of my probe”.

The book on Nepalese Textiles is a new acquisition and I haven’t looked at it closely yet. I wish I had had it with me when I met the weavers from Bhutan last month. As we did not share a common language, showing them pictures from the book would have been a nice way to communicate. I am assuming that there is probably some kind of resemblance in techniques and designs between these two neighboring countries.

Swinging back now to this side of the globe and a country in which I have had some weaving adventures…I was recently gifted this….

It is a Guatemalan loom and was given to me by Lorraine in California. She contacted me through this blog with her wonderful story of having learned to weave in Guatemala in 1979. This loom was given to her by her teachers and it is a real treasure. There are loom bars (two of which are not in this picture), heddle rods, shed rod and four wonderful wonderful swords of different widths. Included is what I have seen used as a spindle but which Lorraine was taught to use as a shuttle. The shed rod, the thickest piece you see there, is especially beautiful. It is a good size to hold open the warps for that shed without being heavy. I am not sure what kind of wood gives it these handy properties. The very finest sword is also a beauty and will work beautifully when I want to weave four-selvedge pieces.

Also included in the large box that arrived for me in Maryland were copies of Lorranie’s notebook with all her instructional notes and sketches as well as all her letters home during her stay which her mother kept and typed up. The cover of the booklet of letters shows the huipil that she wove with her teacher in Todos Santos Cuchumatán and the letters themselves tell the delightful, amusing and often moving story of a twenty-two year old girl and her discovery of a simple life amongst dangerous times in the Guatemala of the late 70s.

I will be warping this loom soon with a special project for Lorraine.

I have been doing some housekeeping behind the scenes on this blog organizing the tutorials. I have extracted the tutorials that had been embedded in posts and put them on separate pages so that they appear in the tutorial list on the side bar. You can still use the TUTORIAL tab at the top of the page to find them all. Another FAQ has also been added.

And for all the Spanish-speaking visitors another tutorial has been translated into Spanish.

Now you can find the instructions for Supplementary Weft Patterning in Spanish. Thank you for your patience.

El tutorial “Diseños con Trama Suplementaria” ahora está disponible en español. Pueden encontrar los enlaces para todos los tutoriales que he traducido a español hasta ahora aqui. Gracias por su paciencia!

And what about the “New Anniversary” I mention in the title of this blog? That is my blog anniversary. I announced this blog to the world on December 13, 2009 after it had sat for a few weeks with a couple of posts and me agonizing over how to get it started with a bang. Finally, I got the thumbs up from my brother who told me to pretty much “just do it” and then I had all my Weavolution buddies come along and give me their fullest support. And from there it went on…Thank you all!

And to end, I am waiting on the arrival of the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Handwoven where I contributed a tiny piece on the meaning of cloth. I hear that Carol Ventura also contributed and I am looking forward to reading that. Carol is the one who got me into online weaving groups in the first place which pretty much started this whole adventure. It sounds like a great issue with many projects displaying ethnic influences.

I had a fair bit to say on this topic of “Meaning in Cloth”, obviously WAY too much as only a very small portion of my article actually made onto the printed page. The magazine editors have allowed me to place the article in its entirety here on my blog. If you would like to read it, take a look HERE.

A topic opened up in one of the online weaving groups this week – a Christmas gift wish list for weavers. It started off with small and simple gadgets and worked its way up to entire looms. I had a think about this and am pleased to say that I have my sticks, my string, my World Wide Weaving Guild via the internet and, most importantly, TIME and so I simply can’t think of anything weaving-related to put on a wish list. Lucky me 😉



  1. What a wonderful and sad video. I expect your next journey to be China and all the weaving experiences missed in your first two treks.

    Have a Merry Christmas!

    • Lavern, Thanks for another story of your interesting life. I travel vicariously along with you.

      Which warp float technique did you use for your table runner? I would like to see if I could do this for a bag. Just curious, how wide is your table runner? It is hard to tell from pictures.

      • Hi Bobbie,
        This warp float technique is a variation of the simple warp float method that I have in a tutorial here on the blog. I will do a tutorial on this next week. You can see that it does not have the horizontal bars like the simple warp float technique but it does have floats on the back. Next week I will show the back as well so you can see if you like it. The table runner is 10 3/4″ wide. It is not quite a runner but rather a center piece – not long enough for a runner I am afraid.

  2. Season’s Greetings from Canada! I am wishing right now for a simpler Christmas and am looking forward to getting back to weaving off that Pebble Weave band I began months ago!

  3. In 6 hours it will be Christmas here in Adelaide, Australia, so please have a happy and safe Christmas, and may the New Year bring you many more weaving adventures to share with us!
    Cheers, Caroline

  4. Thanks for another very interesting post Laverne.
    Wishing you a happy Christmas and a fabulous 2011!

  5. Dear Laverne, I am always looking forward to reading your interesting travel stories and am constantly inspired by your weaving projects. I can’t wait to do more weaving after the New Year. Have a merry Christmas, Regards from Simone from Western Australia

  6. I can’t believe it’s only a year since you started your blog! What a wonderful year, so many interesting posts, reading it has been an adventure, with many new discoveries.

    Happy Christmas, from snowy Derbyshire, England.

  7. Dear Laverne thankyou so much for your informative posts, my daughter and I love to see were you have been and what you have woven. We wish you a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful weaving New Year. All the best from Cheryl and Samantha in a very wet Queensland Australia!

  8. Dear Laverne,
    happy one year anniversary for your blog! I’ve actually celebrated that fact by saving almost all your older posts so that I can read them off line in the tent…haha, those chilly chilean nights….
    thanks for your great post again, beautiful Li blanket and nice Guatemalan loom. I had a similar one there, but just left it behind after my piece was finished@#$$%^&, because I didn’t have a clue how to warp up a new one. You’re right, youth is wasted on the young…
    Hugs from El Bolson

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