Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 28, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – In the Mood for Finnweave

I am back into fabulous Finnweave after a very long break.

I was trying to think back to when this Finnweave adventure all started and I believe it was in the early part of 2008. I wanted to try and reproduce the structure and motifs on some pre columbian textile fragments that I have which were woven in what Suzanne Baizerman calls balanced double cloth.

Here are some of the fragments that I have collected….

All these pieces were attached to Chancay doll replicas like the one you see above that I have bought in various markets here in South America. I wrote a lot more about these and other textile fragments in this previous blog post.

In  Double Woven Treasures from Old Peru (by Adele Cahlander with Suzanne Baizerman) instructions are given for weaving this technique on a treadle loom rather than on a backstrap loom. I have had this book for over fifteen years and had always skimmed those instructions without paying much attention because I had never used or even touched a treadle loom and I assumed I would never be able to understand them. The notation and charts meant nothing to me. However, something made me go back in 2008 to open the book again at that page and take another look. Nope, nothing new had appeared… it all still looked like a mind numbing maze…so frustrating!

Who else did I know who knew about backstrap weaving and these kinds of structures who might have a clue? I had just made contact with Carol Ventura online through WARP. I had her book on Jacaltenango hair sashes and so I wrote to her. She hadn’t tried this particular structure herself, but she suggested I join a thing called Ravelry where there was a backstrap weaving group where I could ask. Ravelry? What in the world was that?!

I also wrote to Ann Rowe as I had met her on a trip to the Textile Museum in DC and she sent me a picture of a Huichol loom saying that I may be able to figure it out from that. The Huichol people of Mexico still weave this technique. It is no longer woven in Peru.

I don’t know what it was in the end that suddenly turned the light bulb on but the next time I went to the book…click!…and I was able to weave the above band. I have to say that the technique is not that difficult. You need to use three sets of string heddles and a shed rod which holds the warps for the fourth shed. That is not as bad as it sounds as it is a balanced weave which means that the heddles can be raised easily and cleanly. What I was having difficulty wrapping my head around was the charting system which takes some getting used to.

It is a technique for those who love pick-up. It uses two different colored wefts and has more steps than warp faced double weave…two weft passes for each layer… but I love the result!

So what happened? Where are all the lovely pre-columbian textile replicas that I had wanted to weave?

“Ravelry” is what happened! But even more importantly, I joined Weavolution, where I started my own backstrap weaving group, and was hit with a tsunami of weaving ideas!

Thanks to Ann Rowe I have two goals now for this structure… to reproduce the motifs on my fragments and to weave traditional Huichol patterns. Actually, the picture that Ann Rowe sent me was not my first encounter with Huichol weaving. It is a funny coincidence that back in 2007 while visiting the National Museum of the North American Indian in DC my eye was caught by a beautiful textile piece. I had no idea what the structure was and did not retain what the label had said but I roughly adapted the motif to pebble weave and used it in a hanging.

And again here…

Well, you probably have guessed that I now know that that is a Huichol weaving. That will be number one on my list of reproductions.

I was feeling uncomfortable by the end of 2008 about this abandoned project and so made it a resolution for 2009 and there it sat for another year as I wandered off on all sorts of weaving paths. Now I have returned but not with the pressure of a resolution weighing on me. I am simply in the mood for Finnweave! What put me there?….THIS!….

Last week Ane Lisbet posted the above image on Weavolution of a wall hanging she made in Finnweave using a floor loom. How beautiful!

And if that wasn’t enough I was inspired to return to a discussion we had had on Weavolution last year about Finnweave and was able to get reacquainted with this amazing piece at left woven by Manicgirl on a floor loom.

Hans Christensson also participated in that discussion and was very helpful. At that time he was taking part in a project to find new designs, usage and materials for Finnweave. The project concluded with an exhibition at the Museum of Bohuslan in Sweden and now I see that he has written a book on the future of Finnweave with his new computerized way of designing and interpreting patterns. He has plans to translate it to English.

I will have to be patient waiting for the translation. So, out came the instructions from Double Woven Treasures again, the pages now covered with my scribbled notes and, you know what?, it looked like a mind numbing maze all over again only messier this time with all my notes!

Back to square one. Well, not really. I warped up to make the same design as last time and after one repeat, remembered, and  felt confident enough to move onto something else.

I wove it this time in a heavier yarn and it should be much wider. You can see that the brown areas are more warp predominant than balanced but it helped to refresh my memory and got cut off the loom very quickly.

Thanks to some kind Weavolution buddies I got an article from the Prairie Wool Companion April 1982 issue which introduced me to the wonderful world of weaver and author A. David Xenakis. His article is not a project, not a lesson, he calls it an “Etude”. I love this! Only the other day in one of the forums someone compared sampling to the scales one has to practice when learning the piano and so we can go back to the music lesson metaphor now. I love Mr Xenakis’s writing style…so very proper! He amuses me by saying please when he gives his instructions…please wind the warp…please wind two stick shuttles.

He shows the same charting system as that used by the authors of Double Woven Treasures from Old Peru. Thank goodness, I didn’t feel like learning another! After giving detailed instructions for one half of the motif, we are given this piece of advice…

Take a deep breath, stand up, pace around a bit and relax. Nothing in finnweave will ever be as hard as this first small woven figure. New things always take a bit, do they not? But if you’ll persevere, I truly believe you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment second to none you’ve ever derived from your weaving.

I am sure the folks in the backstrap weave-along on Ravelry will smile if they read that! The result…

He then gives pattern charts for some lovely traditional Scandinavian designs. So, I am doing my warm-up, my scales and my etudes for the final goal…finding myself comfortable enough with the charting system to be able to chart directly from a textile and reproduce the motifs. I need to experiment a bit with how I turn the two colored wefts at the edges. As always, one edge is neater than the other.

It wasn’t long ago that I knew of only one pick-up technique that enabled one to produce a motif on a solid color background, that is, a background without pebbles, speckles or horizontal bars and with no long floats on the back. Now I know three…

I also finished the warp faced double weave cell phone pouch with the Guarani designs…

And managed to twine most of another word…

There’s an “h” yet to be twined and that will be the Gaelic word for “weave”.  I received the Navajo word from DY and  the Slovak one from Alexis. This is the strap for my woven loom bag. I am planning the zipper pull. As I have a woven bag and a twined strap I am probably going to braid the zip pull…maybe I’ll do the Margarita braid.

I remembered after finishing Xenakis’s Etude that, on a whim, I had bought his book on weaving four harness textiles on a rigid heddle loom a long time ago. I had done nothing more than flip through it and admire the Finnweave cat on one of the first pages. Here, once more is the very proper writing style. I flipped through it again the other day and his amusing description of string heddles caught my eye. I am a big fan of string heddles. He is obviously not. He says…

“I find the sight of this stringy paraphenalia unappetizing.”

But he goes on to say that if you don’t have a third rigid heddle, you should use a string heddle “without hesitation and appetizing be damned.”

Cracks me up!

So, what’s been happening in the backstrap weave-along this week?

Warping arrangements have been designed and built…

This one was designed by Jennifer and built by her husband.

New places to tie up looms have been found and wool has been prepared…

Phil has moved to his sunny kitchen to weave and has spun a good amount of wool for his next project. He has placed a snake motif on his woven band using a supplementary weft.

New structures have been learned to make thicker, sturdier fabric and a backstrap has been made…

That’s Barry. He finished his backstrap with a five-strand braid.

Pieces were started and finished…

Marsha has started her widest piece ever on her Wave loom. Linda, who is not in the weave-along, has been sharing pictures of her projects with me by email (thanks Linda). She has finished her backstrap.

Jennifer also made a backstrap using a pebble weave motif from The Art of Bolivian Highland Weaving.

Jenny has been very much inspired by all the beautiful things that Marsha has been producing on her Mini Wave loom so, she ordered one and has just joined us to make her first warp faced project.

Another week of progress with encouragement from all when things went wrong…the reminder that mistakes are learning opportunities…the fun of seeing Anja’s “mistake” turn into a new pretty pattern.

I will leave you here with Mr Xenakis’s take on mistakes…(which comes in the middle of an explanation of tie-ups and sequences)…

Probably nothing is ever truly an error.  …….it is worthwhile to note that an error – in the words of America’s premier knitter-designer Elizabeth Zimmerman – when repeated, becomes a pattern. Which, were we of a philosophical turn of mind, might be the key to whole new vistas of thought. Think about it: at the very least, the regular repetition of an error indicates persistence.

Your pardon, a freely associative mind hath led us astray.

I think that I will have to drag out my rigid heddle loom just so I can enjoy this author more!


  1. Is this where I admit that although I love reading your blog – as it’s just so interesting – I have not one ounce of desire to weave the types of patterns you weave. Or even use a backstrap loom…I wanted go learn for many years but my body no longer would accommodate it easily. I did succumbe to a Rigid Heddle loom recntly. As to the amazing weaving you do I’ll just admire your weaves, experiments, samples. I love love love your stories and your adventures and I sigh over them and enjoy them, vicariously, tea in hand. 😀

    • I am happy just knowing that you are out there enjoying it with your cup of tea and taking the time to comment as you have done in the past. Thanks!

  2. For me it’s coffee, but the very same vicarious living. I too, love your replications of indigenous designs, but I find that I want to add an American flavor to mine. I am thinking of trying to do a ‘house’, or maybe the sun, moon or stars, in warp floats soon. Someone even though one of my experiments looked a little like an American flag…hmmmmmm. Who knows what will strike my fancy!

    The pebble weave keeps call me also. As much as I love the double weave, what I really want is the solid background, not reversibility. I mostly make pouch/handbag/totes now and I don’t need the reverse side to be ‘pretty’. So I am definitely reading these posts closely.

    I am curious to know what ‘Finnweave’ actually is. Is it simply weaving of Finnish heritage, or is it a particular structure?


    • Hi Marsha,

      I have been trying to track down an official definiton of finnweave. I really wanted to include one in the post. We become too reliant on the internet. I have Irene Emery’s book on woven structures and it is sure to be in there. Yes, it is the name of a particular structure. In Double Woven Treasures from Old Peru the authors call what they teach “balanced double cloth”. David Xenakis calls the structure in his etude “finnweave”. You know warp faced double weave – you have tried it. This weave is balanced rather than warp faced so you see the wefts and have to use two colors of weft as one face is dark and the other light. You do two weft passes for each face.

  3. I love Xenakis! I also enjoy his sense of humor.

  4. The monograph Double Weave: Plain and Patterned by Harriet Tidball gives an explaination of the various method of weaving double weave. In Finnweave, pattern threads are picked up in pairs. Then one can weave two shots in that layer before picking for the lower shed. In single thread double weave, I believe one has to make a pick up for each shed. There are 4 of these monographs available on at the moment.

    • Thank you. The picking I have been doing according to the tutorials I mentioned has been in pairs. I checked out Amazon for the monograph you mentioned and then Abebooks (Amazon used book dealers won’t ship to Bolivia). Cheaper at Abe but I think I am okay for the time being. I am sure others will be interested to hear about this.

  5. Very cool! I have heard of Finnweave and have been unsuccessful in figuring out what it is based on my internet searches, but I may have to check out that book by Tidball mentioned in an earlier comment. It’s great to see what it looks like, and I’ll have to add it to my list, after making my way through all the tutorials here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Do you have the latest (Jan /Feb 2011) Handwoven, Colleen? There is an article comparing 5 different techniques of balanced double weave pick up and finnweave is one.

      • Ooh, I don’t! I’ll definitely go check it out. Thanks!

  6. Can anyone point me in the direction of a Pre-Columbian ikat textile. All the books and articles about South American textiles state that ikat was practiced in Pre-Columbian times and that examples exist. No one shows one, however, nor mentions any museum where an example might be found. I have searched for years for the elusive Pre-Columbian ikat textile but alas have been unable to find even one piece. Hope someone out there might know of one that I could get a look at. Thanks to one and all!!

    • Ann Pollard Rowe in her book Warp-patterned Weaves of the Andes has a chapter on warp ikat in which she shows two examples, one from Late Horizon Period and the other she says is probably Late Intermediate. The samples have T.M catalog numbers. I assume that T.M is the Textile Museum in Washington D.C.

      • Thanks Laverne. I don’t have that book yet but will search the Textile Museum to see if I can find them. You wouldn’t have the catalog numbers handy, would you? That might help in searching for them. Thanks again.

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 )

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: