Posted by: lavernewaddington | March 11, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Big Bang and Big Thread


Syne Mitchell teaching her rigid heddle class at CNCH 2010

Time is running away and in the not-too-distant future I will be on the road again for another US spring visit (US spring, my fall).

Last year, at my friend Janet’s suggestion, I signed up for CNCH, the Conference for Northern California Handweavers, and had a great time taking classes with Robin Spady and Syne Mitchell as well as demonstrating backstrap weaving at the education booth along with Annie MacHale and Yonat Michaelov on their inkle looms.

I met so many fun people, online friends from Weavolution and Ravelry as well as made new friends with people like Kathe Todd-Hooker and Pat Spark who shared all they knew with me about the weaving of the Russian Old Believers.

I will be going back to hang out with Annie, Yonat and other southern Californians and then heading up to see the northerners in Janet Finch’s

My friend Janet’s organic farm and mill is in Redwood country in Humboldt County

territory amongst the majestic Redwoods and on further north to spend some time with some weave-along buddies as well as Betty Davenport and Linda Hendrickson.

Then I will zip over to the east side which I also visited last year with a memorable two days at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

Unfortunately, the festival is not in my plans this year but I will be seeing my good friends in Maryland and doing lots of backstrap weaving along the way.

Last year had me weaving pebble weave on an inkle loom at the beach, demonstrating backstrap weaving at an Earth Day event, backstrapping on the porch of Lisa’s beach house as well as escaping the heat to weave in the yurt at Maryland Sheep and Wool. I wonder where my loom will find itself this time around.

During the spring visit last year, my e-book Andean Pebble Weave went up for sale on WeaveZine. It was a very exciting event in the middle of this wonderful trip. Almost a year later, the time for change has come as Syne Mitchell has had to scale back her online activities to make way for a new day job. Andean Pebble Weave had to hit the road and with the help of Syne has now set up camp on Julia Grunau’s Patternfish site along with Syne’s bookmark patterns.

I couldn’t have hoped for a smoother and easier transition and I want to thank Julia and especially Syne for making this happen. This has kept me very busy behind the scenes updating all my links!!   Facebook, Flickr, Ravelry, Weavolution, Yahoo, Weaving Today….you name it!!

You may have noticed that I try to sneak in a link or two to the book in every blog post.. Well, all those links need to be changed. Thankfully Syne once again came to my rescue and put together a redirect page and link on WeaveZine with the whole story which will smooth things over until I can go through every blog post and update.

So here I present (click on the following text) Andean Pebble Weave’s new home.

You will find the logo and more links on the sidebar and at various places on my blog.

Well, the extra online time kept me away from the loom a bit this week but I still managed to get four things off the loom and have started a fifth. How did I manage that? By using BIG thread, that weaves up super fast.

Cathyz on Ravelry wove her backstrap using Tahki Cotton Classic and said she loved this thread. So, when I was in the US in November and WEBS announced a sale of grab bags, my friend Claudia and I ordered a twenty-piece bag. I must say I was a bit nervous about how we would divide up the colors. I was imagining a frantic grabbing session in keeping with the item’s name but, as it turned out, our taste in color is vastly different and we chose our colors in a very orderly fashion!

So, with the new trip looming I decided to weave up some stuff that I had promised to friends on my last trips to the US, that is, some backstraps. They should weave their own…isn’t that what you are thinking? Well they are mostly into very narrow bands and so I offered to make them backstraps. The Tahki cotton is actually roughly half the weight of the cotton that I normally use for backstraps and so I doubled it.

First I did a couple of pebble weave bands. I can get loads of black and white thick mercerized cotton here in Santa Cruz and so I combined that with the Tahki colors. The Tahki skeins are small and once you double the thread there is not a whole lot to work with.

Then I made one with alternating colors of simple warp floats. This is the yurt band border design that I included in a tutorial here. The blue thread is from Plymouth Yarn Natural which is exactly the same as the thread I get here. I got this one skein to sample from the Mannings last summer.

Next came another complimentary warp pattern with a twill-like rather than pebbled background.

Here they are all together. I haven’t braided any of the ends yet. I am leaving that for Friday which is my official goof-off day!

They will end up looking like these…

I was running low on the blue at this point as well as colors to combine and so the fifth backstrap is narrower. I also didn’t have enough light green for weft and am using white. The little white spots on the edges look okay. There is a little trick to hiding that white dot that appears on the right hand side of the pattern area but, as I only warped three ends for the blue border next to the pattern rather than four, I can’t use that little trick (poor planning there). This technique is the one used in the Tarabuco area and is the one that was taught to me when I stayed in Candelaria. A short story about that visit is here.

The weavers in Tarabuco use a very fine thread for their background color and a heavier one for the pattern. I prefer to use the same weight for both threads.

Here is a larger version of the same motif in a 24wpi thread. Here I got to hide the spots on the sides.

This motif has been with me for years! Way back when I was living in southern Chile and knew little to nothing about weaving, I built myself a wooden frame, hammered in some nails and made a cardboard rigid heddle to mess around with. The first woven piece looked like an hour glass and through trial and error I managed to improve on that.

I was making little tapestry pieces just adding in colors here and there with the ends left hanging out the back. I made it up as I went along as there was no one to ask, no books to consult and no internet. As I got better I yearned to be able to do some kind of ethnic motifs. And then I found a picture of a Mapuche belt in an Argentinean knitting magazine and I adapted and wove the motif in tapestry technique. I so wish I still had those little experiments from all those years ago. They got left behind when I moved up here.

I still have the little scrap which I cut from the magazine, now quite battered. My motif is a much smaller version of this. Imagine how excited I was when I got to learn the technique used to weave it.

The only problem with these complimentary warp weaves is deciding which side you like best when you are done. Weaving alternating blocks as I did on the red bag helps with that problem!

There is no need to choose  a side for a backstrap. The blue simple warp float band is not double faced as the weft shows on the back.


From big thread to big bang…the Backstrap Group’s Weave-Along came to its end last Sunday. We called the final day the “big bang” wanting to end with a bang rather than a whimper, you see. Here are some products…


Jennifer, after having made several pebble weave and a double weave project during the course of the weave along, chose to use a colorful plain weave band to make a zippered pouch. She got to learn and practice several finishing techniques this way, such as, the single cross knit looping/Van Dyke stitch to cover the place where her two panels joined, braiding for her zip pull and a plain weave tubular band for the edges. Among many other things Popsicletote contributed this fun picture of her loom bar lodged behind her feet.

Bobbie learned and practiced pebble weave, simple warp floats and supplementary weft patterning during the weave-along. She made a bag from one piece of colorful plain and pebble weave and added a braided strap. She also used a tubular plain weave band to edge it.

Barry focused on pebble weave for this weave along after having made himself a backstrap. He is sampling a new-to-him yarn called Patons Smoothie which I believe is acrylic and hopes to make a belt. I like the way he has sewn the end on the diagonal to finish it.

We agreed that the bird motif, which I charted in my book from a band I bought on Taquile Island, Peru, looks like a rocket- powered Warner Bros. roadrunner on roller skates.

Marsha is weaving on her Gilmore Mini-Wave loom and completed this beautiful band with some motifs from here as well as many of her own. She even adapted a double weave motif that I used on one of my mug rugs to simple warp floats.

Popsicletote put together this lovely set of photos showing what she learned on this weave-along. She did the watercolor painting in the center many years ago as it has been her dream to learn backstrap weaving. She says that even though the person in the painting has dark hair and hers is now white, she is happy to be able to finally call herself a backstrap weaver. I love the shuttle pouch she has made.

Tracy didn’t finish her big bang project but she made a very special contribution with a couple of videos of herself at the loom instead.

Outside the weave-along, Helena in Brazil sent me pictures of her latest work. She took one of the designs from the weft twining that the Montagnard weavers use to finish their pieces and adapted it to the warp float technique that they use. This technique can create some long-ish warp floats on the back. The technique is shown in this lettering tutorial. I am so happy that someone has used the instructions in this tutorial. Helena is the first one that I know of to have done so and she has been very creative with it.

I asked Helena about the thread that she uses. As the thread I use here is from Brazil, of course I wasn’t surprised to find that she uses the same. The brand is Circulo and I use the Clea variety, which is about 35wpi and Anne which is about 24wpi. The heavier thread that I use for backstraps and tutorials in the same brand is called Naturale. I found out recently that this brand is available in the UK as well as in Canada and the US through a site located in Vancouver. I guess I am really lucky as I didn’t have to go around here trying all sorts of thread to conclude that I liked the Circulo thread the best. The Circulo is pretty much all we get here and it just happens to be really good stuff.

We were all a little saddened by the end of the weave-along and then Tracy came along and got us all swept up in the idea of spinning for warp-faced backstrap projects and it turns out that most of the people in the group have a whole lot to say about spinning.

This has led to a SAL…Spin-along for warp faced weaving and popsicletote is leading the way already with this contribution today…this gorgeous photo at left.

Some people are spinning cotton and Lisa is joining in spinning yak.

I, on the other hand, do not have a whole lot to say about handspun for my backstrap weaving. I have stuff to show but lack the jargon to explain to people online what I do so I am looking forward to following this spin along and acquiring the relevant vocabulary. I know how my handspun yarn should look and feel if it is to behave well on my backstrap loom and that’s pretty much all I can tell you!

So let me show you some things I have made with my handspun llama fiber…

I used natural dyes in these next ones…coca leaves, spearmint leaves and cochineal.

Not a whole lot considering all the years I have been backstrap weaving. My first pieces made with my own handspun are actually in little frames on my living room wall! – so proud was I of this first attempt. Now with Tracy’s spin-along proposal maybe I will get more done. I should make Friday goof-off day a spinning day.

As we are on a spinning theme, I thought I would show you some of the spindles that I have gathered over the years in my travels here.

This is a spindle and rueca that I brought back after my stay in coastal Ecuador with cotton spinners. The rueca is a miniature one which we made while I was there. The spinners use a much larger and heavier version of this. I put a big weight in the little basket underneath to hold it down while I spin.

From left to right, a Guatemalan spindle with some of the highly prized natural brown cotton called cuyuscate, the spindle from one of the walking wheels in Otavalo Ecuador and a Mapuche spindle.

From left to right, a spindle used by the Guarani people here in lowland Bolivia for spinning cotton, two Bolivian spindles from the highlands, a spindle made from the sigsig (pampas grass) stem from Salasaca in Ecuador and one from Cusco. The Cusco one is my favorite for wool and llama fiber. The Bolivian ones have sharp tips and, as I tend to rest the tip against my belly as I wind on, they can be kind of “ouchy”.

These are various whorls that I have bought in markets, from my weaving teachers or been given.

To end… I posted a tutorial last week on plain weave tubular bands like the one being woven by this little girl at the Tinkuy de Tejedores last November.

Some of you may not have seen it as there was a glitch with the video shortly after posting and I had to try to re upload that and then I took that opportunity to redo the photos as I hated the colors I had used.

It is up and running now and you can see it here.

The tutorial is on “plain weave” bands and we know that plain weave doesn’t necessarily have to be plain. I want to edge more things with striped and more interesting multi colored plain weave bands to provide more examples but have yet to find anything to edge. Maybe I will come up with something next week.


  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! As always! My fingers are itching to get back in the loom!

  2. I really need to get on the spinning, since my name is associated with the idea now!!

    The spindles are inspiring, and back to the carders I go…. I had the same problem with the Bolivian highland spindle – I would literally drill holes in my clothing while winding on. So I’ve trained myself to wind on “freehand,” without propping the spindles against myself.

  3. P.S. Those backstraps are beautiful! Lucky friends, the recipients! Your production level astounds me.

  4. I cam over just to ask if you are coming to MS&W this year! I see you are! I hope we can meet.

    • Hi Laritza, no I won’t be there this year. I will be on the west coast with some friends. Yes, it is too bad. I so loved that festival.

  5. I just came across this today while looking through a list of archived videos on cultural anthropology/spinning posted to a Rav forum. There may be more weaving on this video but this is as far as I got when I decided to post the link.

    At about 6:53, backstrap weaving in Niger in 1967:

  6. Oops, apologies, maybe I should have watched a bit more, not a backstrap after all, but perhaps you will enjoy it anyway…

  7. […] “From left to right, a Guatemalan spindle with some of the highly prized natural brown cotton called cuyuscate, the spindle from one of the walking wheels in Otavalo Ecuador and a Mapuche spindle”. From […]

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