Posted by: lavernewaddington | March 25, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Material Gains

Tippity-tap at the computer for the most part this week trying to move some projects along before I go traveling in a couple of weeks….finger-dancing at the keyboard rather than at the loom but I have a couple of little things to show…

Well, I am cheating here…this is not loom work. I braided the friendly ends of my recent backstrap projects. Now I have to do the nasty ends…the other end with all the knots from the color changes.

I also played a little with some tencel that my friend Lisa gave me last year when I was visiting her in North Carolina.

It is a multi-colored 10/2 from Just Our Yarn labeled “almaza” and it shimmers with mother-of-pearl colors!

I suddenly had the idea that this may make really nice supplementary weft for some of the inlay designs I have been doing lately and so I warped for a white band in my 24wpi cotton and tried it out.

I used six strands and I love the way it came out. I warped four ends of red in the band on either edge and turned the supplementary weft between the two red warps on the left side and then on the right of the two reds on the right to see which way looked nicer.

The red supplementary weft above this is doubled strands of embroidery floss. I would like to make something now using the tencel on a band of my #10 cotton. You can’t see it so much in the picture but the tencel almost looks like beads on the cloth from a distance. The multiple strands bunch together and give a more raised effect unlike the embroidery floss which tends to lie flat.

Now listen to me getting all goofy about textures and such things. This is very unlike me! Maybe it’s because at the weaving event I attended last week I was determined to pay more attention to the materials with which we were working rather than solely the techniques and so have been able to make what I am calling some “material gains” in my weaving data bank. Discussion in the Spin-Along that has been running on Ravelry has also turned my thoughts this way.

So here are some of the materials that we got to play with at the weavers’ gathering last week…

Celinda, an Aymara weaver from the northern Chilean high plains, is showing one of the participants handspun wool which she dyes with bright aniline colors. She also brought her handspun alpaca fiber in natural colors and I was able to keep some by swapping a couple of my handwovens. Zenaida and Sonia brought handspun wool from Chinchero which they left for educational purposes at the cultural center which sponsored the event. I noticed, however, that they use alpaca for weft in their wide weavings.

Domingo, a master weaver of the famed Panama hats of Ecuador brought the straw “paja toquilla” (above lower right) from which they are made. Maritza, from Colombia taught us how to work with the “cabuya” fiber that is extracted from the penco plant. (above upper right).

The Guarani weavers who attended, from the area in which I live in the Bolivian lowlands, are now using industrial cotton, the very same type that I use myself in my weavings.

The event was organized and coordinated by the three Chilean ladies above…Cristina, Natasha and Carla who can be seen celebrating the end of a successful three days of interaction and sharing. Artisans from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia came together to show their work and exchange ideas and I was lucky to be a part of it.

Day one had most of us barefoot and on the floor learning the fundamentals of backstrap weaving.

Okay, so I have already been backstrap weaving for fifteen years (which probably isn’t much in backstrap weaving terms) but there is always something to learn, right?

You can learn about the weaving traditions from a country, a region, a town, a community as well as from each and every individual weaver and this very small scale event was the perfect venue for sitting right by and having very close connection with the weavers themselves. And this interaction was not only possible as they showed and taught us their craft but also as they learned right alongside us the crafts of the other attending artisans.

A lesson in warping…if your “stakes” are close together as these table legs are, you can simply hold your warp end against the stake (don’t tie a loop around the stake) and wind your figure-of-eight. When you are done with that narrow stripe of color, tie the end to your start end and then start your next color the same way. The advantages I can see of this…if one color has wonky tension, you can untie the knot and adjust without affecting the rest of the warp. If you warp a color that you decide later you can’t live with, you can chop it out easily without affecting the rest of the warp as it has been wound independently. Mind you, we were only warping narrow bands here of about 40 ends in five stripes of three colors and the warps were short which meant it was easy to anchor the warp end with one hand while winding with the other.

Next came strapping in, shed loop and heddle making, a demonstration of shed openings and weft management and then we all set about warping and weaving our own bands. Most problems arose, as can be expected, with opening the sheds smoothly and keeping the edges even.

As usual there is a certain period of silent concentration in the beginning interspersed with pleas for help. You can always identify the Ecuadoran contingent by their Panama hats! That’s Domingo, the Panama hat master, on the floor getting his first backstrap weaving lesson. This silent period is soon followed by excited chatter and cries of victory as everyone starts to get the hang of it and relax.

Snacks provided by the center….some participants are now so relaxed they figure they can even eat a peach and backstrap weave at the same time! That’s Mercedes from Mexico. Sonia has her students working away happily and can sit down too but is always keeping an eye on things as you can see. There she is watching over Libertad from…well, I don’t need to tell you where she’s from, do I!

Some school kids dropped by and had some fun and there you can see Zenaida with members of her group getting acquainted with that tricky heddle shed. That’s Liliana from La Paz representing an organization called Nicobis which produces educational and cultural videos to promote intercultural dialog.

On the other side of the room, Aymara weavers Celinda and daughter Isobel were teaching backstrap weaving to another group.

Isobel, always smiling and sharp as a tack, tells me that she does not have much patience for teaching. It’s hard to believe!


The twisty band above left is the one I made in Sonia’s class with the high twist wool warp and weft.

The one on the far right, I made with Celinda’s handspun alpaca fiber as both warp and weft. The green border is my own handspun llama fiber.

And of course, I wanted to have something made during the event from the material that the other group of weavers from Santa Cruz was using, Clea crochet cotton.

You can see the texture of the high twist wool on the surface of my little band at left which  gives a slanted look which I quite like.

All the while, a table was set up with various woven products made by the participating artisans and the groups that they represented.

Here you can see cotton goods made by the Guarani weavers using the kara pepo, moisy and simple warp float techniques (I don’t know their name for this technique, in fact, this was the first time I had seen anything made by the Guarani weavers with it).

The next day was another of frenzied activity as we moved the focus to plant fiber…the paja toquilla and cabuya.

Domingo showed us how to produce the basic weave that is used in the spectacularly fine Panama hats which have their origin in Ecuador.

We soon learned that the basic weaving moves, while taking some time to grasp, were not all that difficult.

What was hard was maintaining good tension and Domingo patiently spent a lot of time trying to have each student position their hands as he does in order to produce a good tight weave.

Bundles of twelve pieces of straw were prepared for the students. “Es facilito” (it’s really easy) Domingo kept saying referring to the weaving moves but admitted that weaving with correct tension was something that could take one years to perform at an acceptable level let alone the master level at which he does it.

My Guarani weaving teacher, Angela was very keen on learning this. We have the paja toquilla here in Santa Cruz too where it is called “jipijapa” and so it made more sense to her to learn this craft rather than the cabuya work.

And here is the master at work…

Above, you can see that Domingo, after weaving the flat top of the hat, is now weaving it down and around a mold to give it shape.

The picture at left of a miniature hat being worked over a mold will give you a clearer view of this. I spent an afternoon with a paja toquilla weaver in Gualaceo Ecuador and she showed the me whole process of making a hat in miniature.

Domingo stands bent over a post on which the mold and hat are propped, leaning on a wooden block and working with incredibly fine strands of straw. Maybe you thought sitting on the floor strapped into a backstrap loom looked a wee bit uncomfortable….

Above right, you can see Isobel, whom I told you is super sharp, working her fiber and showing her mum while exclaiming how “facilito” it is!

A few women in the Intag Valley in Ecuador still hand spin cabuya fiber.

Meanwhile, the ladies from Chinchero, Sonia and Zenaida, not in their traditional clothes this day, opted for cabuya fiber classes. With Maritza from Colombia they learned to crochet bags. This cabuya fiber is machine spun and chemically dyed in bright and lively colors and Sonia really took to this and got to finish her bag, made in black, neon pink with all kinds of glittery additions which Maritza had brought, in one day. It pretty well matched the colors in her outfit.

This cabuya fiber is much finer than the fiber that I worked with when I stayed with members of a cooperative in Ecuador. There the fiber was dyed with natural substances, was coarser and all together more rustic looking.

The women in the cooperative, crocheted, knotted and wove the fiber into mats, bags and other accessories.

On the left is a crocheted mat I bought from the co-op, a woven bag that I was taught to make during my stay in Ecuador, and a piece I wove at home on my backstrap loom. All these colors are from natural substances.

The cabuya fiber brought by Maritza is fine, smooth and consistent, lovely to work with and the colors sing!

So, day two’s workshops were intense. In the midst of the madness, Ayamara weaver Celinda quietly took up her loom and started to weave and of course, I was immediately drawn to her as was Angela.

We got some nice relatively quiet time with Celinda and I got some good video of her on which you can hear all the noisy fun of the cabuya and paja toquilla weavers in the background!

Two of Angela’s new skills…weaving straw and weaving a triple color band. The afternoons of this conference were reserved for interaction between the artisans and, that afternoon, Angela spent more time with Celinda and learned her triple color technique. The Guarani weavers have a very special way of making their string heddles joined by a chain and you can see Angela’s signature heddles on this Aymara style band….two cultures joining hands in the one piece.

On day three, it was Angela’s turn to present and a class of teenagers was invited to see one of Santa Cruz’s own indigenous artisans at work. First, as a warm-up, Carla taught finger-loop braiding that she had learned in Chile. This was the first time that everyone participated in the same activity at once and, with all the enthusiastic kids there, it was explosive! This was a new braid for Sonia and Zenaida and I hope they will have fun teaching it to their friends in Chinchero.

Domingo particularly enjoyed the braiding and was braiding all evening during the conference presentations.

Then it was Angela’s turn  to show how she warps a band using the dovetail warping method and the school kids were keen to try their hand at weaving.

Over in the corner and away from all the riotous enthusiasm, Guarani weaver Marioly showed Maritza from Colombia and Isobel from Chile the dove tail warping system using  the table legs as an improvised vertical loom.

Maritza is from the Nasa ethnic group of Cauca in Colombia. It is terrible how little I know about Colombia. After Maritza’s evening presentation at least I can say that I know that in Colombia there are 102 indigenous groups and 64 languages amongst them. One of the most important woven  items for the Nasa woman is the chumbe, a belt which is used amongst other things to strap a baby to its mother’s body so it can be carried about and/or comforted. Maritza herself is not a weaver of cloth but has dedicated herself to working with the cabuya  fiber instead.

A new online friend, who is from Colombia, shared this link with me for a page of  beautiful images of people of the Guambiano ethnic group of Colombia who are from the same area of Cauca as Maritza. I really need to adjust my mental image of Colombia!

She told me that many narrow items, like the band which adorns her hat, are woven on a very simple loom which comprises little more than a forked branch.

Business and pleasure…it was all pleasure for me! Sonia and Zenaida took to the podium on the final evening to tell us about the work of the CTTC (Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco) and answer questions. Jean Paul of Ecuador and Mercedes of Mexico serenaded us with harmonized Cuban songs.

I really enjoyed meeting Maria Elena, above left, from Peru, who gave a lecture on her research into the bags made from garabatá fiber in Peru (a fiber that is also used by the Ayoreo people here in Santa Cruz). We discovered we have some mutual acquaintances in the weaving world.

A last look at some of the textiles…

Chinchero textiles at top left, an Aymara triple color belt below and Sonia’s simple and practical backstrap! Of all the textiles there, the backstrap is the one I would have liked to have bought! I would USE it.

So now I am wondering… Will a finger loop braid or two soon be adorning a Panama hat!?…just a fun thought…but, more importantly, will some school kids in Santa Cruz now be able to recognize a Guarani woven bag if they see one in the street and will they be able to tell people something about how they are made? And this I don’t need to wonder about…I know for a fact that Angela will have a three-color band underway on her loom and most likely finished the next time I see her!


The Weave-Along is over on Ravelry, the Spin-Along is going but, naturally, is slower to give results. In the meantime we are all still weaving along and finding it hard to drag ourselves away from the loom!

At the top, Jennifer has been producing swirls and curls of traditional, as well as her own, design. Linda wove a traditional design of coastal Ecuador into a bookmark using simple warp floats. The chart is here. Both popsicletote and Tracy have been exploring the tanka choro motif of Chinchero Peru. And I know that there is a lot of spinning going on there behind the scenes too.

My apologies to those to whom I promised some information on links and articles on the woven belts of the Russian Old Believers this week. I think this week’s post has gone on long enough and I would rather do the topic more justice in a separate post next week. See you then!


  1. Great post… sounds like a wonderful experience. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for sharing all these exciting weaving activities and introducing us to these extraordinary weavers. I look forward to every new post and learning more about backstrap weaving. Thank you for your generosity!

    • Thank you both. I am glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing about it and being able to relive the fun of it all once again one week after.

  3. A wonderful experience and once again due to your pictures and descriptions we got to tag along. Thank you!

    Recently I have been looking at your posts on the Flipboard app on my iPad….the colors in your pictures look nothing short of spectacular with the backlight from the iPad screen. Wow. Extra joy. 😀

  4. Laverne, the workshop was marvelous and thank you for sharing it with us. The wealth of knowledge and tradition in one small area is amazing.

    I’m intrigued at the bands that were woven in Columbia on a “forked stick” loom. How fascinating. Hope you will have an opportunity to share a bit more about that with us in the future.

  5. It´s always a pleasure to read your posts!! It´s almost as having been there myself, I´ve really enjoyed it!! and I’m also dying of envy right now too, not to have an event of that type around here… sniff 😦

    I made my first attempt at weaving with simple warp floats in a backstrap loom (although it wasn´t “backstrap” in fact…I found it uncomfortable being tied up to it). I’m really happy with the result, I’ve turned it into a mobile phone bag, and I´m warping again to make a handbag to match with it! So thanks again for the inspiration and for your tutorials

  6. It’s so beautiful to see people who are masters of one form of weaving getting excited about new and different techniques. Wonderful post!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing. A wonderful article you wrote.
    We HAVE to meet when you come this way. I have some things from the Guambiano Indians that I would like to show you. I really should take some pictures and blog about them. Keep in touch.

  8. Absolutely fascinating! Thank you for allowing us to “meet” these amazing people (you included) You write so well and warmly.

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: