Posted by: lavernewaddington | May 13, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Sleeping in Studios

The view from Betty’s studio (my bedroom) over rows of blueberry bushes and the forest on her tree farm.

If you believe in that sort of thing, I should be simply bursting with creative energy after having spent the last week in the homes of weavers Betty Davenport and Linda Hendrickson sleeping and soaking up inspiration in their studios.

At Betty’s I slept under her very own handwoven blankets with a spectacular piece from Bhutan directly above my head.

Above that, the wall extended to a very high ceiling and was adorned with two gorgeous ponchos from Peru.

I slept with supplementary weft figures from Bhutan dancing in my head.

At Linda’s I was surprised I could even sleep at all with her life’s work of tablet woven and ply-split creations filling every single wall space around my bed not to mention pieces she has acquired from such artists as Bhakti Ziek, Peter Collingwood and a master camel girth braider from India.

But then there were those soothing bands of woven words…

Anyone who has been following my blog will know that I am a big fan of Linda’s tablet woven letters and that I used her book Please Weave Me a Message recently as inspiration to twine weft into words on the strap for my loom bag.

Yes, it was something else being able to spend time with these two rock stars of weaving and I mean “rock star” in more than one sense of the words when I refer to my friend Betty Davenport.

I am guessing that few people know about some of Betty’s other pursuits and talents away from the weaving loom. I will tell you just one of them for now: Betty is a climber…a serious hard-core mountain climber. Well, she will tell you that she doesn’t climb anymore but there she has her award for having climbed the sixteen major peaks of the Cascades. As a member of Washington and Oregon climbing clubs she has traveled to many countries to hike and climb and the part that most impresses me is that she managed to combine this with weaving!

A tiny tatste of some of the dozens of meticulously labeled and catalogued fabrics and tools that Betty has collected on her trips.

You have no idea how much I wish I had had my love for backstrap weaving back in the days when all I could care about was racing up mountains and roping into canyons. Betty has so many great tales to tell of her travels in the mountainous regions of the world not only bagging peaks and hiking high trails but also meeting weavers and collecting textiles….the perfect combination of activities!

Anyone who has followed my blog will also understand how excited I was to be able to handle my first Huichol piece in balanced double weave and that bone tool on the left is a pick that Betty collected in Peru made from the bone of a condor.

Well, you can be sure that I photographed pretty much everything and still need to do some serious fact checking before I dare to put the pictures here but you will get to see all these treasures as time goes by. When I get home from this trip I will go through everything including Martha Stanley’s wonderful collection and make sure that everything is properly labeled.

A couple more pieces from Betty’s extensive collection.

At the Tinkuy de Tejedores in Peru learning to make tubular woven bands.

And here’s a fun thing…I wrote to Betty back in December 1995 as my Navajo weaving teacher in Colorado had sent me a copy of classified ads in a Handwoven issue. There was an ad for a weavers’ trek in Peru led by someone called Betty Davenport. I had no idea who she was.

At that time I was dying to go to Peru from my home in southern Chile to learn to weave but was quite terrified as the Shining Path had been very active and independent travel in Peru was not considered safe.

However, I was on a tight backpacker budget and, as wonderful as Betty’s itinerary sounded, I could not afford her trip at that time. So off I went on my own.

Would you believe that Betty still had my letter after all these years? She found it amongst old files and gave it to me at Convergence! We met again at the Tinkuy in Peru and now have had some quality time to spend together.

Here’s one more piece of the past to share and this is such a gem! This picture was taken at the Beka Rigid Heddle Conference in 1980. There’s Betty with Adele Cahlander looking at Betty’s then recently published book Textures and Patterns for the Rigid Heddle Loom. Again, if you have been following this blog you will know my high regard for the work of Adele Cahlander and understand why I so love this picture. Look at Adele Cahlander’s woven neck piece. Betty has recently republished a revised edition of her Textures and Patterns…. book.

Betty was with us at the backstrap weaving gathering we had in Linda Hendrickson’s studio in Portland. Linda generously offered her lovely space to the participants and gave me a place to stay.

Time just flew…it was “a whirlwind” as Linda put it and I so wish we could have spent more time to chat about Linda’s two passions…tablet weaving and ply-splitting. I was taken on a tour of her studio when all the weavers had gone home and we just scratched the surface. Years of work are on display there with each piece created by Linda or given to her having its own intriguing story. I heard about other teachers who had given workshops in that very same space… among them Ed Franquemont and Peter Collingwood…phew!

Here’s the workshop group after two days of backstrap weaving…

You can see Linda on the far right. Betty is behind me to the right. You might recognize Anita from Interweave and the rest of (hopefully) the new backstrap loom fans.

It was a fun and intense time together. I think everyone was pretty tired after day one. At least I didn’t have to travel and got to sleep in our very weaving space. I know of one participant who went on her way after the gathering with her backstrap string still attached to her waist, a couple of others went to dinner with name tags still in place and another went home with one of her weaving tools still “parked” in her hair just like some of the Guatemalan weavers do.

Weaving on day one.

Here are a few  more shots taken during the two days…

Banding together in Linda’s colorful space. Interesting warp color combinations and use of contrasting and matching wefts to create a simple design with warp floats, a technique used by the cotton saddlebag weavers with whom I studied in coastal Ecuador.

The twins, Marie and Jeanie practice four-stake warping while Anita and Diane do the same under the watchful eyes of Betty. Peter Collingwood looks on from behind a piece of his macrogauze on a poster on the wall.

Amongst the treasure trove of collected and gifted items in Linda’s studio….a Huichol double weave bag from Mexico, different to Betty’s example for the finish around the upper edge….a ply-split camel girth from India.

A hat from Uzbekistan. My online friend Caroline in Australia bought a similar hat and puzzled over the band on its edge and how it had been created. Linda told me that these bands are loop manipulated and that people often mistakenly assume that anything that has twined warps has been card woven. The other piece is a macro gauze by Peter Collingwood.

And then, what about this tablet woven stuff? I dabbled in it a little when I lived in southern Chile shortly before getting into backstrap weaving.

I really enjoyed it but then Andean pick-up took over even though one can easily weave with cards on a backstrap loom too.

I do enjoy picking up those warps and moving them around but I would like to get back into some card weaving if only to be able to better understand some of the woven pieces that I have been running into lately.

Weft twining became such an obsession…why not delve into warp twining?

I am guessing that most people will have seen tablet woven bands with designs similar to that pictured at left.

Just wait until you see how far Linda has pushed this weaving technique!

I do hope my photo does these pieces justice. Volia! Tablet woven scarves. You have to feel how luscious these are!

And then these…

Can you believe these were done with cards? So, I am into analyzing structures and all that but look what fun stuff you can do with card weaving! Too bad I don’t live in a scarf-friendly climate…same goes for socks.

And then there’s the ply-splitting. I was first attracted by the Indian camel girths made in ply-splitting but Linda has taken this technique and run with it. Here is one of her creations:

Her latest book teaches with step-by-step photos and instructions how to make the following ply-split baskets…

Photo by Linda’s husband, John.

You can see each of these baskets on Linda’s website and click to see a larger view with detail of the structure as well as order her book.

So, I have been hanging out in the Pacific North West so it is quite natural that Chilkat and Raven’s Tail weaving has been falling into my lap. First, on the trip up from northern California, my friend Janet and husband Larry took me to a museum called “End of the Trail’ which houses several private collections of Native American crafts, clothing and tools.

Weee! My first Chilkat blanket. No doubt there was one in the museum in DC…somehow I missed it! I had a bus to catch and so we had to limit our visit and just quickly take in as much as possible. It is worth several short visits I would imagine. Janet has been there many times and never tires of it or fails to see something interesting or notice something new from baskets made from rushes, nettles, porcupine quills, beargrass, maidenhair fern, willow, horse hair and wild rye amongst other materials, hats, beadwork and tools made from wood, bone, horn and tooth.

Everything I know about Chilkat blankets comes from Cheryl Samuel’s wonderful book The Chilkat Dancing Blanket which I bought back in the 90s and have never used.

However, this is just a beautiful book to look at, stunningly illustrated and just fun to leaf through. The technique is weft twining with certain special manouvers which allow the twiner to form rounded shapes.

From what I gather, the twining which I studied used by the Montagnard weavers would be referred to in this area as Raven’s Tail.

And that is all I dare tell you lest I get it wrong.

Fortunately Sally Ishikawa came to stay at Betty’s and take my backstrap weaving class and brought with her….

a loom on which she was doing a Raven’s Tail piece plus two completed pieces of beaded and twined work to show. I asked Sally if she would be willing to write something about the techniques and her experience with them and she kindly obliged and so I will leave all further explanation to her….

Raven’s Tail and Chilkat

Three hundred years ago the people of the Western Alaskan Coast wove dramatic, twined robes that were worn around the shoulders during traditional dances.  As the robes were danced the bold black and white geometric patterns were reminiscent of the feathers of the Raven as it flew in the sky.   Today, these robes are called Raven’s Tail Robes.  However, after the 1850s the Raven’s Tail weaving knowledge was nearly forgotten, and only eight complete Raven’s Tail Robes now exist.   A weaver named Cheryl Samuel became so interested in this type of weaving that she traveled the world to examine the existing robes, and wrote a book documenting her findings called “The Raven’s Tail”.    Today, there are new weavers that are carrying on the Raven’s Tail tradition.

A purse backed with Chilkat weaving purchased by Betty Davenport in Alaska.

The Ravenstail designs are very linear and geometric, but by 1850 most of the designs being woven were rounded.  Perfect circles were possible because of some new developments to the twining technique.  More color was also introduced…..especially yellow and blue.  Whales, bear, salmon and eagles were a few of the animals that were woven into the Form Line DesignsThe robes twined with these designs are called Chilkat Robes.  Cheryl  also wrote a book called “The Chilkat Dancing Blanket” that describes the history and techniques to weaving this type of robe.

I took a class from Cheryl in both Ravenstail and Chilkat weaving several years ago and have been weaving off and on for several years.  Mostly off, I’m sorry to say, but recently I’ve been driving to Portland once a month to weave with John Beard (google him) and several others under his wing. 

 There is a robe in Portland, Oregon called the Transition Robe.  

Sally’s beaded piece photographed under glass in which you can her reflection.

The upper half of this robe is woven in Ravenstail and the lower part is Chilkat.  Since I live close, I’ve been lucky enough to see this robe a couple of times.  A few years ago I thought it would be fun to do a little bead weaving and came up with my rendition of the Transition Robe for that. 

Now I am trying to recreate that little beaded piece by twining with wool in the Ravenstail/Chilkat tradition.  I am using traditional thigh spun warp and 2/12 merino wool for the weft.  The loom is a vertical loom with warps that hang freely.  The weaving starts at the top and the twining is pushed up to compact.  

Sally at work on her Raven’s Tail piece piece based on the Transition Robe.

There are many good books on the designs of North West Coast artists and many good weavers with webs that show really, really beautiful new weavings. Enjoy the search.

I will leave you this week by showing you what my friend Anna has been up to. Remember Anna bicycling her way from Alaska to Ushuaia? Well, she is back in the Netherlands now and is not idle! She is refining her spinning skills on the drop spindle and is taking lessons on a wheel. I think I have started something here.(yay) 🙂

This pebble weave band that she was weaving on the road using my book to reinforce the lessons she had in Peru and at my place in Bolivia is now done. She just tied up to her bicycle, a convenient picnic table or chair and wove every chance she could….all the way from my home in Santa Cruz to Ushuaia!

This is what she did with the band…


Her spindle collection is going and she told me that her wheel teacher is eyeing her Bolivian spindle but she is not letting go. I will send her another if the pressure becomes too much!

She has one more warp left from those we made at my place to take on the road…a two weft double weave….I recognize those colors!

Bye bye west coast…I am now in Massachusetts. I set off to fly to Boston via Dallas. I got on the plane in Portland and got off….but not in Dallas as expected. I was seated and buckled up ready to go and then a last minute passenger came and I was removed! So back to square one in Portland. Well that’s how it goes on standby!

I spent the night in Dallas airport outside the secured area and so bedded down in the chapel and then finally made it to Boston the next morning where Pam Engberg has invited friends to come and backstrap weave in her studio. Another gorgeous rural setting!! More about that with lovely spring pictures next week. See you then.


  1. How is it you never fail to have an explosion of color and weaving, every post????

  2. Just wanted to thank you for your weekly messages. I’m a beginning weaver and really enjoy it. Started after I retired. You’ve provide lots of encouragement.

  3. It’s so exciting to read about your visit with me and to relive it all once again. You are welcome to come back and stay with me anytime.


  4. What a fantastic way to visit with great weavers. I have been exploring tablet weaving as well and find it fairly easy to do, complicated to understand.

  5. Hi Laverne !
    Just wanted to tell you about this link which seems quite interesting :

    Happy weaving to you all !

    • Hi Michelle,

      Nice to know that you are still out there and thank you so much for thinking of us with that link. There is certainly a lot to keep me busy and inspired there.

      • yes, I can’t help it, every week I have to follow the Laverne’s very exciting new adventures…!
        though this site is canadian, very surprisingly I found nothing about chilkat or raven’stail !!

  6. Dear Laverne,
    Thank you for your lovely post. I remember the art of the West coast very well, and was enchanted by the stories of Bill Reid. The basketry is so fine the Ecuadorian hatmakers would be envious.
    Hope Boston is treating you well and you’re once in a while getting some shut eye between weaving warping twining and meeting interesting people.
    Haha, I didn’t sway and still own my Bolivian spindle…. I’m trying silk now on the small one, very nice smooth strong thread.
    I’m flying back to Oz next week, finally home!
    cheers from the lowlands

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