Posted by: lavernewaddington | May 31, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – The Final Stretch

The final stretch of my travels involved a relaxing week with friends in Maryland but has come to an abrupt halt in Miami airport.

I am, however, well on the way to being a seasoned standby traveler and am quite well prepared for such things although I have to say that I was pretty confident about getting my flight to Bolivia last night and, therefore, left a couple of essentials out of my carry-on luggage.

You can see my stranded-stand-by-traveler kit…mini Thermarest self inflating mattress, eye shades and ear plugs, a blankee from home, alarm clock and notebook. The airline gave me six blankets too as this airport is cooled to 60 degrees for some reason yet it is still full of goose-bumped ladies in strapless sun-dresses determined to show off their newly acquired Florida tans.

Once when returning from Guatemala I spent three very restful nights in this airport but MIA admin has come up with a kind of  torture in the meantime which has me desperately crossing all my fingers and toes in the hope that I will be out of here on tonight’s flight. Perhaps in an attempt to stop people like me who choose to use the gates as motel rooms, they have chosen to broadcast at ultra high volume the “current local time” every fifteen minutes but only during the night. This means you get to doze for a maximum ten minutes before being jolted awake by the announcement which is preceded by Big Ben-like “bongs”. I may have missed the 4.45am one but that is the only one! So, that alarm clock in my kit…didn’t really need that…and the ear plugs didn’t make a jot of difference. Ah well, all part of the adventure! At least I was warm.

So, let’s catch up…My last wove with my last group of friends in Pennsylvania enjoying the hospitality of Ron and Carol.

They found a great selection of yarns at the Mannings and went home planning to make their own backstraps using Tahki Cotton Classic (which should be used doubled for a sturdy backstrap) and Plymouth Yarn’s Fantasy Natural and also took a selection of luscious colors in the UKI 3/2 mercerized cotton which is a great general-purpose weight for backstrap weaving. We found belt shuttles that make good beaters too and I restocked my “poking stick” supply (the people who wove with me will know what those are!).

I made the three backstraps on the left from Tahki Cotton Classic.The blue used in the one on the right is Plymouth Fantasy Natural yarn..


Here are the ladies having fun and some of the nice color combos that they put together using the UKI yarn.

It was a fun visit at the Mannings and I plan to go back at the end of October.

From there I was whisked away by my friend in lovely Maryland, where there is still a member of the original family after whom the town is named running the local post office. I have a flashback to my first visit with Claudia last year during and after the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I can’t believe a whole year has gone by since then.

And there’s another flashback to last summer when I visited after Convergence. Claudia and David had taken me to see Great Falls which weren’t so “great” at that dry time of year but which were pounding mightily on this visit after snow melt and a particularly wet spring.

Last Thursday we had  a little Weavolution meet-up at The National Museum of the American Coverlet owned and run by Melinda and Laszlo in Bedford, Pennsylvania. If you are wondering what exactly a coverlet is, I will allow Melinda and Laszlo to walk you through all that on their website.

Last summer’s issue of Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot (the one with my article :-)) featured an article on this museum.

Little did I know then that I would get to visit it with Claudia and knitting guild friend Karen, Dave Holly of 4-shaft pvc loom fame and weaver Alice Schlein with husband and photographer Bruce. It was fun meeting Karen and also Dave, whom I had seen online talking about his pvc loom. I had met Alice briefly at Convergence but we know each other online through our blogs and Weavolution.

Melinda gave us a personal tour and Laszlo provided some back stories from his post in the museum gift shop.

Let me dazzle you with some of the geometrics in the collection:

And here are some examples of what are categorized as “figured and fancy”:

The oldest piece in the collection, pictured below, is dated 1771. The collection ranges from this year to 1889.

It was interesting to learn about the introduction of the Jacquard loom which made the “figured and fancy” designs possible. The designs are controlled by punched cards…

The pile of cards on the left in the picture above left, for example, was used by David Kline in 2010 to weave just the corner section of a coverlet with Melinda’s name. It is nice to see the names and inscriptions woven into the old coverlets which the Jacquard looms made possible and wonder about the weavers and the women for whom the pieces were made. As the coverlets were created by sewing two or three woven panels together, it was also interesting to see the extent of each weaver’s skill in aligning the designs on the pieces when they were joined.

Double weave coverlets have the names woven in such a way that when the coverlet is turned over to show its reverse face, the names can still be read on one of the panels.

Melinda with the Jaquard card attachment for a loom. The museum also has a collection of spinning wheels and looms.

One room has been devoted to the processing of flax into linen.

The flurry of activity depicted in the above painting is a “Flax Scutching Bee” and the cantilever loom on the right dates back to 1760.

And more of those beautiful coverlets…

Melinda was a wonderful guide and her passion for the subject and this relatively new museum was apparent. Melinda would have stayed and talked with us there all afternoon if we had had the time, but many of us has long trip homes. Dave had traveled three hours to get there on what was his second visit. Lucky that Karen had shopped for a beautiful coverlet, pillow and throws before the tour. Claudia added to her book collection.

There was one more chance to enjoy the spring before heading back to “wintry” Santa Cruz. Of course I am kidding…there is no such thing as winter in Santa Cruz. The weather gets quite pleasant at this time of year…less hot and humid but never wintry.

I had missed out on my friend Janet’s organically grown strawberries in Northern California as they were not yet ripe but there were ripe strawbs galore here. Claudia, Janet and I got up early on a perfect Saturday morning to pick with strawberry pie and muffins on the menu. Would you believe I had never picked strawberries before? We were done by the time the hoards started arriving and the sun started biting.

And the delicious results courtesy of Janet and Claudia…

So here I sit in Miami airport at the gate with two hours or so before my flight. Will I get on this time? My trip is done and I just want to get home to the loved ones and the loom! I haven’t woven for myself in about six weeks. Last night I made a list of all the things I want to get into and investigate as soon as the bags are unpacked. I got some wool from Knit Picks called Telemark that I want to play with too.

Thanks to Kim, whom I met through Claudia last year, I got to see a lot of different Knit Picks yarns and found that the Telemark variety which is a Peruvian Highland sport weight wool seemed to have a higher twist than the others.

I would like to see if I can weave with it on my backstrap loom without any re spinning at all but with the appropriate heddle management skills. It is described as having sturdy durability and sounds like it might do the trick.

I also have some really fine wool yarn that Ingrid from the Santa Cruz CA guild kindly sent me and I can’t wait to experiment with that too.

Note that I haven’t yet tried the Telemark yarn and I am not sure if this experiment will be successful. I will report on that soon.

In the meantime I can enjoy a couple of projects from online backstrap weaving friends….

Helena in Brazil made the pebble weave piece on the left using my book and patterns she has seen here on my blog while Sylvie in France is making the yurt band border using the simple warp float technique in alternating colors. The step-by-step instructions, which you can see she has printed, can be seen here on my blog.

Finally, I finished my time with my three dear Maryland friends with a lively Italian meal in Frederick followed by a stroll in the balmy evening, for that very last stretch of my trip, along the creek that runs right through the downtown area topped off by pistachio gelato…my favorite.

The creek is crossed in several places by bridges, some of which have been cleverly painted to resemble stone. Some are actually stone and we found ourselves walking up to touch them to see if the stone was real or a painting. It is quite likely that the difference is more obvious in broad daylight with heads not fuzzied by wine! I will leave you with this last image and you can decide…real stone or not?


  1. I love the picture of all the backstrap weavers tied to the big looms!

    Have a joyful day!
    Franco Rios

    • Yes, it always looks like the big loom has sprouted tiny offspring!

  2. Hi Laverne, I really hope you got your flight! That IS torture, to get woken with a shock every 15 minutes…I’ve loved soaking up all your posts on this trip…thanks for all the great photos and commentary. Hey, I found a bunch of black in that yarn, feel so stupid, it was in a different box! Let me know your address, and I’ll send you a roll.

  3. Wishing you home soon!

    I especially love Helena and Sylvie’s work – beautiful!

    • Home! Thanks for the wishes. Aren’t Helena and Sylvie great? Neither have English as their first language yet gobble up the tutorials and make beautiful things.

  4. Laverene,

    Thank you for a great visit! I am excited to use my new skills with our summer camp kids in July! John Colony at Harrisville is going to make the 5 inch heddles for me! I hope I can get a group together here in VT and get you up to our farm on your next state side trip! Safe travels today!! Kim

    • Thanks Kim. I am so happy that Harrisville is helping you out with this…I knew they would. Keep in touch. I would love to know how it all goes with the kids. Weaving on your farm sounds nice too!

  5. Laverne, Hope you got on that plane and out of that airport! The back straps you made and pictured on page 2; the second one from the left, what technique did you use?

    • The second one from the left is pebble weave, Linda. I am home now 🙂

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