Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 10, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Spinning and Swimming in Floats

I am a “cheap spindler” in much the same way as I am a cheap drunk…it doesn’t take much to make me happy! And don’t waste the good wine on me. I do not have a refined palate. So, it is little wonder that I am content to use my humble Cusco drop spindle when I get the urge to spin. I don’t have a refined palate for spinning tools.

Right now I am spinning some alpaca that my friend Janet gave me so that I can weave with it on my backstrap loom. The Cusco spindle was the second one I ever got, the first being from San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile. The Cusco one, being more robust, became my constant travel companion. It was practical. Although I have collected many more spindles on my weaving safaris since then, this Cusco one is the one I always use while the others hang on the wall as souvenirs of places I have been and people I have met.

I really enjoy reading the online group forums about spinners and their spindles. The participants’ love and enthusiasm for their tools is wonderful….I totally get it but I just don’t share it. Some of the spindles they show are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship. I just want to get the job done.

Below you can see the Cusco job in action while my friend Anna takes her first steps spinning on a Bolivian spindle.

It seems that when it comes to spinning I am totally product oriented which is kind of strange as it is quite the opposite when I weave.  I just want to get this stuff done so I can go weave with it. In weaving I am all about enjoying the process.

However, spinning does give me a lot of time to think which is good as I have arrived home from my US trip with a lot of ideas rattling around in my head. I would like them to kindly stop rattling about and settle down into some kind of order. Fortunately I had three warps on looms ready to go when I got home and so could slip back into the loom and weave without having to make many decisions.

This is one of the warps that I had taken away with me….Clea cotton (equivalent to #10 crochet cotton…35wpi).

I warped a narrow pebble weave band into a field of black plain weave. A simple pebble weave pattern meant that I did not have to spend too much time on the pick-up and could rapidly show people the entire process.

I probably only wove a couple of inches while I was away…at a May Day festival, at a Saori Studio and with other weaving friends and so this was the first thing I sat down to weave when I got home.

Once the piece was off the loom, I cut it in half and joined the two pieces side by side, added a zip and edged it with a tubular band. The tubular band is in Anne cotton (equivalent to #3 crochet cotton…24wpi).

The tubular band is the ñawi awapa that I learned when I went to the Tinkuy de Tejedores in Cusco last year. Unfortunatley I neglected to have pictures taken while I was weaving and sewing it but I have pictures of one in the making that I made some time ago on a wee amulet bag.

The one I am making in the photo was made following Adele Cahlander’s instructions where she uses string heddles and a shed loop. The way that I learned in Cusco is very different. A forked stick holds the cross and all pick-up is done based on that. The resulting bands using both methods appear to be identical although I have to say that the way I learned in Cusco is far easier. There is, of course, no one right way.

These tubular bands are gorgeous. I have used one here to make the edge prettier. I have been told that the Peruvian weavers apply them to the edges of weavings as they help stop the edges and corners from curling which they tend to do on pieces woven from overtwisted yarn.

So, this is an extra long tool bag and one that I need as the only other one I have in this length (the blue one pictured below) is completely stuffed with things. It holds many tools for  and is the bag I took traveling with me.

A tutorial on weaving and applying a plain tubular band to the edges of fabrics can be seen here.

As usual, I made a braid for the zipper pull.

This is a five-strand braid which Yani, who was weaving with me in the US, taught me.

You may know that I often like to finish pieces with lots of tiny four-strand braids.

Well, Yani has no patience for those kinds of details and looked at me like I had gone mad when I suggested she finish her key fob with five or six four-strand braids.

She gathered up all the warp ends and worked one large five-strand braid and it looked brilliant!

This is a really easy flat braid which I think looks great the more warp ends you use.

I have not yet played with it much to see how different arrangements and numbers of colors affect its appearance.

When Yani gathered up all her warp ends she did not even try to separate them by color and the braid still looks great.

Yani’s key fob is on the right. On the left is a braid I made with heavy cotton all in one color and then one in finer cotton in five colors. I have put together a little tutorial on this braid here.

Speaking of braids, I got to spend some time with finger-loop braiding expert Ingrid Crickmore when I was in Santa Cruz, California on this trip. I had met her at the Education Booth at CNCH where she was teaching braiding and I was playing with m by backstrap loom. Ingrid has been hard at work lately putting together her blog and she now has tutorials there so please go and check it out.

Now, back to spinning. It seems to be calling me!

I arrived home to find this package at the post office. I had won a prize from Ashford for being one of the first to “like” their page on Facebook. I had been expecting yarn but I found a bag of roving instead which I shall set to and spin. There is nothing like this to be had here in Bolivia so this is quite a treat and I will enjoy weaving something with this on my backstrap loom.

So, I got one of my pre warped projects done and there are two to go. I had taken another warp on the road to show people the different ways to open the heddle shed when weaving wide projects with fine yarns. I have learned so many different ways, none of which can be considered the one right way. Some I find more efficient than others while others are better suited to particular yarns or warp widths. Again, I wove very little on this warp and actually unwove everything when I got home. I had made a simple two-color horizontal bar warp with no plan in mind at all.

When I got home I quickly decided on a pattern in simple alternating color warp floats as I have come home with a lot of ideas about using these simple warp floats and want to get warmed up with this technique before launching into the new ideas and experiments. I am swimming in warp float ideas!

So, this is what I have going on right now. These are designs from Central Asian yurt bands that I am weaving with Clea cotton which is very similar to the #10 crochet cottons that can be bought in the US.

What am I going to do with this? I have no clue! Something will come to me when it is off the loom. I have been wanting to make a case for my notebook and this just might do.

I would really like to use traditional colors for these pieces….those washed-out reds and blues that I see on the yurt bands are what I would really like to use, the colors that Martha Stanley has so cleverly managed to reproduce without having to wait for her yarn to be sun bleached and dusty!

Then I remembered that I have this in the closet… something I got in a swap for a Bolivian spindle a long time ago. Okay, it’s cotton and yurt bands are NOT made of cotton but aren’t the colors gorgeous?! Spin, spin, spin.

The other thing that is pending…

A warp for another backstrap…it looks terribly wide right now but the blue and white pattern area will shrink down once I start doing the pick up. This yarn is doubled Tahki Cotton Classic and the project will give me practice on a technique that I have neglected for some time.

Ingrid gave me a tip for a source of Anne and Clea cotton yarn. This is the Brazilian cotton that I buy here in Bolivia. It is not as shiny or tightly spun as the crochet thread that I have seen in the US. It is all I can get here and I guess I am lucky as it is good stuff.


Some other handy information that has come my way, this time through the Backstrap Weaving Group on Ravelry….

Barry Brown provided us with information on how to tie a loom bar to a vertical post and not have it slide down. It is a real problem sometimes finding a place to attach a loom bar in the home. I know because I spent time in a lot of people’s homes on my trip and sometimes we had quite a time finding hitching places. So, here is another option. This topic came up as Pancha had hitched to her stair rail and was having problems…

Number one problem…she really wanted her warp to be angled more steeply upward.

Number two…the warp kept sliding from left to right on her loom bar and messing up her tension.

As usual many people came along and offered suggestions. That “floating loom bar” tie-up really only works well on wider warps like the one at left. You can see that that loom is much better balanced.

If you are going to use that method, you should try and cut notches into the ends of the loom bars into which the cords which attach the loom to the fixed object can sit. This will stop them from sliding in toward the middle of the bar.

I like having my whole loom bar lashed to something so it can’t move at all but in some homes this just isn’t possible, Even using “C” clamps on a table or counter is not an option for some people. Fortunately Barry has provided Pancha and all of us another option. So here is Pancha’s loom now…

Barry provided this link to a Girl Guides page which gives instructions on how to lash securely to a vertical post. I have added all this information to the FAQ page.

What about in the car? I taught my friend Claudia to make the ñawi awapa tubular band and here she is making one in the back seat of the car.

Her warp is attached to the head rest of the front passenger seat and the other end is tied to her seat belt. I managed to catch this shot on Claudia’s phone. We were on our way to the Reagan National Airport as I was heading home on Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend and so we were competing for space on the highway with all the Rolling Thunder guys. You just see one going by.

And if all else fails finding a tie up spot you could always try this…

This picture of a Li weaver was taken by Pam Nadjowski at the International Folk Festival in Santa Fe. I did try this way once as a last resort but I think it works better with circular warps set up at just the right length rather than ones in a single plane. Mine was just a tad too long and I really wasn’t getting good tension.

I will leave you this week with a finished project from Traudi in the Ravelry group. She used this tutorial on the warp substitution technique and the Bedouin design pattern charts as well as some of her own motifs to weave a hair band (made on an inkle loom). She is using this technique as her stepping stone to one-weft double weave.

Himalaya (Tracy) has also been experimenting with this technique. She has the wonderful opportunity of seeing the Bedouin weavers at work on their ground looms as she lives in Qatar.

And it’s nice to see the simple warp float technique being used by Dyggvi to make a first-ever backstrap project….a backstrap.

The other threads you see in the picture belong to her warp weighted loom. Yes, we have another warp weighted loom weaver in the fold along with my friend Lisa.

Gannet has just joined us with her first pebble weave band in my favorite tone of orange…

Time to go get “drunk” on spinning and floats.  Back to the spindle, back to the loom, back to sorting all those ideas!


  1. You have been busy! That cotton will look gorgeous when you spin it! As always, thanks for the inspiration and great info!

  2. Oh my, all the beautiful work! And I love the display of spindles.

  3. Thanks for your post!
    I see you have plenty of roving to get through! Happy spinning. It must be a challenge when to say ‘now I’ll spin, or now i’ll weave…
    Hope to try out Barry’s setup (sometimes it’s annoying when the bar moves all over, although with the bike that never happened….) and also make a tubular band, and the 5 string braid.
    I’m finally home, well kind of, in rAdelaide, and living in a small grannyflat for a while. Bought some yarn for some small projects yesterday and hope to get going this week at the backstrap.
    Cheers from the land of vegimite…

    • Hello there in Vegemite land. I still have plenty thanks to you! and am enjoying my Earl Grey tea too. I now park my spindle next to me as I weave and then just spin a bit while I am still strapped into the loom! Very efficient! Looking forward to hearing news from Australia.

  4. Your current black and white piece is just stunning. I adore those yurt band patterns, and if I ever “move on” from my pebble weave and bedu projects, I will try warp floats in a yurt band pattern.

    I also love my Cusco spindle! A friend gave me one, and for a simple, no-nonsense low-whorl, I find it the best. And it will take a lot of beating, too – I’m still klutzy with the low-whorl, and it has hit the floor many a time.

    Thanks for showing off my work 🙂 I just posted the FO in Ravelry (except fringe – I’m asking for your help with fringe finishing – maybe I should try 4 or 5-strand braiding??)

  5. Never mind what I said about “moving on” – I’ve already warped for a small warp float yurt band border sample, from your warp floats galore tutorial!
    That piece has me hypnotized, and I had to act!

  6. Hi Laverne. I don’t always write, but I do always drool over your fabulous weaving and the beautiful way you present it in your blog. Thanks again.
    I also wanted to let you know that Amazon apparently now has some copies of the Bhutan book on textiles that we talked about long ago, “From the Land of the Thunder Dragon — Textile Arts of Bhutan” by Meyers and Bean. I’ve raved about it to so many people that I may be the reason Amazon decided to stock it lol.
    I sure hope you make it to Canada on one of your trips — I’d love to meet you in person!

    Bye for now,

    • Thanks for the tip on the book Bonnie. It was so nice to get to see some textiles from Bhutan on my trip and I just love the rug that you wove when you returned from your trip there.

  7. Your posts are always an amazing feast of beauty and information and inspiration. Thank you!

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