Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 17, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Sampling: Short, Sweet and Simple

I don’t mind sampling before I take on a new project. I usually end up making something with the sample…count the zippered purses I have around here! They are just a fraction of all the sample projects I have made. Those little zippered purses make great gifts and swap items.

I know how important it is to sample width when trying a new pick-up technique on my warp-faced weavings.

With a backstrap loom it is so easy to wind a twelve-inch long warp or even shorter and test this out before warping up the major projects.

Sometimes I just need to see if I have gotten the scale right when I am charting a new design which is what I was doing on the sample pictured above.

That sample was enough to show me that I was on the right track and from there I finished the chart and wove my cell phone pouch.

Right now I am agonizing over colors, trying to find the right combination of red and blue to weave a Central Asian design that I have had my eye on. It doesn’t matter how long I sit here and stare at my color options, nothing helps. In the morning I favor one combination and in the evening it is another. I even pleaded with the online backstrap weaving group to make the decision for me only to be reminded of my own words…”make a wee sample” (thanks Jennifer).  I will never really know how this will turn out until I make a warp and start weaving.

So it has come time to sample again.

First those shades of red and blue and then my handspun alpaca. I have to say it is a lot harder to sample and risk wasting that precious handspun especially when I am not someone who gets terribly excited about the process.

As I said last week I just want to get it done and go weave with it.  So far I have a ball of white, dark brown and black ready to go. There will be a slight delay with the medium brown as I had to turn the house upside down looking for one of the balls of spun single that my cat had made off with. I am lucky to have something to which I can aspire. Some Aymara backstrap weavers from northern Chile brought some of their handspun alpaca with them when they came to attend a weavers’ gathering here in Santa Cruz last March. I was able to weave with and keep some of it. I wove the grey and brown band above with their yarn – a short and simple sample.

Once again I am grateful to the backstrap loom which will enable me to weave the tiniest sample with my own handspun before warping the main project. I have selected my pattern. I even have a product in mind and can’t wait to get started although I still have a couple more colors to spin.

As I said last week, spinning seems to be calling me. Thanks to Jennifer and Naomi the Backstrap Group on Ravelry now has a TDF 2011 team. If you don’t know what TDF is, don’t worry. I didn’t either until last week. I started noticing that avatars on Ravelry were being changed to show special TDF buttons with team names. TDF stands for Tour de Fleece and is a spinning frenzy that runs in conjunction with the Tour de France. The idea, from what I gather, is to set spinning goals for yourself, step outside your comfort zone, share, learn and have fun.

I haven’t set any goals yet but I am thinking that I should do something with cotton. There is a lot of expertise in my group and, as I have the above tools to play with and some nice cotton that I have been given in swaps and which I brought back from Ecuador, I should take advantage of this opportunity to learn.

I learned to spin cotton in coastal Ecuador in 2007 where spinning is done on the larger of the two spindles seen above and using the rueca, or distaff, fashioned from a three-pronged branch.

Getting back into this alone would be a good enough challenge for the TDF as I haven’t done this in ages.

The smaller spindle in the first picture was sent to me as part of the swap package and I am told that it is a homemade tahkli which is a lightweight support spindle. I have never used it nor have I used the Indian charkha which was given to me in the US (although I take it out very often just to admire!) While this one calls to my Indian roots, I think that I should get a good grounding with the other spindles first.

Cotton spinners I have met in my travels…Above left is Montagnard weaver Ju Nie and on the right is a lady spinning natural brown cotton with a support spindle in Guatemala. My Guarani weaving teacher also spins cotton with a support spindle.

But first things first…I will get that alpaca done, a sample made and the project warped!

Here is last week’s project off the loom…

This is a Central Asian design woven in a simple warp float technique where both colors in the warp are floated to create the motif and fill in the negative space. It is not a double faced technique as gaps are left on the reverse of the fabric by the floating warps which expose the weft. Nevertheless the back of the weaving can look quite attractive…

Anything made in black in my home attracts every stray cat hair! I made this into a sleeve for my notebook computer and so you can see the band I wove for the sides positioned and pinned ready for sewing. I rounded the top and added a zipper. You can see the zipper pull below….that is where the zip starts.

This was made from the demo backstrap warp that I took with me to the US on which I showed different techniques for opening the sheds. This case will protect my computer from dust and scratches but what will protect it from the cat hair?!

I am all about simple warp floats at the moment being influenced by two things I saw while I was away…

On the left…a Native American sash that Pam in Massachusetts showed me from her collection where the weaver has allowed the horizontal bars to shape the motif rather than the floats. Quite often we think of those horizontal bars as an annoying distraction from the motif which has been formed from floats and wish that we could somehow cover them up and make them go away. Here the weaver has used them as the design. Below you can see the more typical warp float designs that I have made where the floated motif sits on a background of horizontal bars.

The other piece that I found intriguing is the old Mexican (we assumed) belt that Susan showed me in Eureka. Here both colors in the warp have been floated just like in the Central Asian piece I made. However, we could just make out the remnants of a purple supplementary weft that had been used to fill in all the places where the warps had not been floated and, therefore, horizontal bars had been exposed.

The supplementary weft had almost completely deteriorated in this belt but you can probably better make out some of its remains in the above picture. That made me curious about the possibilities of combining supplementary weft patterning with simple warp floats, maybe not in exactly the same way as the Mexican weaver had, but it could be a way to add an interesting third color accent to a structure that is normally restricted to two warp colors. The best part about supplementary wefts is that you can change the color at will meaning that you could have a base warp of say red and gold and then add a turquoise accent, later a purple…any color you want, when you want. And, if you don’t like the third color accent you can just cut it out without affecting the structure.

So, I warped up this red and yellow band and played…no charting or planning, just messing around. I used a brown supplementary weft to add in some small accents. I had originally filled in the bottom diamond completely, decided that that was over the top and just cut it out. This was fun!

I tried the design on the red and black Native American belt but I think it might look better with stronger contrasting colors and/or heavier thread. Floating single threads instead of pairs, as I did in the example on the left, was an interesting exercise too. In this 35wpi cotton, it almost gives the appearance of a solid color background.

Sampling done! I want to plan a larger project now and see what else I can do with this.

It is amazing how many places this simple warp float technique turns up…

When I was in Santa Cruz California, Yonat showed me an Indonesian ikat textile in her collection which had a border of simple warp floats. On the right is one of the textiles made by the Burmese backstrap weavers in Massachusetts.

I learned this technique from the cotton saddlebag weavers of coastal Ecuador and have used designs from the coastal region in my own work above left. The Montagnard backstrap weavers with whom I studied in North Carolina float warps to create patterns. They use a slight variation in their warping set up and weaving. In the above piece I used a motif woven with a suplementary weft alongside the warp float patterns. The end has a design in twined wefts.

Here are two pieces woven by people who follow my blog. Eladio in Mexico wove the bird pattern from coastal Ecuador and a hook pattern which are charted here. Jeannine in Belgium designed her own warp float pattern.

Recently, Lydia in Texas sent me a picture of the piece on the left that a friend had bought in Madagascar. Apparently a Danish group has taught the local weavers this technique. The bag on the right is Betty Davenport’s and was collected in the hilltribe area of Thailand.

Amber in the Ravelry Backstrap Weaving Group showed us her finished piece above right on which she has used the motifs of coastal Ecuador. Now she is weaving a band which will be the sides of her pencil pouch.

Tracy finished her band in the warp substitution technique after studying with a local weaver in Doha, Qatar where she lives. Check out her blog to read about her visits to Souq Waqif in Doha.

And Traudi, after having already completed a few backstrap weavings, decided it was time to have her own woven backstrap. She wove this following the instructions in my Backstrap Basics article.

A couple of other things I have been pondering…

Here are my gorgeous bamboo reeds. I finally cut them down off the wall where they have been on display. They are a size 20 and I really want to use one to make some kind of balanced type weave…maybe a colonial overshot pattern after the inspiration I got from my recent visit to the National Museum of the American Coverlet in Pennsylvania and there’s always shadow weave.

Another thing that is percolating…I just finished charting a Shipibo design from a piece that is woven using two-color simple warp floats (the same technique as the Central Asian piece I just finished). I want to use the colors that are in the two pieces of Shipibo fabric above so it will be either a beige and brown combination or I might try that Dylon dye that I got in the US to see if it makes anything resembling the terracotta in the other Shipibo fabric piece.

There is plenty to keep me busy, you see!


  1. Friday mornings in australia are great!!
    Thank you for your post Laverne. I think both those blue and red combinations are nice. Can’t you make what you had in mind twice?….so much to do…
    It’s funny I’m homesitting and right next to me is a simple warp float design from East Timor. Would have never noticed until now.
    Today I bought a dog comb to try and comb some sheep wool from a sheep that has very short fine curly hair (some Scottisch coastal sheep) , I already got most of the dirt out, that was a challenge in itself. Tonight as everybody here will be absorbed watching footy, I’ll try and spin some. I’ve selected some photos for Ravelry, hope to get them up today, so see you there…:)

    • Hi Anna, back in OZ. Please send me a picture of the East Timor weaving! Happy spinning…spindle or wheel?

  2. Hi Laverne,
    I think I’ve asked you this before, but I’ve searched and searched, and can’t find the answer. (Also, I’m at work and should probably actually be working instead of dreaming of my next project.) Have you posted the charts for the Moisy technique used on the cell phone pouch? It’s one-weft double weave, right? I adore the design and would love to give it a try. I suppose I could work it out myself, but I’m pretty sure that would take a good long time.


    • Hi Colleen,
      The Moisy technique is not one-weft double weave. It is not double weave at all. However, the two cellphone pouches I posted in the latest blog look very similar. The red one is Moisy and the purple one is double weave. So, you could easily do those flower and leaf motifs in double weave. No, I haven’t posted charts for those motifs but I assure you that they are very easy to do as they are large solid shapes. You should try it as you will probably come up with your own variation and create flowers and butterflies of your own.

  3. Whoa. You just kind of blew my mind — Moisy is not double weave? What is it? Now I’m really curious. And thanks, I think all I needed was a little bit of encouragement. I’ll chart my own flowers and butterflies, working off yours as inspiration. I’m getting excited!

  4. Help….I viewed your wonderful ‘Back strap Basics” last night on Weavezine and today I cannot bring it up. The error message says the address cannot be found. Did the article get removed or is my computer just in a “mood” today?

  5. I just love anything you’ve made….cell pouches, change purses etc. BUT I don’t have a clue how you put them together….I end up with a band of woven braid and don’t know how to end it off! Also, the back strap video….I made one and it turned out great, but I still don’t know how you get the loops to put the back strap through in the braids at each end of the band????
    Any help will be appreciated and keep up the great blog and posts!!!

    • Lynda, if you have followed the instructions in my article, when you finish weaving your backstrap you will have on your loom six inches of unwoven warp, a long piece of woven fabric and then another six inches of unwoven warp. You remove the the string heddles and take out the shed rod. Then you remove the two loom bars. The unwoven warps end in loops…this is how they were attached to the loom bars – they looped around the loom bars.

      You take three or four of the unwoven warps (each pair of warps end in a loop) and you braid them. You won’t be able to braid to the very end. Braid as far as you can and do that for every group of three or four warp ends. You will be left with several braids with loops on their ends through which you will pass the cord.

      As for the other things I make, I am no seamstress! I just cut my band off the loom. I hand sew across the very end of the band with just simple straight stitches and cut the warps leaving about a half inch. If I am making a coin purse, I fold my woven band in half, sew the sides together and then put in a zip. The zip will cover, protect and hide the cut edge. I only have one raw edge as I always do the three selvedge start (see my FAQ pages for the third selvedge).

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