Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 24, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Colors from Camelids and Cotton

This week’s blog post is brought to you by these fine fellows…

and their beautiful fiber but also by…

my friend Janet in northern California who gave me a ton of alpaca fiber last year, Celinda, an Aymara weaver who swapped some of her handspun alpaca yarn with me for one of my woven keyfobs and the weavers of Peru who got me started in spinning on drop spindles back on my first visit to Peru in 1996. I also have to thank Gladys Miller in Colorado who encouraged me to spin while she taught me about Navajo weaving in 1995.

Now I am thoroughly spoiled with this gorgeous alpaca fiber that Janet gave me. A lot of it was already beautifully prepared by Janet herself in her mill. For the stuff that hadn’t been prepared, all I had to do was tease the tips open using my hand carders.

Until now, all I had spun was wool that was readily available from the farms where I lived in Patagonia and llama fiber that I bought from  little villages outside of Uyuni, Bolivia many years ago…bags and bags of it which I have cleaned and carded, spun and even dyed to weave with as the years have gone by. I thought it was pretty good but now that I have had the experience with the alpaca fiber I look at the poor old llama stuff with a very critical eye…dry, coarse and filthy!

Nevertheless I did manage to weave some nice things with it…

And I also like to weave llamas although these guys were woven in cotton…

I still have tons of llama fiber left so I don’t want to get too spoiled!

So, I have spent some time lately spinning the alpaca mostly because we have been having a Spin-Along in the Backstrap Weaving Group on Ravelry with a lot of discussion about just how much over twist one needs to put into the yarn to make it suitable for warp-faced weaving on the backstrap loom. And this is where Celinda, the Aymara weaver from northern Chile came in. The yarn that she gave me was quite hairy and not heavily overspun. I wove with it and it was soft and luscious. That is how I wanted my yarn to be, not like the hard severely twisted llama thread I had been making.

And then it was down to the all-important sampling. Would it be too hairy to work with? Would it be a lot of really hard work clearing the sheds? Would it shred and would I have broken warps because the yarn couldn’t stand up to the abrasion of warp-faced weaving?

Thankfully, I didn’t get a “yes” response to any of the above questions. Of course, the sheds were more difficult to clear than those in a mercerized cotton warp but they were manageable. You can see the warp at rest above and the yarn is not curling up on itself. One thing I regret is my decision to use white weft as it did show through the brown a bit. I didn’t mind it showing at the edges as I knew that I was going to cover those with a tubular band. I used an alpaca weft that was balanced.

None of the warps broke but, then again, my warp was only 24″ long. The only problem I had was with some of the knots at the color changes which slipped undone as the yarn was so silky.

This is the alpaca warp for the tubular band and there it is being woven and sewn to the edge of the piece.

Now my passport gets to travel in first-class luxury even if I don’t. I made this sample piece into a passport pouch which is a vast improvement on the plastic wallet I have been using until now. It feels lovely!

Cutting the piece off the loom was the hardest part! There was still enough warp there to weave a little something. This was my precious handspun and I didn’t want to waste a bit but then I got the idea of using the leftover bits as supplementary wefts in another project and, with that in mind, I cut away.

Now with the Tour de Fleece approaching do I keep spinning the alpaca, go back to the nasty llama or take up the cotton?  Decisions…

Actually, I am thinking of spinning some heavier yarn from the llama fiber to use, as it often is up in the mountains, to make slings. Well, I probably won’t make a whole sling, although I have made one before with a teacher in Yanque, Peru using llama fiber. It would be nice to have yarn suitable for making the braids rather than the whole sling. This will be challenging as I have been aiming for fine thread all along and now I am not sure if I can spin thick.

When I was in southern California, Martha shared her collection of South American textiles with me which included a number of beautiful Andean slings…

They have been made with such a variety of gorgeous braids and with the beautiful natural colors of the llama…

Ben Turner in Australia showed me two Tibetan style slings that he has constructed. While the cradles of the Andean slings that I have seen have been woven weft-faced, Ben tells me that Tibetan slings usually have twined, braided or felted cradles. The cradles of his two examples here have been twined.

I must ask him what yarn he uses for these.

And now on to cotton, the material most available to us “lowlanders” in Bolivia…

Another piece of sampling I did this week was using the bamboo reed on my backstrap loom. This was extremely clumsy especially with such a narrow piece but I will eventually come up with some kind of system for this. I am tenacious with these kinds of things and I am determined to make this work. I so rarely weave plain balanced cloth and I get ridiculously excited about it! I have a cotton shadow weave project in mind and later I would like to use some 10/2 tencel that I received in a swap to weave something.

This is all I have used the tencel for so far…a supplementary warp band, but I am hoping that there is enough contrast in the green and grey for shadow weave (I don’t have all that much of the ivory).

This experiment is with the cotton that I usually weave my warped-faced pieces with, more or less equivalent in size to the #10 crochet cotton that is available in the US. Above right you can see it wet finished and lying on top of a beautiful cotton dish towel that Betty Davenport wove. That towel is my inspiration and I can tell you right now that it won’t be going anywhere near a dish!

Betty wove this towel using cotton from Sally Fox Vreseis Ltd line of 10/2 in camel, coyote and green…all natural cotton colors! I had not heard of Sally Fox until Betty told me about her and her experiments with developing colored cottons (which reminds me that I did a spindle swap with a lady in the US who sent me natural green and caramel cotton sliver…must get down to spinning that).

Betty has a collection of small skeins of cotton in an incredible range of natural colors…all kinds of browns, greens and even a mauve from Peru. Some of the skeins come from Sally Fox’s experimental supply when she first started developing her standard colors. There are reddish-browns from Guatemala and dark browns from Peru as well as colors from some of the US southern states.

So, a four-shaft shadow weave with my nifty reed in place will be an up-and-coming project.

Well, until someone comes up with a natural terracotta-colored cotton, I have no choice but to dye some. So, this week I dyed some of my crochet cotton with the Dylon Terracotta Brown dye. The color is perfect! It is exactly what I was wanting for my Shipibo piece so that will be on the loom this weekend too.

That is the color below on the string heddles…yummy!

The Ravelry gang continues to weave and spin…

Naomi has tacked three plain warp-faced pieces together for cutting and sewing into a zippered bag. She is also weaving a pebble weave strap for another bag project.

Amber finished her pencil pouch. She wove the fabric for this using the simple warp float technique. Jennifer is piecing together a bag patterned with pebble weave motifs.

Tracy wove a sample band for the traditional Bedouin al’ouerjan technique which is simple and stunning. I have added some information about this to the warp substitution tutorial page which will be more meaningful to those of you who have already followed the initial instructions on that page. Helena in Brazil kindly provided a link to a pdf by Joy Totah Hilden, author of the book on Bedouin weaving pictured in Tracy’s picture, in which the draft for the al’ouerjan structure is provided on the last page.

After Jennifer and Tracy’s beautiful weavings I have no more fear of putting red and blue together! They have given me the courage to get that red and blue Central Asian piece I have been planning underway soon.


And finally, I have a wee favor to ask of you all…I just started a page on Facebook for my Andean Pebble Weave book and would love it if you would take a moment to go there and hit the “like” button. Things like this could really help me in my future publishing endeavors.

I have a few exciting things on the drawing board. 😉



  1. Lovely!

  2. Ahh, your handspuns are so beautiful woven up! That passport pouch is completely perfect and elegant. Much inspiration for my TdF spinning-for-weaving. And it’s very nice to see that it doesn’t have to be overtwisted to the point of kinking up.
    And that colored cotton….. oh, it’s so enticing…..
    Thanks for the inclusion of my little ouerjan – I blogged it today, too.

  3. just love you passport pouch, perfectly perfect!

  4. Your work is such and inspiration. Recently got the spinning bug. In a raffle won a huge basket of roving, drop spindles…from the Brazos Weavers and Spinners in TX @ the CHT conference. A friend @ work gave me a huge bag of alpaca fleece I am learning to spin on a wheel. I am in love!! 😉

    Keep the posts coming! Marylou

  5. What a post! What a collection of fiber, color and pattern. This one had me surfing the internet looking for colored cotton, slings, alpaca, tarahumara, and more.

    Whew! I must go lay down now.

    Have a joyful day!
    Franco Rios

    • I know the feeling Franco! Isn’t that natural colored cotton amazing! I have some more cool sling stuff to show you next week.

  6. Enjoyed your post! It sent me to my stash area to find the slingshot my stepson brought me from Tibet. It is very utilitarian and rough compared to your pictures, but I was so proud he thought to bring me something he knew I would really appreciate! I still haven’t done any backstrap weaving. Have done an item or 2 of card and inkle weaving. There are SO Many Wonderful fibery pursuits. Keep up your wonderful post. Thanks, Nancy A

    • Thank you Nancy. How wonderful to have that treasure all the way from Tibet!

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