Posted by: lavernewaddington | July 1, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Great Lengths for Good Results

The more you weave on a backstrap loom, the more you come to realize the importance of good warping. I so wish I had photographed the great lengths I had gone to to warp for the four-color pebble weave piece above. It was a mad never-to-be-repeated combination of knitting machine tension rods planted in bottles, planks, toes and stakes! It was the time when I lived in southern Chile with little experience or materials on hand. All I knew was that good even tension was essential to a successful project and I was determined to achieve that. Well it worked and I was pleased with the results.

There are so many parts and tools for the backstrap loom that can be made from bits and pieces that one already has lying around the house. And even a warping set up can be easily constructed…just whack a few stakes into the ground in the backyard….and in one’s enthusiasm to get a warp onto the loom and start weaving one may be tempted to ignore the fact that the stakes leaned inward ever so slightly while the warp was being wound.

You learn after that first wonky warp that it is worth going to great lengths to make a suitable warping board if you want to have good results. I consider this the most important part of your backstrap weaving kit.

You can see at left my first warping attempt in Chile after returning from my first backstrap weaving lessons in Peru. Look at that crooked end! I had been warping successfully for Navajo weaving until then and tried to adapt that system to four-stake warping for pebble weave….didn’t work!

Even though that was fifteen years ago, I haven’t come up with any terribly sophisticated ways to warp. Sophistication isn’t necessary. I just make sure that my stakes are well grounded and cannot move or lean in.

This family of simple warping boards has served me well over the years. Even when I need a longer warp for a belt or guitar strap I manage to combine the boards somehow to fit the bill. I made the middle board to accommodate the multiple sticks that are needed to warp for the supplementary warp technique that I studied in Salasaca Ecuador. The mini board in the foreround is the one that goes traveling with me. The ”stakes” are long screws which are bolted to the wood and can be removed for travel. I also use it at home for keyfobs and bookmarks.

It seemed that all my needs were met with these three simple boards. However, recently I have been weaving with my handspun alpaca yarn. All you spinners out there will understand my desire to not waste a single inch of this stuff!

Last week I showed you the passport pouch I made with my first lot of handspun. I warped it on the middle warping board and it was tough cutting the project off and “wasting” all that handspun. Normally I warp longer than the project requires…there is always that “just in case” factor and so what if a little cotton gets thrown away? But not my precious handspun!

So, I kept all the cut off alpaca yarn thinking I would use it as supplementary weft and that is just what I did this week. I had just enough handspun left to make a cell phone pouch. The dilemma was that I did not have a warping board that would allow me to warp just the right amount for this project. There wasn’t enough yarn to get the right width on the larger warping boards and the mini was too small for a cell phone pouch.

And then I remembered the nifty single warping pegs that my friend Janet and her husband Larry made for me. These can be clamped to a table to warp any length. My problem is that there isn’t a free table here to do that but I managed to use the tray table on which my computer sits and that was the perfect length.

This worked like a dream. I must warn you that clamps can slip while you are warping, quite often imperceptibly, and it won’t be until your warp is on the loom that you notice that one side is hanging slack while the other side is taut. I solved this problem by using that rubbery draw liner stuff that you see pictured above on both the top and bottom surfaces of the table…no slipping…beautiful warp.

I have a lot more about warping and the different ways my indigenous weaving teachers warp in this previous post and also here.

As I told you last week, I put only the slightest amount of overtwist in this yarn so you can see here that the warp can lie quite flat and not go curling up on itself. It is hairy, though, and I did have to work to clear my sheds. I had to put glue on the knots at the color changes after having the knots in this sleek fiber work their way undone multiple times and drive me nuts!

So, this was to be a cellphone pouch with supplementary weft patterning. I would never have thought of doing a piece in wool or fiber with this technique had it not been for Phil in our backstrap weaving Weave-Along on Ravelry who wove a band with his handspun which he decorated with a snake motif using his handspun as the supplementary weft. Then when I was staying with my friend Janet, who is an awesome spinner, I was further inspired when she wove a band with her handspun with silk supplementary wefts.

So, many thanks to Phil and Janet for giving me this idea.

And here is the finished cell phone pouch…

All the other pouches I have made have had flap closures. I decided on something different for this one and added a drawstring instead – an alpaca drawstring, of course!

The design is actually Indonesian. It was a scroll that repeated itself across the width of a piece that I saw at Convergence last year. I stacked the scroll and inverted it to make this new design.

The turns of the supplementary wefts are on the face of the weaving but are quite well camouflaged in the darker warp color. I dabbed glue on the supplementary weft ends as they exited on the back side of the piece. Again, the yarn is so sleek, I didn’t feel secure just cutting and leaving short ends as I would if I were working in cotton.

I am very happy with the way this turned out!

And that was the end of my alpaca yarn…now back to the spindle to make some more and just in time for the Tour de Fleece that starts this weekend.

I have quite a collection of cell phone pouch projects now influenced by Vietnamese hilltribe weavings, Central Asian yurt bands, Guarani designs and Indonesian textiles. Half of them have been given away. Hmmm…as I type I am getting ideas for a couple more!

Last weekend I completely ignored my to-do list and launched myself into a new project. What brought this on? Some friends sent me pictures from my recent visit to the US and I realized that in almost every picture of me I was clutching my camera. I decided that my camera needs a bit of dressing up…well, to tell the truth, I probably do too but that ain’t gonna happen!

So, I wove a strap and braided a tie for the lense cap.

 I wove this in one-weft double weave and you can see that it is based on the float pattern that I used on the passport pouch I wove last week. I think that this design would also make a good project for warp substitution. Those of you  who have dabbled in warp substitution will know that one of the technique’s drawbacks is that you end up with long floats on the back but, if you are weaving an item where the back of the piece won’t be seen (unlike my camera strap project), the floats won’t matter.

Here is my dressed up camera…

I wove more length than I needed for this strap and so made a keyfob from the left overs and you can see above that not much warp was wasted.

Actually I could have woven more but I had had enough of these swirls by that time!

I have added this double weave pattern chart to this page. Take my advice and extend the chart if you plan on weaving it.

The design did not repeat at all for the entire length of the band and it is easy to go on weaving and forget when to start weaving the design as it enters from the right edge. You need to weave a fair bit before the design starts sinking in.

I just hand stitched across the bottom to seal the end.

Let’s go back now to the original topic to show you a couple of nifty warping ideas from some of my online weaving buddies.

Sometimes you have to get creative according to your budget, your lifestyle or living situation…lack of space and considerations like that. Above left is Marsha’s new warping set up using long screws and drilled holes and segments that can be joined together to accommodate a variety of warp lengths. It all comes apart for travel. Marsha is a terrific DIY-er and is also making lovely beaters and pick up sticks so, you know where to go if you would like to have some made.

And now you will see what I mean about going to great lengths…

Tracy and her husband lugged a bed frame onto the roof of their home in Qatar. That looks like a great sturdy set up and adding extra stakes to that for four-stake warping should be easy. The two extra stakes don’t need to be firmly grounded. In fact, I have seen a picture of a weaver warping seated on the ground with the two extra stakes lodged between his toes.

This set up was spotted today, by Dyggvi (from the Ravelry group) on this blog (it wasn’t wound for backstrap weaving)…Not sure about this being a good option as the legs look curved.

I warped up the widest piece I have done for a long time yesterday. It was warped in two sections and transferred to the loom bars. This will hopefully be the first of a set of four placemats all using the two-color warp float technique. Each one will be in a different color with a motif from a different culture.

I am leaving a pretty big fringe as I plan to twine a design on each end and will dye some of my Cebelia #20 thread brown for that (doesn’t seem to come in brown, does anyone know if that is a fact?)

I am using that gorgeous terracotta brown color that I dyed last week which I wanted to have resemble the color of the Shipibo cloth pictured below left. The design is from what I am pretty sure is a Shipibo bag woven using the same technique. I have not seen many Shipibo textiles and have not traveled to the area of Peru where these people live but I have bought a few small pieces of their painted cloth and was shown some of their embroidered work by Yonat who has some of their textiles in her collection.

I would love to go and learn more about the Shipibo people and their work with textiles as these days I feel quite drawn to the weavings of the people of the lowland areas of this great continent which is very often neglected.

I would like to share a link with you which was sent to me by Yonat after the inclusion of some braids and Andean and Tibetan slings in my post last week. I definitely want to try some of those braids.

Also, Dyggvi, one of the group members on Ravelry, shared a couple of interesting links to images of backstrap weavers in Taiwan and their very unusual loom set up. The first picture in this link is of an Atayal weaver but there are backstrap weavers from other countries on that page too.

Tracy has written a blog post about the al’ouerjan weaving that is practiced by Bedouin weavers. It is a warp substutition technique and her post shows lots of lovely variations of the design.

I will leave you here with some outdoor backstrap weaving shots from both sides of the equator….

That’s Bobbie at the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene Oregon last weekend. She met up with Jennifer and Janet, a couple of other Ravelry backstrap weavers and they were able to spend some time together weaving. That’s the early Oregon summer, still a little cool in the shade. Here in Santa Cruz Bolivia we are in the depths of winter as you can see on the right! I spent an afternoon weaving in the patio at my friend Lalenya’s house. There are only about ten cold days in winter here and that wasn’t one of them!

Thanks to everyone who visited my Andean Pebble Weave Facebook page. I am constantly posting photos and bits and pieces there. I hope you will continue to drop by and hit the “like” button.


  1. Hi Laverne,
    Thank you for your post. Nice alpaca cellphone pouch and camera + lenscap straps.
    I was just trying to make a DIY warpboard last week, but struggled without something to make the holes. Now reinspired to have a go at it this week as I have a shed with tools at my disposal.
    Good luck with the wide warped piece this week, love the colours.

    • Hi Anna,
      It is always nice to wake up on Friday morning and see your thanks. I hope you get that all-important warping board made and I hope you are better at handling tools than I am! Please send me a picture of whatever you decide to make.

  2. Hello Laverne. Those clamps you used to hold the single warping pegs make great warping pegs just on thier own! You are terrific inspiration. Regards. Susan.

    • Hi Susan, those particular clamps are not very sturdy. I bought super lightweight ones for traveling. I tried them as warping stakes on their own and the rod bends and leans quite easily. The heavier version of these would probably work but they are too heavy for me to be carting around.

  3. and scroll down to “Crochet color descriptions – download PDF.” No, there isn’t a brown available in the U.S., but there’s always white + dye.

    • Thanks Anne for confirming that for me. I decided to go with my Clea thread rather than the Cebelia to get the perfect color match. I just had to adjust the number of warps around which I turn the twining wefts.

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