Posted by: lavernewaddington | September 16, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – Delightful Distractions

If all had gone to plan, I would have had one and a half storage bags done by now as part of my three-bag goal for the month of September. My black bag with the supplementary weft motifs from Bhutan should have been sewn and ready to stuff and hang and my Huichol design bag in finnweave should have been at least half woven.

However, some delightful distractions came my way and had me wandering off in other directions. That Worldwide Weaving Web that I am always talking about came a-knockin’ and the Band Weavers’ Grape Vine came a-tappin’.

At left you can see a band woven by JacQueline Teller on her inkle loom. You may remember that I recently posted a picture of a bag she had made by sewing several plain-weave inkle bands to canvas which we were using in our Weave-Along group for inspiration.

Annie MacHale (ASpinnerWeaver), queen of sashes, drew my attention to the band at left on JacQueline’s blog and, apart from the gorgeous multiple tones of blue and peach that she has used, I was fascinated by the fact that she had used spots in her warp to enhance her supplementary weft pattern.

Whenever I have started a supplementary weft patterned piece I have always created a blank canvas of single color weave on which to place my patterns. It never occurred to me that the canvas doesn’t necessarily need to be blank and that colors that have been incorporated into the warp can be used to supplement the inlaid weft patterns. JacQueline has used the light blue warp spots as part of her design and I love how she used the dark blue supplementary weft to create alternating color spots between the main motifs.

So, I wanted to play with this and, again, I just have to point out what a wonderful thing the backstrap loom is for making tiny samples.

The experiment grew from one column of warp dots to three and I found that when I made samples in black, a Sharpie was very handy for making adjustments to the pattern, blacking out unwanted exposed weft to get different effects.

The three columns of warp spots grew to three columns of three and after some applications of Sharpie to the black one, I decided on the design I liked for a bigger project.

So, this is what is on the loom at the moment…(speckled with fluff and stuff)….see what you started JacQueline? This is the black thread that I had just bought for my Huichol design bag!

I have just finished adding a band of weft twining and I will twine that same design along the beginning edge when I have finished weaving.

I think I will do a single large supplementary weft motif in the very center followed by another band of twining and then repeat the beginning. What is it going to be? I have no idea but it has been fun getting back into the weft twining. This is the first time I have done three colors together in one row of twining in #10 cotton. What to do with all those weft ends?…I will try to bunch them into a nice tassel as the Bedouin weavers do. You can read about how I learned the twining technique and watch a video of my teacher Ngach at work in this blog post.

Before the distractions completely took over my weaving week, I did manage to sew up my weave-along projects into little zippered purses.

And I wove the back panel of my black Bhutan/ikat bag before my new ball of black thread got swallowed up by the distraction. And that was when I got side tracked yet again by jentide’s weave-along project which you can see at left.

She made the fabric for this fabulous mini tote bag on her backstrap loom with the strap made on her inkle loom.

I love her stripe design but, apart from that, I am completely in awe of people who can sew. Of course I had to pester her with a bunch of questions about the construction of this bag and she pointed me to this wonderful web page where you can learn how to create a flat bottom for a bag.

This has had me pulling out the Reader’s Digest sewing book, that I had just about forgotten I owned, determined  to learn once and for all some basic sewing skills (without the aid of a sewing machine, that is)and pinning and folding and pulling my poor Bhutan bag into all shapes.

Here is its latest pinned form…

Meanwhile I am looking out for other suitable materials to use as supplementary weft. I have some gorgeous hand painted 10/2 tencel that my friend Lisa gave me that works beautifully and one skein goes a long way. Wool works well too as it fluffs out on the surface to give good coverage without “fattening” the shed in which it is laid.

And then I remembered the fine loosely plied and fluffy skeins of acrylic that I had bought in Guatemala.

What I would really like to do is make super fine supplementary weft pieces using sewing thread as the ground warp and weft just like the ladies do here in Bolivia to make their hat bands. Their supplementary wefts are acrylic and much the same as the Guatemalan thread that I have.

The fineness of the weave means that they can get away with having quite long weft floats.

I love how the wefts are often used to fill in the negative spaces and outline the motif in the ground weave rather than forming the motif itself.

The floats are particularly long when they do that and I have not been able to reproduce these ”negative space” designs  yet as my patterning material has been too heavy and would have resulted in long and cumbersome floats. I have not yet reproduced any of the pretty Bolivian hat band designs.

One more thing I did this week was to experiment with the traditional Bedouin al’ouerjan patterns using non- traditional colors. The most common color combination I have seen is black, red and white.

Can you tell that black, terracotta and yellow is my current favorite color combination?

This warp substitution technique produces long floats on the back of the fabric which are not so bad in #10 cotton.

It is interesting to look at the many different variations of this design to see which one produces the shortest floats.


I will finish with this week’s Weave-Along round-up…

Peg is weaving on a backstrap loom for the first time ever and using Plymouth Yarn Fantasy Naturale mercerized cotton which I think is just perfect for first projects. See how quickly she has tamed that warped and how much she learned about laying in the weft and controlling the edges in such a short space. That yarn is so pretty. I have never woven anything with these multi-color type yarns. On the right, Janet has warped colorful stripes inspired by a piece of Guatemalan fabric that she has.

Dyggvi turned her narrow striped band into a neat zippered pouch and gave us the link to the instructions. Sylvie in France posted a picture of the making of her continuous string heddles on a gorgeous bright striped warp.

Jennifer’s homespun piece is under construction and Karri, who just completed her third ever backstrap woven piece is casting her critical eye over everything she produces and learning lots of lessons. We think her third project looks wonderful.

Both Amber and Marsha continue to turn out consistently straight, smooth, beautiful and useful pieces. Amber’s piece is one of two that will be sewn together to make a seat cushion. Marsha has hung her piece on a section of twisted vine. She has plans to modify it for its ultimate use. We’ll see about that next week.

Jennifer has taken the leap from homespun wool in natural colors to wild cotton stripes while Yonat, outside the weave-along, has been experimenting with those eye bending alternating warp float patterns.

Phew, quite a job winding all those colors! Many of us have come to know the “fun” of adding in all those strips of colors on the warping board and the special challenge all that cutting and tying makes for creating even tension. “Perfect” tension is something we all strive for and I think that we all come up with clever ways to somehow compensate for uneven tension once the warp is on the loom long before we are able to create that perfectly tensioned warp on the warping board. Unfortunately uneven tension will show up immediately in warp-faced plain weave in the form of ridging and cotton is particularly unforgiving.

All we can do is make sure that our warping stakes are firm and sturdy and then just practice, practice, practice. Some days are good warping days and some not!

Ridging will turn up unexpectedly and most annoyingly in a piece I am working on and I have found that a worn out hole and a leaning stake on my mini warping board has been the culprit on quite a few occasions. Cranking up the edge warps too tightly caused the particular ridging problem in the piece pictured at left.

Fortunately the ridging shows up in plain weave and not in float patterning which is what I mostly do.  On the other hand, I know people who actually like the effect of the ridging. It’s a pesky and temperamental phenomena! I tried to weave a band specially for this blog post to show the ridging that results from crammed warps. The darn thing refused to ridge!

I suppose we could always do as my Montagnard weaving teacher, Ju Nie, does…

Many Montagnard pieces are woven with a multitude of fine stripes. Ju Nie joins the colors on the warping stakes with slip knots and then, once the warp is on the loom, she unties each and very knot, adjusts the tension and reties. It is not tedious for her. This is the way she was taught to do it and her large pieces woven in that “unforgiving” cotton are perfect!

Oh, and one more distraction to speak of before I go…one of my online friends just came back from Mexico where she bought a Huichol woven bag and is going to send me pictures. So, I am thinking it is just as well I didn’t get my bag project underway as her pictures are bound to have me changing my design plans. Thank goodness for those delightful distractions!


  1. As always I am in awe with what can be done on the backstrap loom. The colors are wonderful! I can’t wait to get a chance to try some of these projects on my Wave loom

  2. When it comes to distractions, Laverne, your blog is my nemesis! I’ve got the fat cotton backstrap project ready to weave for the beginner class – variegated warp with black supplementary weft patterns – and a shadow weave project due in a couple of weeks (which has morphed into two projects to see what I like better) and now I HAVE to try mounting a warp on the inkle loom and adding string heddles to see how the tension works while making the sheds, AND add some weft twining, AND…. oh, dear.

  3. Oh my goodness Thank you for including me in your post and I’m so excited that you have taken this idea and run with it! You know I don’t remember where I saw it but something online prompted me to try using strategically placed colour in my warping to accent my overshot. It’s great how inspiration
    catches and spreads like wildfire!

    I’ve been showing my mom and my fibre friends your fabulous blog so that they can see all the gorgeous things you can weave with very little in the way of equipment.
    Thanks again and happy weaving!

    PS: I LOVE distractions. I always have projects scattered every which way and I just switch if I get tired or bored. I try never to postpone discovery!

  4. I’m glad to see you mention the problems with uneven tension. I have been trying to finish my backstrap so that I could participate in the weave along, but it has taken forever, because of tension issues. I even had to give up the idea of a pebble weave pattern in the center stripe and just went with horizontal stripes instead. I just finished the tie offs this morning, but even that is strange. I had all kinds of tied ends for tension adjustments and had to cut the loops, braid and knot. I think it will work. I’ll try to use it tomorrow to finish off some workshop pieces. Maybe I’ll be ready for the next weave along. All of your pieces are wonderful, and I’m really enjoying watching everyone’s progress.

  5. realmente son preciosos, muy bonitos, gracias por poner las fotos. un saludo,

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