Posted by: lavernewaddington | September 23, 2011

Backstrap Weaving – What’s on the Other Side?

I have been looking at and thinking about what is on the “other side” of woven cloth and about the different attitudes of weavers from different cultures to what can be seen on the “wrong side” of the fabric. Some weaving structures are completely reversible as is the case of most complementary warp structures.

You can see both sides of my pebble weave piece at left and can probably appreciate that sometimes it is difficult to decide which side to make the “right” one as I had to in the case of this guitar strap when putting on the length adjustment buckle. As this is being sent to friend, I have actually left the decision up to her and only pinned the fabric in place around the buckle.
I always start with what I expect to be the right side facing me as I weave and find that sometimes I completely change my mind abut which side I like best once the piece is off the loom.

The wrong side of the weaving can also reveal just the information that is needed to be able to quickly identify the weaving structure.

For a while I was scratching my head over pictures of the yurt band that my friend Lisa had bought thinking it was pebble weave until she eventually sent me a picture of what was obviously its wrong side and I was then able to see that it had been woven using what I call simple warp floats.

At that time I didn’t much care for techniques that didn’t produce two “good” sides but who could resist trying to weave these gorgeous yurt band patterns?

Then it was a matter of getting the charting paper out, searching the net for more images of these bands and getting down to weave.

I must admit that lately I have gone a little crazy about this technique as I find more and more examples of its use in places like southern Iran, Mexico and tropical lowland Peru.

This weaving structure produces a definite right side. However, even though the wrong side with its exposed wefts looks nothing like the upper face, it can still be quite appealing depending on the color weft that you choose to use.
In the case of the yurt bands, only one side of the band is visible anyway when it is wrapped around a yurt. The piece I wove above right was made into a zippered purse and so no one needs to know what the inside of the purse looks like.

I am guessing that the day will come when there is a nasty spill on one of the place mats pictured above left and that I will be wishing that I could just flip it over and have the same design on the other side…oh well.

I might mention here that I just received my copy of The Journal for Weavers. Spinners and Dyers from the UK which has a beautiful article on  Kyrgyz textiles by Stephanie Bunn which includes yurt bands made in this kermé technique. She quotes a Kyrgzy person who says “Kyrgyz weavers are all mathematicians”. Bunn  then goes on to say “I found that trying to make the rhythmic pattern of kermé was the kind of experience that made me want to weep, although time improved matters.” You can read that article here.

I am infinitely grateful that I was taught the base of this technique by my wonderfully patient weaving teachers in coastal Ecuador and so taking the next step to  kermé was relatively easy.
The two pieces if weaving below have been woven in another technique with the same basic warp manipulations but their “back” sides are vastly different…

The motif above right is a smaller version of one of the Bedouin motifs on the belt above left.

The belt has been woven in warp-faced double weave and so the motifs are exactly the same on both faces with their colors reversed.

Unfortunately both sides will never be appreciated as only one face is ever seen! I wove this in double weave as this technique produces something sturdy enough to be used as a belt.

The camera strap I wove at left makes better use of this technique and I didn’t have to decide which face to make the “right” one.

Now look at the back of the piece above right which I show below…

This piece has been woven using the simple warp substitution technique which produces as you can see long floats. Most people do not have a good reaction to these long floats. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of them but it depends on your intended use for the piece. If this band were mounted on webbing, for example, it would make a good strap for a camera or a belt and it is a very simple weaving technique.

And this is where people in different cultures see things in different ways. While we may wrinkle our noses at the excessively long floats, the Bedouin people use this technique to weave motifs into very large pieces of fabric that are used as tent dividers. Both sides of the fabric are seen (although I have read that they are hung so that the  “right” side faces the men’s living area). They are not pieces of fabric that are being continually handled and so I guess that the long floats are not impractical.

You can see the very long warp floats on the back of the Bedouin piece that Tracy in Qatar sent me. Some of the warps have even broken through age or use….hard to say which. What I do love about these particular long floats is that I get to really handle and examine the Bedouin handspun wool.

And then what about all the different kinds of supplementary weft techniques? I have only just scratched the very surface in this having learned the inlay technique on warp-faced fabrics which produces a single face of pattern and a double faced technique from Guatemala .

The double-faced technique can be seen above left on a Guatemalan weaving. This particular technique, as far as I know, is unique to San Antonio Aguas Calientes. My reproduction on the right was glued down onto the cover of my notebook in which I documented the technique so the other equally pretty face cannot be seen!

Even the weavers in Guatemala don’t get to show off the other face as they use this technique largely on their huipiles (blouses) alongside single-faced techniques.

Small babies’ caps are also made with fabric woven using only this double-faced method.

This hair sash from Jacaltenango was woven with a supplementary weft technique that produces two equally beautiful faces.

Sometimes the back of a piece patterned with supplementary wefts is left with small weft tails hanging…

They can be a merry mess while the piece is in progress…

Or they can be cut right off and hidden entirely within the sheds so one would never know by looking at the back of the cloth that the other side was a riot of supplementary weft pattern. Look at the plain red back and colorful front of this hair sash from Aguacatan…

Look how much pattern weft material is used in those tassels!

When the weft patterning is particularly profuse the resulting weft tails on the back can be quite a sight! This is an old piece of huipil from, I was told, Chichcastenango. Many years of laundering have created quite a tangle of weft ends on the back. This is all quite acceptable to the Guatemalan weavers.

I was very much taken with the following Guatemalan belt that Teyacapan has on her Flickr page and asked her to photograph the back so I could see how the pattern had been worked.

I love the blocks of pattern that the weaver has used! As I was saying in last week’s post, the supplementary weft pattern does not have to be worked on a blank canvas. It looks like this weaver has worked her weft pattern on tiny strips of fine warp float designs.

How is this for a canvas for supplementary weft patterns?

These pieces are from the areas of Nebaj and Cajul in Guatemala and again show how one face of the fabric can be completely different to the other. You can choose to show your bright stripes one day (free of any weft ends) or birds flitting about the corn plants another.

Some weavers actually work doing their supplementary weft patterns with the wrong side of the fabric facing up.

I got to visit Burmese weaver Dar Ku on my last visit to the US. She was happy to demonstrate for me while giggling and saying “It’s easy, it’s easy”. Her beat is surprisingly light and she does indeed make it look easy. Of course we all know not to fall into that trap! What fun to turn the piece over and see the right side with its neat patterns.

Franco shared a video of Lahu weavers from Thailand weaving supplementary weft patterns into tremendously long warp-faced pieces. The weaver is using a single-faced technique laying the supplementary wefts from edge to edge within the pattern sheds controlled by heddles and pattern sticks.

Here is another nice video of supplementary weft patterning from Acatenango Guatemala…one of the many videos that Red Corn Tours posts to its Facebook page every week. I watched this happily while asking myself “What’s on the other side?” and then the videographer, good chap, filmed from under the loom and I got to see the other side. What happy colors!

This is what has caught my attention most recently. I fished this out from the hundreds of photos I took on my US trip last spring when I got to photograph some gorgeous textiles from Bhutan in the collection of Betty Davenport.

I wove some motifs from one of the pieces into one of my more recent projects and now I have my eye on doing something like these zippered purses which Betty made from her samples using patterning techniques from Bhutan.

The supplementary weft pattern has been worked on a twill (on the left) and balanced plain weave (on the right) ground. Aren’t these pieces striking? There has been some talk of twills in our Ravelry backstrap weaving group which is what turned my mind to this project…that and my recent dabbling in supplementary weft patterns on interesting ‘canvases”. What’s on the other side? I don’t know…I didn’t think to look!

I wove a small twill sample a long time ago on my backstrap loom.

I don’t know a whole lot about non-warp-faced weaves (but I am slowly learning!) and so I just looked at a picture of a twill  in my copy of Irene Emery’s Primary Structure of Fabrics and set up my loom with three sets of string heddles and a shed rod holding the warps in the four sheds. I am not sure if I got the sett right…it was all guess work.

Not having any kind of reed to use at that time, I spaced the warps by lashing between them on the loom bar. It worked well for this small sample using #3 crochet cotton for both warp and weft. I had just read a discussion on Weavolution about the use of floating selvedges and so decided to try one of those too. And, as usual, I used the tiny sample  as a business card pouch. I learned a lot!

Another one of these non-warp-faced weaves that I find quite easy to handle on the backstrap loom without the use of a reed is finnweave. It behaves well enough for me. I have had the benefit now of seeing ”in person” the Huichol bags woven in this technique in the collections of two of my friends in the US so I know what I need to be striving for.

This is 10″ wide and is one of the storage bags I planned to make this month. Having used up pretty much all my black thread on some unexpected distractions, I chose blue and yellow for this project instead of the planned black and white. The designs are taken from Huichol and Otomi bags and belts. The flower design is actually taken from traditional Scandinavian finnweave pieces. The Otomi use a motif  that is so very similar but I prefer the Scandinavian version.

I am using three sets of string heddles and a shed rod to hold the fourth shed. And what’s on the other side, you ask? This technique I am doing is not truly reversible. You could get away with showing certain motifs on both sides. They wouldn’t be mirror images but they would look okay. However, the patterns I have chosen are not really amongst those.

Now here is the other project about which I am CHOCHA!! (chocha is used here in Bolivia and Argentina to mean “exceedingly pleased”!). I guess a lot of the pleasure comes from the fact that I am not skilled with a sewing needle, don’t own a machine and have never sewn anything from my handwovens larger than cell phone pouches and eye glass cases and a couple of very box-like shoulder bags.

I just love how this all started as an experiment in ikat design with no intention whatsover to end up with a bag. I was bored with weaving the plain black piece of fabric with its two ikat strips and so added some supplementary weft patterns…motifs from a weaving from Bhutan in Betty Davenport’s collection. Then I decided I wanted to do something with it and the bag idea developed. I wove a strap and then another piece of plain black fabric for the back and finally a small piece of plain black for the flap.

How wonderful is the backstrap loom for enabling me to weave up the small pieces to put this bag together with very little waste.

Jentide from the Ravelry Backstrap Weaving Group showed us how she made a flat bottom for her tote bag and so I used that sewing technique and Amber had created a button hole in one of her bags so I did the same by separating the warp in the middle and weaving with two wefts. I wove a small supplementary weft motif on either side of the button hole.

I cut and shaped the flap edging it with a tubular band to cover the raw edge. The bag is still missing a zip. Zips are nice for the way they can hide raw edges.

However, I turned the fabric sideways to sew this latest bag and so have two nice clean selvedges at the top.

And if you haven’t seen enough black yet, here is the other thing that I am still working on…

Here is the supplementary weft pattern on its “spotty” canvas that I wrote about in detail last week. I added some weft twining in the middle and am still working on the weft twining at either end. I have no immediate plans for this piece but am bound to come up with something to further test and hopefully extend my meager sewing skills.

Now I am planning a tote bag in bright Guatemalan style stripes….enough black, right?!

Some progress from the third week of our backstrap plain-weave Weave-Along…

Marsha has chosen fall colors to make a piece which she says reminds her of Halloween, Thanksgiving and candy corn. Amber is making a tote bag by sewing two of her backstrap woven panels together. It is gorgeously simple and beautifully woven.

Misskineta, our newest active member, has started her first ever warp-faced piece while Tracy, fresh back from her summer vacation has jumped straight back into the loom with a lovely balanced piece which I believe is already off the loom. Janet is making progress on the panels for her indigo-dyed shawl. Her picture collages tell the story…

I dug out all my textile photos from my spring trip to get the shots of Dar Ku and Betty’s purses to post here and now have a whole lot more images and ideas swirling! Let’s see what materializes….


  1. Chocha indeed! LOVE the bag and the blue and gold WIP!

    • Thanks. When can we see your handspun bag finished?

      • Good question! I can’t believe she’s had it for three weeks now! Time to start nagging!

  2. I love all the color!! So many gorgeous pieces will all sorts of color! Love it!

    • You with your bags and buttonholes have been very inspiring!

  3. Gorgeous bag! I want to make one now! Do you have links to Jentide’s and Amber’s instructions?

    • Thanks Cheryl,

      Here is the link to the page which gives instructions for creating the tuck for the flat bottom:

      Amber used this on her latest bag project and jentide was the one who first showed it to us. Amber gave me the idea for the button hole which is basically weaving a slit in your cloth. Find the mid point of your warp and weave each half of the warp separately for the length of your button hole using two wefts, one for each half of the warp. Good luck!

  4. Laverne – What a feast for the eyes and thanks for sharing those wonderful Mayan pieces. The traditions of backstrap weavers form around the world is inspiring, as are you. Lyn

  5. You blow me away!!!!!!!

  6. This blog post, as usual, has my head in information overload. The bag is beautiful!
    Thanks for discussing the reverse sides of weaving. It’s so helpful to see the reverse side when trying to understand the various weaving techniques.

  7. this post is so helpful, as I have been searching for information on Marcador done in San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Is there any chance that you have a tutorial on this technique? I would be so excited to read / see!

    • Hi Hellen. The double-faced technique that I studied in San Antonio Aguas Calientes is really quite simple…just very slow to execute! It is somewhat like tapestry weaving. It is based on warp-faced fabric. Multiple warp ends are used in groups as if they were one thick single warp thread and the supplementary weft turns under and over these groups on a closed shed. I have not written a tutorial on it but I give an explanation with photos in this blog post.
      If you have ever done tapestry weaving, you will understand it straight away. I hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: