Posted by: lavernewaddington | May 18, 2012

Backstrap Weaving – From Baby Steps Come Big Things

The close of this fun and very long trip is approaching.

I can’t believe that two weeks from now I will be home.

Yet, I still have lots of people with whom to weave so somehow it really doesn’t feel like things are about to end. A very peaceful week spent in the home of Ron, Carol and Helen has really enabled me to do some outdoor weaving, not to mention the chance I have had to go through everything in the Mannings store, meet Tom Knisely’s beginner weaving students, hang out with the twining group that meets here once a month and see Tom’s collection of old textile fragments and tools. And then there’s Sara and all the staff at The Mannings who cater to my every need…what a nice way to spend time towards the end of this trip.

Yesterday was one of those heavenly warm and sunny days…too warm to be out at noon but just perfect in the early evening. I set up my backstrap loom on the grass across from the stream that runs at the bottom of the Mannings property. This really isn’t something I would do at home…I would soon be carried off by the insects!

Local kids were fishing and Stipples, one of The Mannings cats, soon got chummy with them…..not one, not two but three free meals for her kittens. It was hard to catch a good picture of her as she trotted on by. I was, after all, attached to my loom and this was a cat on a mission.

I was weaving there on the grass tied up to the perfect tree with the perfect amount of shade.

The pick-up design is from a pattern I found in one of David Barker’s books on textile designs of Bhutan.

Check out my RESOURCES page to see where you can download these books for free.

The finished piece will be made into a bag for the wee camera that has served me well since my big camera died shortly after arriving in the US for this trip. It will certainly be better than the somewhat battered bag that I am using now.

The whole camera story has a very happy ending and I will tell you about that when I get to Massachusetts next week. The sword in the picture is one I bought at Maryland Sheep and Wool.

I have also done some other just-for-fun weaving this week. Tom Knisely brought in some textile fragments of old Peru which were given to him…three beautifully mounted and displayed sets in glass cases. I decided to copy one of the sea bird motifs and make a keyfob for Tom.

The old fragment has the sea birds changing from white to red and back again along its length and I would like to weave a longer piece now to reproduce those color changes.

Just one set of sea birds was enough to make the keyfob. A metal ring and some braids completed it.

Tom brought in not only the fabulous fragments but also these amazing tools which were given to him!

Look at that distaff and gorgeous carved sword! They are posed in this picture on a cheerful handwoven bag made in Guatemala. The bag is sold at The Mannings as the tote for the Cricket loom that is commissioned from Mayan Hands by Schacht.  It is just perfect for the loom.

The sword is actually a little on the wonky side and it seems strange that someone would go to the trouble of carving a piece of wood that was not in better shape. That makes me think that maybe this sword was not created to be used. A lot of the swords that I have picked up in my travels show that they have been well used by the indentations along their edges where the warp threads have “bitten” into the wood. However, the edges on this sword are clean. I am thinking that perhaps it is a weaving tool that had been made to be buried alongside a weaver and so was never intended to be used.

It does, however, have ends that have been blunted possibly as a result of having fallen to the floor many times. I recognize this feature as that is what the swords that I lend friends end up looking like.

As new weavers struggle to find that “sweet spot” with the right amount of tension on the warp where the sword will sit up nicely and stay in the open shed, they have to put up with having the sword pop out frequently and clatter to the floor…result: blunt tips.

Maybe the person in the US who first acquired this tool was a novice backstrap weaver and was using it in their loom and having to deal with it taking frequent nose dives. These are of course all “maybes, perhapses and I wonders” –  all  pure guess-work!

Who knows what the story is behind this beautiful tool and its maker and owner and the many hands through which it has passed before ending up here. It is fun to try and imagine what happened.

In any case it is gorgeous. The carved figures look like pumas, llamas and a condor.

Let’s look at the distaff…

Tom doesn’t know the origin of these pieces and I am not even going to speculate. Maybe someone out there can tell us.

It wasn’t easy just hanging out in a yarn store for a week! I can tell you when every trip to get water or tea meant walking by shelves and shelves of yarn and tools! And then there were weavers and twiners all around to chat with. Talk about happy distractions.

Fortunately I am not really a “yarny” person. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t make my purchases…I took the chance to restock yarn and supplies for my future weaving projects and was happy to find good substitutes for yarn that I have been happily using only to find now discontinued. Carol was great helping me with that. She can take a look at yarn and immediately come up with something in the store that very closely resembles it.

Last weekend I wove with some ladies including two mother-and-daughter pairs who seem to have decided that backstrap weaving together would be a cool way to celebrate Mothers Day…I agree!

We were able to dress up some of our plain-weave samples with patterns using supplementary wefts. Bolivian hatbands were our inspiration.

Here are the two mom-and-daughter pairs concentrating hard as they coordinate their newly acquired skills. That’s Kathy with daughter Amanda and Rae with Kara. Rae is the mom above right who also wove with me here last spring.

Here are the other weavers helping and supporting each other in their first attempt at four-stake warping…Sharon, Bonnie, Lynn and Marge. I met Bonnie on my blog. We finally got to meet in person here at The Mannings.

I mention in the title of this week’s post that “from baby steps come big things”. Well, that is what I am always hoping after people weave with me. I know that people want to try this kind fo weaving for many reasons. Some just want a little treat or vacation from their typical weekend and want to get away from the computer and work and all the ”stuff” that is going on at home. Trying out something new can be just the thing to set them free from all that for a while.

Others are intrigued by the backstrap loom and its simplicity and would be happy to sit quietly and do plain weave all day enjoying being part of the loom and moving with it while they weave their cloth.

Some want to try the pick-up techniques so that they can apply them to not only backstrap but other looms. Not many go straight home, put a loom together and continue weaving. Some get together with me again to weave six months later. I love seeing them again whether they have been weaving or not!

Of course, I am always pleased when someone out of the blue sends me a picture of things that they have gone on to create after having woven with me.

Yonat adapts all the pick-up techniques we weave together to her inkle loom and recently showed off her collection on Facebook in one picture. There are samples there from the three times that we have woven together. There are also bands that she has gone on to create herself….fabulous!!

Yonat inkle bands

Yes, from baby steps come big things. It tickles me to see the simple diamond motif that we weave as we learn to create patterns with simple warp floats show up in large stunning pieces from around the world.

That little warp-float diamond could grow up to be this…!

This is the “dragon cloth” that Deb McClintock showed me in Texas from her collection of textiles from South East Asia. Can you see the dragons…aren’t they spectacular? Perhaps the little diamond is a puff of smoke coming from the dragon’s nostrils.

This simple warp float technique is often dismissed when people are studying my tutorials here. A lot of people find the horizontal bars on which the floats sit distracting. Marsha Knox aka Pandula Arts is one person who learned the technique from my blog and really explored it making bags, backstraps and pouches with the patterned fabric she created.

Eladio Torres in Mexico has also woven large and beautiful pieces with it…

Speaking of baby steps, I can only hope that my baby steps in ikat….

…will some day, with much practice and perseverance and tenacity, remotely resemble something like this…

Ha! Well, I can dream, can’t I?

And then if I had another couple of lifetimes…maybe these???

These pieces are from Timor and I photographed them at one of the stands at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival a couple of weeks ago. I could go on and on and show you some images of incredible Sulawesi ikat pieces and their creators that collector Chris Buckley recently sent me but I will save those for next week along with my report on Sheep and Wool…all way, way too much for one blog post.

As for the baby steps and the big things to come, I will remind myself that the little girls in Peru who make these…

…very often grow up under the constant watchful eyes of their wise and skilled weaving elders to weave things like this…

Hmmm….I wonder where my baby steps in discontinuous warp technique will lead me? Arrgh…so much to learn and so little time!

I have lots more to show and tell….Maryland Sheep and Wool for one which I attended with Claudia and Janet, at left, and all the wonderful textiles I saw there and people I got to hang out with, fun at Claudia’s place spinning and backstrap weaving and learning to thread her floor loom with its four-shaft project and a day of weaving with Laritza and Terri.

Laritza is from Colombia and brought textiles and accessories from the Guambiano Indians to show me as well as a mochila made by the Arahuaca people.

I have some really cool things from Ravelry weavers to show too. I am saving all of it for next week.

The stream, that tree and that grassy piece of shade is calling me to come weave!!

I have been told that the weather in Massachusetts right now is a wee bit on the chilly side and so I must make the most of this sun and warmth while I can.

Hard to imagine a more peaceful setting!


  1. So very flattered that you have shared my work in your blog once again. I envy your immersion in the textile field.Ohhhhhh to be surrounded by like minded weavers! Have some fun for me too while you are there~!~Marsha

    • Hi Marsha, you will never stop being the “warp float queen” and I am always happy that I can show your work here to inspire others.

  2. Laverne, Thank you very much for telling about your trip and the beautiful pics! I am living in Switzerland, just a pity I cannot follow you. I am putting my babysteps in inkle loom weaving, and I am much learning from backstrap weaving.
    Kind regards,

    • Hi Jeanne,
      Thanks for your comment. I will be making my first trip to Europe in August and September this year…soon! ….maybe one day Switzerland…who knows? I have an aunt there!

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